On the one-year anniversary of the release of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ final report, those involved in its creation are criticizing a year of inaction from the federal government.
A statement published by the four commissioners of the original 1,200-page report, which contained 231 calls to justice to address systemic violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, criticizes a lack of commitment to implementing change and ensuring changes are led by Indigenous people since its release.
"We said clearly the status quo has to change, we said clearly the involvement of the experts — the families and the survivors, the people with lived experience — needs to be there, then we’ll see a change," Michèle Audette, one of the commissioners of the report, told the Free Press Wednesday.
Audette said despite being pleased with initial conversations with the federal government beforehand, events in the year since — including the federal election, mobilization of other Indigenous issues in Canada and delays attributed to COVID-19 — Indigenous women had been "pushed aside."
"Many groups, including the government, were focusing or putting the energy on (other) situations," she said.
In May, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the promised national action plan would have to be delayed due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, she had said the government was looking to have something to show by June.
"Indigenous women are affected and paying for that systemic discrimination, the colonial violence, the impact and the effect of that colonial violence," Audette said.
"If we were a top priority, we would’ve heard it during the election, we would be involved... there’s so many of us that should have been involved, but because of that culture in Canada, and the way we’re treating Indigenous women, sad to say, but I’m not surprised that we’re not that involved."
Her hope is that if inaction continues, the report is used as evidence to bring international oversight to the calls to justice.
"We’re at a level, I believe, like many of us, that now they are legal imperatives, they’re not just recommendations," she said.
Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, a billboard campaign has launched in hopes of bringing additional awareness of a culture that one organizer says hasn’t valued Indigenous women and girls.
The billboards, which were organized by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, will be partnered with bus boards and social media posts. Two are up today, and three more will go up around the city in the coming weeks.
"Every facet of society is a part of creating that change, and until we start to take action on that, we won’t see the change," SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said.
"Governments can provide the funding, but we need to take it personal, and we need to have our young people being educated not just in the education system, but at the kitchen table in our homes."
The campaign features a painting of an Indigenous woman titled Lost But Not Forgotten by 18-year-old Ida Bruyere, whose piece was chosen after the SCO called for submissions earlier this year.
Her painting features an Indigenous woman who has gone missing, and what she wears is filled with symbolism, Bruyere said.
"The eagle feather (represents) the lost one, the rainbow regalia for all the queer community parties, and then the red to show her strength and resilience, and also being silenced about this tragedy," Bruyere said.
The billboards are up not just as a call for systemic change, but also as a reminder that Indigenous people are being heard and seen, she said.
"I just want all the girls, and all the Indigenous people who experience almost going missing on a daily basis to know that they’re seen and heard, no matter what other people say or how hard they try to shut them up."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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Updated on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 at 6:27 PM CDT: clarifies Carolyn Bennett's title