When Manitoba MLA Nahanni Fontaine gave her May 19 keynote speech in Whitehorse, she flagged the urgency still needed to address an ongoing nation-wide issue.
Fontaine spoke about Winnipeg police investigating the death of Rebecca Contois, 24, as a homicide after partial human remains were found near an apartment building in the prairie city on May 16. A suspect has been charged with first-degree murder of the young Indigenous woman, and investigators are warning there could be more victims.
“This isn’t an exercise,” Fontaine told reporters in Whitehorse.
“These aren’t futile.”
Survivors and families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit+ people (MMIWG2S+) converged at an accountability forum on the topic May 18 and 19 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.
Only survivors and families were permitted to attend the first day of the two-day forum to learn about the work that has been done on this front in the Yukon.
The second day of the forum involved presentations about work that is underway in the territory.
The Yukon Advisory Committee on MMIWG2S+ identified its top 10 priorities for coming up with a detailed implementation plan over the next 10 to 15 years that stem from the Yukon’s broader strategy to address violence against MMIWG2S+.
Jeanie McLean, the minister responsible for the Women and Gender Equity Directorate, co-chairs the advisory committee.
“What we know is that that work has been complicated and it’s taken more time than we initially thought, but we are really committed to getting it right,” McLean said.
It has been nearly three years since the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its report.
The Yukon committee launched its own full strategy in December 2020. The 20-page document sets out 31 actions through four paths: strengthening connections and supports, community safety and justice, economic independence and education, and community action and accountability.
One of the primary goals addressed at the forum is to put together a coordinated crisis response that makes for safer communities.
Erin Linklater, manager of restorative justice and community safety for Kwanlin Dün First Nation, said she has previously faced violence as an Indigenous person who grew up in the Yukon and, at the time, she did not necessarily want to report the perpetrator to existing mainstream justice authorities.
As a senior member of the RCMP, Supt. Chan Daktari Dara told the audience that while he recognizes the Mounties are a symbol of colonialism, the police are no longer part of the “big red machine.”
“We’re committed to changing our ways, to stop practising our colonial ways,” he said.
Dara spoke highly of the localized community safety officer program in Kwanlin Dün First Nation in terms of meeting specific community needs as part of a local system of government and partners, and building trust between RCMP and people on the ground.
Dara said there has been an increase in calls to the RCMP from the First Nation, which he said reflects that increased trust between them.
Presenters said the relationship between community safety officers and the RCMP has become better over time as the two parties come to understand each other’s roles in bringing safety, comfort and culturally appropriate responses to the community.
Chief Doris Bill of Kwanlin Dün First Nation told the forum that one of the things that has changed is a letter of expectation that sets out how the RCMP will work in the community.
Bill said one thing that needs to change is the RCMP view of the communities.
“It’s a continuous education process for us,” Bill said, adding that the relationship with RCMP started out “sketchy” given that they were not sure what the program was trying to accomplish, but it has grown since its early days.
Bill said she has been working to ensure the local community safety officer program “does not become colonized.”
“It’s been a powerful, powerful two days,” Bill told reporters after the forum.
The chief said she was reminded that there is urgency to this work that they are doing.
“There’s much work ahead, and at times, it can feel a bit overwhelming,” Bill said.
Bill hopes this forum will give people the tools they need for coming up with plans in their own communities.
McLean said some of the emphasis she heard from the audience during the forum indicates to her that the advisory committee is on the right track. Her key message was reaffirming the territorial government’s commitment to implementing the strategy.
“This is a long-term strategy and systemic change will take time,” McLean said.
The 10 priorities identified from the strategy include: increasing community and land-based infrastructure and programming; considering applying the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the context of the Yukon; completing community safety assessments, plans and implementation; improving supports for victims of gender-based violence and sexualized assault; eliminating violence related to development projects and improving positive benefits of resource extraction and major infrastructure projects; addressing needs related to safe housing and poverty; providing adequate, long-term funding for Indigenous women’s organizations; embedding an accountability framework into the Yukon’s MMIWG2S+ strategy; establishing a MMIWG2S+ trust fund for families and survivors; and commemorating MMIWG2S+ through restoring graves, fencing and markers.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com
The News has updated this story to clarify that Erin Linklater grew up in the Yukon and experienced violence in her adulthood. At that time, she did not feel like the mainstream justice system could meet her needs.