A former Yukon staffer of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people says that while her experience was “chaotic,” she’s hopeful that the final report’s calls for justice trigger concrete actions.
Melissa Carlick joined the inquiry as a community liaison officer for the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alberta and a portion of British Columbia after the inquiry held its first hearings in Whitehorse in May 2017.
However, she told local media in November 2017 that she had been fired during hearings in Edmonton without warning or cause.
In a Facebook message June 5, two days after the release of the inquiry’s final report, Carlick told the News that back when the inquiry started, she “was in react mode,” and the 2007 murder of her cousin, Angel, made her want to be part of the process.
“I was actually back from university that summer and was asked to do a motivational speech at her native grad,” she wrote. “I remember walking past her and smiling as I went back to my seat, that was the last time I seen her, she went missing that night in May and they found her remains months later.”
A decade later, and around the same time Carlick was signing her offer letter from the inquiry, Angel’s mother, Wendy, was murdered too.
(Angel’s murder remains unsolved. Everett Chief was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in 2018 in relation to Wendy’s death.)
Carlick said her experience with the inquiry “didn’t start easy;” both her director and manager resigned a few months after she started, and her team was merged with another one.
She also recalled scrambling to try to accommodate “so many” people who wanted to speak at hearings, and “cold calling” families to tell them the inquiry was in town.
“Families had every right to be upset (about being called so last-minute),” she said. “As a family member, I can see that.”
After being fired, Carlick went on to work for the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women’s Circle and the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, and also coordinated two events for youth family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Those experiences were uplifting, she said, because she felt “more of an impact comes from local organizations.”
While she hasn’t read the inquiry’s final report in its entirety, Carlick said she’s skimmed the 231 calls for justice.
“Hopefully they are not recommendations, but actions, because our Indigenous women and girls are sacred,” she said. “I will do my part for sure … I know the strong women here (in the Yukon) will ensure action is taken for our women and girls.”
Looking back, Carlick said she’s “thankful” that her “path veered in another direction” from the inquiry when it did. She said she took time to heal from losing her family members, from working for the inquiry, and to “forgive and forgive myself.”
“I am now in a position to look at this and not react, but rather look at it and have hopes that what was accomplished has some sharp teeth to make a difference,” she said. “As an intergenerational survivor I can look at the history, I can understand it more, and I can try to stand up to face things in a healthier way.”
“Overall, I want the dialogue to continue,” she added.
“I am thankful, because it means there will be more awareness… My auntie Wendy and cousin Angel were loved, they were not just taking space, or drunks, or whatever stereotypes some may think, because they were loved, were gifted, and had a purpose, a full life to live.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org