Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, sits for a photo at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on June 12. Buller originally visited Whitehorse for the first inquiry hearings in 2017 and was back to “close the circle.” (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Healing is central to ending violence against Indigenous women, girls: chief commissioner of MMIWG inquiry

Marion Buller was in Whitehorse this week to ‘close the circle’

Indigenous people should have more access to land-based healing practices in the Yukon, said the chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Commissioners received this “very strong message” from families and survivors, Marion Buller said during an exclusive interview on June 12, adding that whole families, not only individuals, should be involved.

“Options for healing should be available long-term, not short-term, so I hope those subject areas are addressed. I don’t think people will let those issues rest either.”

It’s a solution that needs to be applied across the country, Buller said.

“I think it’s the healing that has to happen. As we say in our final report how multigenerational and intergenerational trauma is the cause of so much pain and suffering in Canada amongst Indigenous people, generally, and healing form that trauma, in my perspective, that healing has to happen to reduce the violence.”

The inquiry’s final report was released at a closing ceremony on June 3. The through-line is that systemic violence faced by Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people in Canada amounts to genocide.

There are 231 “calls for justice.” One involves land-based teachings in order to improve health.

Buller was in Whitehorse this week to “close the circle” of the inquiry (the first hearings took place in the Yukon in 2017.)

“We started with the sacred fire here and we’ve taken ashes from all of the sacred fires, wherever we’ve been in Canada for hearings, and we’ve brought some of those ashes back with us to go into the sacred fire here today,” she said, adding that her trip was an opportunity to honour families who testified.

Whitehorse Aboriginal Women’s Circle’s president Krista Reid said Indigenous people have been impacted by colonialism for too long — residential schools, for instance, shattered family units, matrilineal teachings, culture — so healing, particularly on-the-land healing, is a given.

“Our cultural ways, our languages were taken away from us, our women were completely disempowered,” she said. “When we go back to those cultural ways and our practices, our protocols, our gatherings, our connections to each other, our connections to our spirits, our connections to the land, that’s where we need to return to.”

To do this could mean increased funding and bolstered partnerships between governments, Reid said.

Another recommendation calls for a national action plan to be developed to address violence faced by Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, one that would be implemented by all levels of government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would set in motion such a plan last week.

Ancillary to this is that governments report their progress annually and make it public.

In a written statement to the News, Sunny Patch, director of cabinet communications, said that the Yukon government doesn’t take the recommendations “lightly” and that it will review the final report in its entirety before plotting next steps.

“This report is very valuable and will help guide the actions of government going forward,” she said, adding that collaboration is occurring between partners and stakeholders in order to develop an action plan. “It is understandably complex with much to consider and that work will take time.

“We know that there are recommendations in the report that relate to the programs and services our government offers and we recognize that there is work to be done.”

The action plan, Patch continued, will be made public once finalized.

Asked which recommendations the Yukon government should start on, Buller said, “I think political leaders here should start with building partnerships with organizations, service providers, Indigenous governments because it has to be a partnership, it can’t just be one-sided. That’s a theme that runs throughout all of our calls for justice.”

She said it’s not her responsibility to tell governments how to stem violence against Indigenous women and girls. Those decisions once arrived at, she continued, will, and should, be informed by First Nations, families and survivors.

“I wouldn’t want to set priorities for governments or frontline organizations,” Buller said.

Buller applauded the Yukon government, which showed “brilliant leadership” throughout the duration of the inquiry. She singled out Jeanie Dendys, the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate.

“From the very beginning, the Yukon government, especially Minister Dendys, has been a strong supporter of our work,” she said. “Minister Dendys has come to our hearings all across Canada. Other representatives from Yukon government have come to our hearings as well. We’ve always felt strong support from Yukon government and organizations from the very get-go.

“I think if progress is going to come soon,” Buller continued, “it’s gonna come from the Yukon because of the forward-looking people in government here, the people who have supported our work, the grassroots organizations, they’re ready to have those hard discussions and I hope the first steps forward come from the Yukon because of the brilliant leadership here.”

Asked if she has confidence that the recommendations will be implemented, she said, “Oh, yes, very much so. The activists who worked 30 or 40 years to make this inquiry happen aren’t gonna let this go.”

Neither will families, she added.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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