MMIWG inquiry’s report should change the way we police in communities, says Native Women’s Association

'It's time for action:' better health services, more shelters cited as ways to end violence against Indigenous women and girls in the North

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There are 231 actions that must be taken to end the genocide against Indigenous women and girls, according to the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Of these 231 “calls for justice,” many reflect issues faced by Indigenous people in the North – particularly those who live in small communities, which are often in desperate need of services and resources that just aren’t there, said representatives from the Native Women’s Association of the NWT on Wednesday.

Following the release of the inquiry’s final report – which runs over 1,000 pages and is based on two years of research involving at least 2,380 people – representatives of the non-profit group met with media for a panel discussion at the association’s Franklin Avenue office, where they reflected on the inquiry’s findings and recommendations.

The discussion focused on which of the final report’s 231 recommendations are most needed in the Northwest Territories to curb and prevent violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.

Marie Speakman, Native Women’s Association of the NWT Family Support Liaison Coordinator for MMIWG, left, and Therese Villeneuve, an adviser to the NWA NWT, address reporters Wednesday.
Brendan Burke/NNSL photo

The final report, titled “Reclaiming Power and Peace,” includes calls for action aimed at all governments, health care service providers, the criminal justice system, police services and all Canadians, urging both collective and individual action to halt the systemic, colonially-rooted violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people that has led to disproportionate rates of murder and violence.

Asked to identify some of the most important calls for justice, Jayne Weyallon, NWA NWT president from the Tlicho region, said a lack of police presence in many NWT communities remains a problem. Crimes, including domestic violence, often go unreported as a result, she said.

There are no RCMP stations in Gameti and Wetweki, she added, meaning those communities rely on the police services of other RCMP detachments, some of which are located far away.

“I think if there was a police presence in most communities, I know there would be more reported cases,” said Weyallon. “There’s unreported domestic violence and lateral violence … It’s happening in communities.”

Among the many calls for justice aimed at police services in Canada, the final report calls for the implementation of new policies in remote and rural communities that would focus on “building and sustaining a relationship with the local community and cultures,” and for the expansion and strengthening of police services.

Therese Villeneuve, an advisor to the Native Women’s Association of NWT, said the lack of a police presence in some communities isn’t the only thing that is putting Indigenous women and girls in danger.

In some small communities, said Villeneuve, there aren’t any safe houses for women facing the threat of domestic violence, which often forces women to travel to shelters in Yellowknife or Hay River.

She’s seen some women attempt to receive income support to attend southern shelters who have been turned away due to previous compensation, she said.

“When (women facing domestic abuse) go to the RCMP, the RCMP will say ‘well, we can’t do anything until a crime is committed,’” she said. “So, there is not enough services in the small communities, in fact, sometimes there’s nothing.”

Brittany Martel, far right, was among many of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls who were remembered on Wednesday. Brendan Burke/NNSL photo

A dire need for health and policing services in small communities was echoed across the board from members of the panel, which included Marie Speakman, NWA NWT family support liaison co-ordinator for the inquiry and Caroline Wawzonek, part of the legal firm that represented the association in 2018, during the lead up to the final report’s release.

The NWA NWT played a key role during the pre-inquiry planning process. Its members brought forward their own recommendations, which were used to help craft the final report.

After travelling to other regions in the NWT, Speakman said she’s “learned there’s services that are lacking.”

For communities without an RCMP detachment, distressed callers are often transferred to a receptionist in Yellowknife, which can sometimes result in a language barrier.

Some residents may not have access to phones or the internet at all, she said.

“I’m glad this is happening but it’s time for action,” said Speakman, who called on the report’s recommendations to be implemented to help fill the gaps in services experienced by many in the North.

Villeneuve echoed Speakman’s demand for action.

She acknowledged that the national inquiry’s report comes on the heels of “recommendations upon recommendations,” from previous inquiries, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, but said “we’re hopeful that (the calls for justice) won’t be put on the shelf and collect dust – that there will be some action taken.”

The final report also calls on media to shed “bias, discrimination and false assumptions,” by telling culturally-sensitive stories from Indigenous perspectives.

Weyallon said enduring stereotypes and biases can be challenged when reporters choose to feature the good things happening in various communities – not just the bad.

In doing so, she said, “maybe others can change their attitudes.”

“It all comes down to attitudes.”

Speakman called for more stories that highlight the resilience of Indigenous women and girls – stories that focus on what they’ve overcome.

“Aboriginal women have gone through ordeals, many hardships – surviving residential schools.  All this and yet we’re still here today,” said Speakman.

To ensure the calls for action don’t “sit on the shelf,” Weyallon said it’s important for groups like the Native Women’s Association of the NWT to continue to work alongside policymakers.

“At this time we have a good working relationship with the GNWT and we would like to be part of their strategic planning for any programs or services they’re working on,” she said. “I think that’s how we can have our input and continue working on the calls for justice.”

Several family members and friends of Indigenous women lost to what the inquiry calls an ongoing “Canadian genocide,” attended Wednesday’s event.

Their stories, along with their thoughts on the national inquiry’s final report, will be featured in an upcoming story.

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