Systemic violence against Indigenous women and girls that has been “condoned by the Canadian state” amounts to genocide, according to the scathing final report by the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
It says the problem stems from colonization, which continues to manifest in state structures and attitudes.
“Colonial violence, as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people has become embedded in everyday life — whether this is through interpersonal forms of violence, through institutions like the health-care system and the justice system, or in the laws, policies and structures of Canadian society,” the report says.
“The result has been that many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issue.”
The two-part, more than 1,200-page report was officially released during a closing ceremony held at the the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., the morning of June 3.
“Our mandate is to report on the systemic underlying historical causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women and girls and to make recommendations to make change so that we can all live in a safe and prosperous country,” chief commissioner Marion Buller said.
“So today, the commissioners and I hold up a mirror to Canada. We reflect back what we have heard and what we have documented.”
It’s unclear how many women and girls have died, the report says, because many instances have likely gone unrecorded.
“We do know that thousands of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA have been lost to the Canadian genocide to date,” the report says.
Its release is the result of a two-and-a-half-year process. The inquiry requested a two-year extension to complete its final report but the federal government only granted an additional six months.
There were more than 2,380 people who attended public hearings across the country, the report says. Participants included family members, survivors and elders.
Whitehorse was the first stop for the commission in May 2017. Roughly 14 families testified publicly at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. Others provided statements to officials in private.
Buller promised to return to the territory but that second visit never materialized.
Yukon-specific issues addressed in the report include low levels of funding for First Nations-led child welfare agencies and the opioid crisis. Indigenous people in Alberta and British Columbia are more likely to die from opioids compared to non-Indigenous people, it says. It’s unclear whether this is the case in the Yukon.
There are four main pillars of colonial violence that’s impacted Indigenous people, according to testimonials gathered during the inquiry. They include intergenerational trauma, social and economic marginalization, the preservation of the status quo and “ignoring the agency and expertise of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” the report says.
“As witnesses shared, the more these four pathways intersect in an Indigenous person’s life, the more likely they are to experience violence.”
Stripping away culture through assimilatory policies like residential schools, institutional bias — in the justice or health-care system, for instance — dispossession of land and governments not implementing changes are used to illustrate a vicious cycle.
“Throughout our journey, we have heard how the denial of culture and denial of identity is root cause of the violence,” said commissioner Qajaq Robinson. “The denial of cultural and identity has been one of the sharpest tools in the arsenal of the genocide.
“Culture is not an after-school program. Culture is not a weekend activity. Culture is life. It must infuse every institution.”
The report contains 231 sweeping recommendations, deemed “calls for justice,” that are directed at governments, institutions, industries, social service providers and Canadians at large to address the situation. They revolve around four key areas — the rights to culture, health, security and justice — and range from ensuring Indigenous people have access to adequate housing, drinking water and food to eliminating strip searches in jails and prisons.
Among the calls are that all governments, including Indigenous, federal, territorial and provincial, create a national action plan; that all governments to recognize Indigenous languages as official languages with the same status and recognition as English and French; and that the federal government create an “independent mechanism” to report annually to Parliament on the implementation of the calls for justice.
As well, the report calls for governments to fund policing services within Indigenous communities in northern and remotes areas so that they’re equitable to services provided to non-Indigenous Canadians; for media and “social influencers” to ensure the accurate, authentic and appropriate representation of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people; for institutions and health service providers to ensure their staff receive ongoing training about the cultures, languages and barriers of the Indigenous people they serve; and for police services to “voluntarily produce all unresolved cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people to the national task force.”
Many of the recommendations were read out during the ceremony by the commissioners as well as members of the National Family Advisory Circle and various advisory committees. Ann Maje Raider, the co-chair of the Yukon Advisory Committee and executive director of the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, was among them.
“And for all Canadians, we have calls for justice for you too,” Buller said.
“First, read our report. Speak out against racism, sexism and misogyny. Hold governments to account. And decolonize yourself by learning about Indigenous peoples and the true history of Canada.”
The calls for justice are “not mere recommendations or optional suggestions,” Buller added, but legal imperatives that governments must fully implement “to ensure the safety and dignity of Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA people.”
“The steps to end and redress this genocide must be no less monumental than the combination of systems and actions that has worked to maintain colonial violence for generations,” she said.
“… The murders, the abductions, the human trafficking, the beatings, the rapes, the violence — yes, the genocide — will continue unless all Canadians find the strength, courage and vision to build a new, decolonized relationship with each other based on respect and self-determination. Let us walk together. Let us work together. We must do this together to achieve our destiny as strong, proud people in this great nation.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the ceremony and accepted a copy of the report and its associated materials after they had been wrapped in a sacred bundle by the commissioners and acknowledged by grandmothers and families.
A minister or assistant deputy minister from every provincial and territorial government except the Yukon also attended the ceremony, where Indigenous youth from across the country presented them with copies of the report.
Anyone who requires support can contact the Yukon’s Family Information Liaison Unit at 867-393-7178, as well as the Nation Inquiry’s 24/7 support line at 1-844-413-6649
Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, as well as an executive summary and supplementary reports on genocide and on Quebec, are available online at mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/
With files from Ashley Joannou
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