Although Aboriginal women make up four per cent of Canada’s female population, 16 per cent of all women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012 were Aboriginal women.
Aboriginal families, communities and organizations, as well as non-governmental and international organizations have urged the federal government to take action and lead a national inquiry.
Their calls have finally been heard. On Dec. 8, 2015, the federal government announced the launch of a national inquiry to address the high number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.
Lake Babine Nation chief Wilf Adam was in the room with prime minister Justin Trudeau when he announced the launch of the national inquiry.
“It made proud and happy that this is happening,” said Chief Adam.
Chief Adam said Lake Babine Nation said the stories of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls need to be heard.
“We have to find out what happened and look at all aspects of what happened to our women,” he said. “We have to protect our women and children.”
Wet’suwet’en First Nation chief Karen Ogen said she’s hopeful the new Liberal government will bring positive change for First Nations.
“Grief seems to be a way of life for our people; this new government can help change the landscape for our people in a positive light,” she said. “Everyone deserves a good future, especially our children, families and communities, and most specifically our women.”
Shortly after the prime minister’s announcement, John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, and Suzanne Anton, B.C. Minister of Justice, issued a statement saying the provincial government will be “happy to share the learnings” from B.C.’s missing women’s commission of inquiry (MWCI) led by Wally Oppal in 2012.
However, many of the more than 60 recommendations as a result of the MWCI have not been implemented.
“We need a commitment from prime minister Justin Trudeau at the outset that they will implement all of the recommendations,” said NDP MLA Jenny Kwan during a press conference last month. “We do not want to see a repeat of the Oppal inquiry.”
Oppal himself has urged the Liberal government not to follow B.C.’s example, and be more inclusive of affected communities.
“I think if they’re going to have one [national inquiry], they should have an inquiry that goes to the various communities and the centres, a commissioner or group of commissioners, to get the voice of the communities,” Oppal said in a Canadian Press story published by CBC. “It never hurts to talk to the communities to get their views and to bring them on side.”
Burns Lake Band chief Dan George agrees that the federal government needs to “fully engage” families and communities here in the north, given the grave circumstances surrounding the highway of tears, where at least 18 women went missing or were murdered since the 1970s.
“I look forward to the inquiry bringing about results and solutions necessary to bring closure to the families affected by this national tragedy,” said Chief George.
The federal government says the national inquiry can only be designed after hearing from those directly affected. Government said it will immediately begin engaging with survivors, family members and loved ones of victims, as well as national Aboriginal, provincial, and territorial representatives to seek their views on the design and scope of the inquiry.
These meetings will be led by Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women.
At the end of this engagement process, government will report back on what has been heard from the participants. The views and ideas expressed by all participants will allow the government to develop the inquiry, including the mandate, the terms of reference, the format of the inquiry, and the timeline.