June 17, 2019

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'This is just the beginning'

National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls issues final report, makes sweeping calls for change

GATINEAU, Que. — Darlene Osborne has had few good sleeps since her granddaughter's remains were found in the Red River in 2003. On Monday, she expected to rest better than normal.

“It’s very painful when you tell your story," said Osborne, who hails from Norway House Cree Nation, on the north end of Lake Winnipeg. “But now it’s a good feeling, and I know I’m going to rest well.”

Osborne was among hundreds of family members who gathered just outside Ottawa for the release of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The 1,200-page report says everything from the child-welfare system to racist stereotypes are contributing to an ongoing “genocide” against First Nations, Métis and Inuit women.

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GATINEAU, Que. — Darlene Osborne has had few good sleeps since her granddaughter's remains were found in the Red River in 2003. On Monday, she expected to rest better than normal.

"It’s very painful when you tell your story," said Osborne, who hails from Norway House Cree Nation, on the north end of Lake Winnipeg. "But now it’s a good feeling, and I know I’m going to rest well."

Darlene Osborne of Norway House Cree Nation, Manitoba, who is grieving her granddaughter Felicia Velvet Solomon, 16, who was found dead in Winnipeg in 2003.

DYLAN ROBERTSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Darlene Osborne of Norway House Cree Nation, Manitoba, who is grieving her granddaughter Felicia Velvet Solomon, 16, who was found dead in Winnipeg in 2003.

Osborne was among hundreds of family members who gathered just outside Ottawa for the release of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The 1,200-page report says everything from the child-welfare system to racist stereotypes are contributing to an ongoing "genocide" against First Nations, Métis and Inuit women.

"This country is at war, and Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people are under siege," reads the report.

It has 231 "calls for justice," ranging from media coverage to prisons.

Osborne said she hopes those recommendations will help end a phenomenon in which three of her relatives have died and one has disappeared.

"This is just the beginning," she said.

Commissioner Michele Audette speaks during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau, Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

CP

Commissioner Michele Audette speaks during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau, Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Her granddaughter, 16-year-old Felicia Velvet Solomon-Osborne, used to love dancing at powwows with her cousins.

She vanished in March 2003, and was last seen walking out of her Winnipeg school. Osborne claims city police waited a week to phone her. Three months later, Felicia's arm and leg were pulled from the Red River.

"We are still waiting to know who did this to our granddaughter," said Osborne.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resisted using the word "genocide" in his speech to families and commissioners.

"We have failed you. But we will fail you no longer," he told them.

A woman is embraced by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau, Monday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/ADRIAN WYLD

A woman is embraced by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau, Monday.

Trudeau pledged to craft a national action plan in lockstep with Indigenous people, telling them failures by the justice system are "not a relic of our past."

Many of the issues take centre stage in Manitoba.

The report notes sexual abuse against Indigenous women in the province goes back to at least 1880, when Manitoba MP Joseph Royal (1837-1902) said the North West Mounted Police acted with "disgraceful immorality" across the Prairies.

'Indigenous people have certainly endured some horrific things in the last 150 years… it’s not a big step to characterize this as genocide' – Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth

It ties this to last summer's bombshell allegations the RCMP "organized gangbangs" for Manitoba Hydro workers with Fox Lake Cree Nation women in the 1960s, as well as claims employees in camps near the Keeyask megaproject are still perpetuating sexual assaults.

Commissioners Marion Buller (left) and Commissioner Michele Audette prepare the official copy of the report for presentation to the government during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau, Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

CP

Commissioners Marion Buller (left) and Commissioner Michele Audette prepare the official copy of the report for presentation to the government during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau, Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The report calls on ending child-welfare "birth alerts" — where Manitoba hospitals notify Child and Family Services agencies when a former ward of the state has a own child, to arrange a possible apprehension in the maternity ward.

Inquiry commissioners linked CFS with genocide, saying it perpetuates the horrors of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop. "It is a direct attack on the survival of the group, culturally, biologically, physically, and overall."

