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By Dr. Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis

Thanks to decades of organizing by Indigenous women and their allies, the Trudeau government has launched the national inquiry into the disproportionate numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada.

As activists have pointed out, the issue of violence against Indigenous women, indeed Indigenous peoples, is fundamentally about settler colonial land usurpation and the nation-state policies and practices, such as the reserve system, residential schools, prison-industrial complex, child welfare system and land claim processes, that have facilitated—and continue to facilitate—this process.

In fact, Indigenous women and their nations have resisted colonialism since its inception. We (the non-Indigenous population in particular) need to educate ourselves about this resistance.

“The inquiry arguably presents a watershed moment for us all—to extend and deepen the conversation that has been happening for decades.”

Opportunity to listen

My point is that Indigenous women and their families, communities and nations have and do speak for themselves—and the inquiry provides yet another possibility for non-Indigenous settlers such as me to listen. What I hear is that many are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming inquiry. I share this cautious optimism.

There are, of course, many questions and opinions, some of them quite divergent, about the limitations and possibilities of the inquiry.

I’d like to raise just a few.

First, will the inquiry faithfully take into account the insights and directives of those who participated in the pre-inquiry consultations?

Second, the terms of the inquiry state that “if the commissioners have reasonable grounds to believe that any information obtained in the course of the inquiry may be used in the investigation or prosecution of an offence under the Criminal Code,” the commissioners are authorised “to remit that information to the appropriate authorities.”

However, to what extent can the inquiry translate into “concrete and effective action,” i.e., justice for the families and loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, if its recommendations pertaining to particular unresolved cases—including the actions (or inaction) of police—are not binding?

Third, while it is vitally important to “make available to members of the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and to survivors of violence against Indigenous women and girls . . . trauma-informed and culturally appropriate counselling services,” how can the inquiry avoid reproducing widely propagated narratives of Indigenous community dysfunction and victimhood?

Fourth and finally, will the inquiry adequately center the specificities of violence against two-spirit and queer Indigenous communities? As I said, these are just some of the many concerns I’ve seen in circulation.

Artwork by Tannis Nielsen in support of the Violence No More event
Artwork by Tannis Nielsen

A watershed moment

These concerns and doubts aside, the inquiry arguably presents a watershed moment for us all—to extend and deepen the conversation that has been happening for decades. In that vein, I hope you can join us for a public panel and discussion about the inquiry, and ongoing efforts to strengthen community-based responses to violence against Indigenous women, girls, transgender and two-spirit people.

Co-organized by the Department of Gender Studies, the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre and No More Silence, “Violence No More: Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” will take place on Saturday, Aug. 13, from 6-9:30 p.m. in room IIC-2001, Bruneau Centre for Research and Innovation, Memorial University’s St. John’s campus. Panelists are Charlotte Wolfrey, anti-violence advocate of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut; Barbara Barker, Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation and lawyer in St. John’s; Dr. Alex Wilson, Opaskwayak Cree Nation and associate professor, University of Saskatchewan; and Dr. Kim Stanton human rights lawyer and legal director of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, LEAF.

For more information, please visit the Facebook page Violence No More Newfoundland & Labrador.

Financial support for the panel has been provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC Connection Grants); Memorial University (Conference Fund; Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences; Department of Gender Studies) and The Groundswell Fund.


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