Inquiry a window into the suffering of families who’ve lost loved ones

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The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls spent three days in Yellowknife offering Canadians as front row seat to hear heartbreaking testimony from people in the territory who have lost loved ones to violence.

The fits and starts the inquiry structure itself – and a disorganized communications strategy, described as “farcical” by a Globe and Mail editorial – has sadly distracted from its stated main mission: “To learn the truth by honouring the lives and legacies of Indigenous women, girls and members of the LGBTQ2S community.”

The inquiry states rates of violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault, are 3.5 times higher than for non-Indigenous women.

Further, young Indigenous women are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die of violence.

The inquiry was launched in December 2015 by newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was delivering on one of its key campaign promises.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper refused to call an inquiry during the final months of his government, flying against a building headwind of public opinion that thought there ought to be one.

The Conservative leader insisted the issue of missing and murdered women was as a law-and-order problem and argued police have solved most of the crimes.

While that was arguably true at the time, Harper was criticized for taking a too narrow view of the issue and that he was ignoring complex underlying causes that couldn’t be solved by cops, courts and jail.

People wanted the problem to stop.

That meant sitting through months and months of what essentially would be victim impact statements from Indigenous people who are living proof that their communities suffered an inordinate amount of heartbreak. And for everyone else, an acknowledgement that there has long been a certain element of callousness among police, courts and society as a whole toward their pain.

The violence can’t easily be explained. But we are hearing stories and getting some idea of what really are the root causes. One thing has been made clear: a lot of healing is needed inside Indigenous communities and with the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

At the opening ceremony of the Yellowknife stop Monday night – a location that has seen dozens of people from across the North come to share their stories – commissioner Qajaq Robinson spoke before a crowd of more than 100 people at the Chateau Nova Hotel.

“You’ve come to teach us and teach this country in the midst of pain, and I want to acknowledge that,” said Robinson, who was born in Iqaluit and raised in Iglulik, and is the only commissioner from the territories.

While many social issues and systemic failures are already well known – and have either been largely ignored or given lip-service by previous federal governments – this inquiry is underscoring many of them and exposing some fresh angles.

Most importantly, the inquiry is giving voice to the anguish suffered by indigenous families who have lost loved ones to violence, and a conduit to be heard by the rest of the country.

Hopefully, the inquiry will provide some measure of healing for these families while hardening the country’s resolve to help end the violence and ensure when an indigenous woman or girl is murdered or goes missing, that case is taken as seriously as any other.

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