The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is willing to return to the Yukon if more hearings are required after the three days set for next week, said Jeanie Dendys, the minister responsible for the women’s directorate.
The territory will be the first place in the country to hold public hearings from May 30 to June 1 in large tents outside the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. Opening events are scheduled for May 29.
The hearings come after national criticism that there has not been enough communication by the commission with families who want to participate in the process.
“We’re been assured by the commission that they will come back to conduct further hearings in the Yukon if that is required,” Dendys said May 26.
She said both the local advisory committee, which includes representation from the territory’s women’s groups, and a community liaison recently hired by the commission, will make sure everyone’s voices are heard.
“Really that’s our job, to help to facilitate the communication to happen.”
Last week a group of 30 advocates and indigenous leaders published an open letter criticizing the commission.
“We are deeply concerned with the continued lack of communication that is causing anxiety, frustration, confusion, and disappointment in this long-awaited process,” it said.
Chief commissioner Marion Buller has promised to improve communication.
Krista Reid, president of the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women’s Circle and a member of the territorial advisory committee, said she couldn’t speak for local families when it comes to how they are feeling about the hearings.
“It’s a mix. I can tell you that some of the families are ready, they want to be here, they are ready, they are aware, they are ready to testify publicly. Then there are others just entering this process. Everyone is at a different place in their grief.”
Reid said the advisory board is aware of the concerns about communication and has been trying to help.
Earlier this month representatives from the commission travelled to three communities outside of Whitehorse to speak to people about participating in the hearings.
“I think that the commission has made good efforts, they’ve taken our advice well in Yukon,” Dendys said.
The first public itinerary for Whitehorse’s events was not released until May 25 but Reid said those involved in the process have known about the dates for “some time.”
Dendys said her understanding is that families who will be testifying have more details.
Yukon families who signed up with the inquiry and choose to speak publicly will be able to do so in front of the commissioners. Those testimonies will also be live streamed.
Others can give their statements privately. The commission is also accepting testimony in less conventional forms like art, poetry or song, for example.
Dendys said going first means the commission is “testing the ground with us and I think taking the experience really seriously in terms of how they move through the rest of the country.”
The Whitehorse hearings were originally scheduled to happen at Yukon College. The location was moved, on the advice of the local advisory committee, Dendys said.
College spokesperson Michael Vernon said construction at the college meant there would have been noise. The kitchen is also closed.
Being outside is appropriate, Dendys said. “Our Indigenous people feel very connected to the land, to the water.”
It’s not clear how many families have signed up to participate in the Yukon hearings. Multiple emails to various community liaisons and media representatives requesting more information were not returned.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org