'We can’t just let this report sit on the shelf… It's time to start implementing what Indigenous women and girls have been calling for, for decades' – Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, MMIWG liaison for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. She lost her sister, Dawn, in 2011

It cites testimony from Alaya McIvor, whom CFS agents offered a bus ticket from her northern reserve to Winnipeg at age 12. She arrived alone and testified a man waiting outside the station spotted her, and quickly groomed her into sex work.

The report asks for funding for shelters and "safe rides" programs, especially along intercity bus routes abandoned last year by Greyhound. It says girls are being "shipped between cities" in the Prairies in triangles, in a repeating loop from Saskatoon to Regina to Winnipeg.

A woman embraces Commissioner Qajaq Robinson during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau, Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

CP

A woman embraces Commissioner Qajaq Robinson during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau, Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The report calls for better recognition of community-based crime-prevention groups, saying governments must "expand and legitimize" programs such as the volunteer Bear Clan Patrol and reform the criminal-justice system.

It also says Ottawa needs to step up its review of Indian Act status, as the federal Liberals have only partially rectified sexual discrimination that removed Indian status from First Nations women who married non-indigenous men, freezing some of them out of their home communities.

'This inquiry has allowed us to enter the consciousness of Canada to examine ourselves as a nation state, and how we need to end violence against women' – Garrison Settee, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern reserves.

Métis groups had protested the inquiry’s lack of adequate focus on their women, and how they fall through the cracks of social services. The report goes over Métis history, from the Red River Colony to the clearing out of shantytowns such as Winnipeg’s Rooster Town in the late 1950s.

The report briefly touches on domestic violence, as Indigenous men are often the offenders in cases of gender-based violence against Indigenous women. It traces this to colonial systems erasing men’s traditional roles, urging mentorship to "lift up" Indigenous men and boys.

Chief commissioner Marion Buller, front left to right, and commissioners Brian Eyolfson, Qajaq Robinson and Michele Audette get ready to prepare the final report to give to the government at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

CP

Chief commissioner Marion Buller, front left to right, and commissioners Brian Eyolfson, Qajaq Robinson and Michele Audette get ready to prepare the final report to give to the government at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Osborne says the report is about waking up Canada to a crisis that's been going on for decades, but also about helping Indigenous communities take on the work to look after their children.

"One of our responsibilities (is) to take care of them wherever they are — and whoever they are," said Osborne, who advises neighbours in Norway House to check in a few times a day on any of their children studying in Winnipeg.

The report hails Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth for connecting officers with grassroots activists, so police can quickly respond when locals spot something suspicious in areas such as the city's the North End.

He said part of that is owning up to past mistakes. "That’s how you move forward," Smyth said.

Gatherings are already scheduled for next week in Manitoba to take stock of the report, which the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said is crucial, given how the province’s activists brought the MMIWG to light.

"Had it not been for the advocacy of grassroots and the families predominately in Manitoba, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today," Grand Chief Arlen Dumas told reporters.

Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke said the Pallister government has already laid the groundwork for discussing the report with the province’s grand chiefs, leadership councils, organizations and with the families.

"We have to sit down and we all have to discuss where we go from here, what our priorities are, where do we start," she said. "We need to move forward… we’ve created a trust here. Now, we’ve got to continue and not disappoint the people of Manitoba."

The inquiry lasted 2 1/2 years, costing the federal treasury $92 million, plus searches and legal fees for provinces. It was marred by bureaucratic ineptitude, numerous resignations and claims of inadequate focus on Manitoba.

The commissioners have placed the final report in a cradle board, a traditional basket used to carry a toddler. It will travel Canada before being placed at the Winnipeg-based Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

— with files from Larry Kusch

dylan.robertson@frepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, June 3, 2019 at 7:05 PM CDT: Fixes photo captions.

7:10 PM: Adds photos

June 4, 2019 at 1:53 PM: corrects reference to granddaughter

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