The Native Women’s Association of Canada gave the federal government a failing grade on Wednesday in response to Ottawa’s lack of action on the findings of the national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls one year after it was released.
The organization, which was instrumental in the original push for a national public inquiry, released a report card that said much still needs to be done to correct past and continuing violations of the right to justice for Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse persons.
The inquiry, which probed root causes of the violence, released 231 calls for action to be undertaken by public services and multiple levels of government and contained a finding of genocide.
The calls include standardized response times to reports of missing Indigenous persons and women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual people) experiencing violence.
The commission leading the inquiry delivered its final report in June, 2019, and the Liberal government initially said it would respond with an action plan within a year. However, as the anniversary approached, the government said it would be delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Instead of a national action plan, we are left with a lack-of-action plan,” NWAC president Lorraine Whitman said.
Sharon Johnson, a member of Seine River First Nation located west of Thunder Bay, said Wednesday that like many across the country she is also disappointed a promised action plan in response to the inquiry has been delayed.
“We are left to feel like we are not important,” she said. “It’s a helpless feeling."
In February, 1992, Ms. Johnson’s 18-year-old sister Sandra was found dead outside in the Neebing-McIntyre floodway in Thunder Bay. Sandra’s homicide remains an unsolved but open police investigation by the Thunder Bay police.
The Liberal government established the national inquiry in 2016 to investigate the hundreds of cases of Indigenous women like Sandra, who are disproportionately affected by violence.
Ms. Johnson testified at hearings held by the inquiry in Thunder Bay in December, 2018, and travelled to Ottawa last June with her family to attend the closing ceremony.
Ms. Johnson said she hoped that more would have been done by now, adding that many are left feeling like the inquiry was “all for nothing.”
The inquiry’s chief commissioner Marion Buller issued a statement Wednesday, along with her three fellow commissioners, that lamented the extent of progress made in a year.
“Due to the one year of inaction, the lack of transparency, the growing race- and gender-based tensions, Indigenous people’s distrust of governments, and the failure to heed the principles for change in the final report, we assert the need for international attention to implementation,” the inquiry’s commissioners said.
Ms. Johnson said Indigenous women and girls continue to be at risk during the pandemic and she worries how they are coping, particularly victims of domestic violence and those with addictions.
“It’s like being backed into a corner and there’s no one there to come to your rescue,” she said.
As an active volunteer and advocate for decades, Ms. Johnson said she keeps busy with local and national projects for the rights of Indigenous women and girls.
In Thunder Bay, she organizes an annual Full Moon Memory Walk in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Ms. Johnson said she also wants to hear a renewed commitment from the federal government with an updated target date for the action plan.
Rebecca Kudloo, the president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, said last week that it was very disappointing the action plan will not be ready for this month and that victims’ families participated in good faith.
When asked on Wednesday about the concerns that have been raised, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said that she is confident about being able to deliver on a national action plan.
“I want to say to the family members and the survivors, that we are going to get this done,” she said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said that ending the national tragedy through the co-development and implementation of a national action plan is an urgent priority.
His government pointed to initiatives including legislation on protecting Indigenous languages and First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families as evidence of its commitment.
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