The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Report
Earlier this morning, the final report of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people was released, with a closing ceremony streamed here. In the words of the report itself,
The truths shared in these National Inquiry hearings tell the story – or, more accurately, thousands of stories – of acts of genocide against First Nations, Inuit and Métis women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This violence amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, which especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, and breaches of human and Inuit, Métis and First Nations rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.
A profound sense of grief has overwhelmed us as we watch the closing ceremonies and begin to read the report this morning. We would encourage others to begin there also- by reading and listening to the work that has been done as part of this inquiry. We begin with one of the overarching findings of the report.
The significant, persistent, and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human rights and Indigenous rights violations and abuses – perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state, designed to displace Indigenous Peoples from their land, social structures, and governance and to eradicate their existence as Nations, communities, families, and individuals – is the cause of the disappearances, murders, and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and is genocide. This colonialism, discrimination, and genocide explains the high rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. An absolute paradigm shift is required to dismantle colonialism within Canadian society, and from all levels of government and public institutions. Ideologies and instruments of colonialism, racism, and misogyny, past and present, must be rejected.
Barriers to the MMIWG Report
The Inquiry into MMIWG met many roadblocks. First and foremost, Indigenous communities had to effectively “raise hell”, over and over again, for many years, before any level of government started to take this issue seriously. The reticence of non indigenous Canadians and Canadian institutions continued after the inquiry started. The final report briefly notes some of the significant barriers placed before them:
- A lack of time and resources;
- The federal government’s rules and procedures, which are not designed for public inquiries or trauma informed practice;
- Requesting extensions on deadlines that were denied.
The Inquiry made an interim report which requested changes to the process. They write that
while the Government of Canada did provide additional funding for health supports for those who participated in the Truth-Gathering Process and for Parties with Standing, there are still several recommendations made in it that have yet to be fulfilled. This includes investigating the feasibility of restoring the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and creating a national police task force to assess or reopen cases or review investigations of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
We feel that this last sentence is particularly worth noting: during an inquiry on murdered and missing indigenous women, the government and police has refused to assess or re-open cases related to murdered and missing indigenous women.
The MMIW Report in Quebec
The Inquiry produced a portion of the report that is specific to Quebec. One of the most important things that this section of the report makes clear is that there are appears to be additional barriers that the Quebec provincial government put in place:
- Refusal to grant additional time for the Inquiry to finish the report, in spite of a federal extension being granted;
- Continued enforcement of a law that required 3 out of 4 commissioners to be present to receive any evidence — a constraint that was not present elsewhere thus making it more difficult to gather testimonies in the allotted time frame;
- Withholding access to police and medical records relating to the disappearance of Indigenous women and children;
- Little support for academic research about Indigenous people, by Indigenous people, in Quebec; the Commission had to disproportionately rely on thesis work by students.
This report also notes particular conditions of colonial violence in Quebec that form the backdrop for the Inquiry. For example, the report notes:
“Something that is unique in the legal situation of First Nations in Quebec is that, until recently, the provincial government has refused to acknowledge the existence of Aboriginal rights and, as a result, to sign treaties. This situation has had significant consequences on the relationship between First Nations and the federal and provincial governments.”
They also note that:
The fact that residential schools in Quebec were opened and closed more recently means that there are at least two generations of former residential school students that are still alive today. In 2019, a significant proportion of Indigenous people in Quebec are still directly dealing with the effects of their experience at residential schools.
For us, this information sits alongside a reaction we regularly get when discussing colonialism in Quebec: that it doesn’t exist or that it was “not as bad” as in the rest of Canada. There is a concerning prevalent myth in many spaces we enter in our work that francophone Quebeckers have an alliance and solidarity with Indigenous peoples; a myth that allows the continued silencing of the reality of colonial violence in Quebec. This paragraph from the supplementary report about Quebec illustrates the horrifying gap between that myth and reality:
Public health issues affecting Quebec’s Indigenous peoples are also important to note. This is the case, in particular, for the dramatic suicide rate among the Indigenous population. Quebec’s coroner’s office was mandated to study five deaths that occurred at Uashat mak Mani-Utenam over a period of only six months. The coroner’s office looked into the causes of a collective ill-being and reported that Indigenous populations are experiencing a type of apartheid—that is, a system of systemic racial discrimination and segregation.
Community Groups and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA People
The report includes demands of different parts of Canadian society, including many in which community groups are directly involved such as: education, health and social services, social work, justice, media and culture. We hope that these demands can push the Quebec community sector to radically change the ways we have been relating, on the whole, to Indigenous struggles. This week, we also took a look at the Indigenous Solidarity Statement put out by Head and Hands as a source of inspiration for us. They write:
Head & Hands recognizes white supremacy’s effects on our work, and the ways in which we perpetuate or internalize white supremacist practices – particularly in how we inhabit Indigenous lands. It is also entrenched in our denial of white supremacy’s effects: after existing under this system for hundreds of years, we become ignorant of the micro and macro effects on Indigenous populations, histories, and safety.
We also appreciated in their statement the attention paid to the fact that nonprofits are often in a position of collaborating with institutions, including governments, that are key players in maintaining the genocidal violence outlined in the report. This might be a first questions for many community groups: what are we doing in our work to challenge and push back on those institutions with whom we partner? How can we use our voices with intention and clarity on this issue?
Head and Hands also made a number of concrete commitments in their statement, which we will reproduce here.
What we are committed to:
- The official Head & Hands Land Acknowledgement & Solidarity Statement must be displayed prominently on the Head & Hands website and office space. A link to the online land acknowledgment must be included in all staff email signatures, and online event promotion.
- Head & Hands staff are encouraged to give land acknowledgements at all events and workshops. These should be as unscripted as possible, and based in the context of the event, the assembled group, the place the event is held, and the staff members’ relationship to land.
- Head & Hands must close (for the entire day) in solidarity with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit people, attend the event, and promote on social media. This takes place annually in February and October. Head & Hands staff will also volunteer at these events as needed.
- Head & Hands will annually donate a minimum of $5000 to Native Montreal, regardless of budgetary constraints. Native Montreal is the closest Indigenous organization to NDG, and provides youth, family, and LGBTQ programming. Donations made in winter.
- Head & Hands will put aside minimum 10% of available tickets for Head & Hands events, to be offered for free to Indigenous youth and/or families.
- Head & Hands will continue our education through a minimum of one workshop for complete staff per year, provided by an Indigenous group and/or organization, for which we will pay.
- Head & Hands will participate in, and support, demonstrations from Indigenous groups that align with the values discussed in this Solidarity Statement.
- All Head & Hand workshops are offered to Indigenous organizations free of charge.
- Indigenous groups and organizations can use the Head & Hands space for free.
In our own way, COCo has been (clumsily, slowly) making our way through questions about how we might challenge and transform our own organizational relationship to colonialism. This includes rethinking the way we deliver training and workshops, how develop our own practice of land acknowledgements, and foster deeper understandings of the history of the land on which we work. We also try to support and lift up the work of Indigenous organizations, such as, most recently:
- the Montreal Indigenous Community Network
- Quebec Native Women
- Tupic Act
- the Step by Step Child and Family Center
As the report writes, “many Indigenous women’s advocacy organizations and grassroots organizations engaging in essential work to support survivors of violence and families of missing or lost loved ones, and working toward restoring safety, are underfunded and under supported by current funding formulas and systems.”
We at COCo recognize that we still have a long way to go with respect to doing right by anti-colonial work. Moving forward, we continue to sit with what Maya Angelou has sharply offered through her words: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”