The hundreds of recommendations for Canadian society and government by the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are in response to what is properly called genocide, said a First Nations lawyer at a press conference in Vancouver Monday.
The inquiry report’s use of the term genocide to describe what it called systematic race- and gender-based violence against Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people was hotly debated on social media since the report’s leak on Friday.
But Sharon McIvor, Nlaka’pamux from the Lower Nicola Indian Band and an activist, lawyer and college professor said, “It was good to acknowledge that what’s been happening for the last 200 years is genocide.”
McIvor said Canada must acknowledge its role in creating and perpetuating the colonial structures that have led to the high murder rates Indigenous women and girls have and continue to face.
“They have a huge role to play to put us where we are, and they have a role to play to get us back from where we are,” McIvor said. “I call on the government to take [the report] seriously and tomorrow make me equal to my male counterparts in law.”
The inquiry’s report, released Monday, is 1,200 pages long and contains 231 recommendations the inquiry says will end violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
The recommendations include calls for action on human rights, policing, the justice system, corrections, health care, education, media, social work and child welfare.
Sophie Merasty recalled her sister Rose Merasty’s murder and the need for an evaluation of the Gladue principles.
The Gladue principles came out of a 1999 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, finding that judges must consider the historical and cultural context of Indigenous offenders when sentencing them for crimes.
“My sister Rose was killed by an Indigenous man, and because of this principle, he was released after only serving one month in the holding cell,” said Merasty, a key contributor on the Red Women Rising report, a comprehensive report based on lived experiences and expertise of Indigenous survivors.
“After I made a testimony at the Richmond hearings, the police gave me a report and told me that he had reoffended and was now serving a life sentence.”
She said the inquiry’s “calls to justice are not optional, and human rights are legal obligations that all levels of government must act on.”
Monday’s press conference was organized by Feminists Deliver, a four-day conference organized by 25 British Columbia-based organizations representing women, girls, non-binary and two-spirit people in response to the 2019 Women Deliver Conference that also began Monday in Vancouver. Feminists Deliver was organized as a protest of Canada’s failure to protect Indigenous women and gender-diverse people.
Before introducing the speakers for the press conference, emcee Rhiannon Bennett, the first Indigenous person to be elected to the Delta Board of Education, expressed her frustrations with the leak of the inquiry’s report to CBC and the Toronto Star on Friday.
“Indigenous women and their families were denied [the chance] to come together today in a safe space and have these conversations. That that was taken from us again — that safety,” Bennett said. “That perpetual violence against Indigenous women is even showing itself through a leaked report. A report that’s supposed to talk about the problems that Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit people are facing. How shameful that is, and how Canadian that is to not think about the human aspect of the neighbouring consequences of that leak.”
Lorelei Williams, founder of Butterflies in Spirit, a group of Indigenous women who raise awareness for the missing and murdered through dance, told the press conference she was upset when she learned that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was one of the speakers representing Canada at Women Deliver.
Williams is one of many individuals whose family relatives were missing or murdered. Her aunt Belinda Williams went missing in 1977, and her cousin Tanya Holyk was one of serial killer Robert Pickton’s victims.
“He gave us this national inquiry of MMIWG,” Williams said. “However, he approved the pipelines to go into Mother Earth, raping her and creating more places for women to go missing and be murdered along these pipelines? It is a known fact that our Indigenous women and girls go missing and are murdered along these pipelines.”
Williams said Trudeau does not represent Indigenous peoples in Canada, or the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. “We are the original nations of Turtle Island,” she said.
The introduction to the inquiry’s report reads, “The fact that this National Inquiry is happening now doesn’t mean that Indigenous peoples waited this long to speak up; it means it took this long for Canada to listen.”
But that statement falls short for Summer-Rain Bentham, manager at Battered Women’s Support Services.
“Listening is not action,” she said. “Listening does not stop men from being able to target and harm Indigenous women and girls, trans, and two-spirit with near impunity.”
Bentham said the ongoing disappearance and murder of women and girls since the inquiry’s start three years ago is evidence that Canada is ignoring the genocide against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
Implementing the calls to justice are the first steps Canada can take to show that “Indigenous women and girls are valuable, sacred,” Bentham said.
Annita Lucchesi is a Cheyenne doctoral candidate in the University of Lethbridge and the executive director of Sovereign Bodies Institute (SBI), an organization built on Indigenous traditions of data gathering to create research on gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people. SBI is based in Wiyot and Ohlone territories, in Northern California.
Lucchesi shared her survival story of almost being one of the missing and murdered Indigenous women. She said that does not usually share her personal experience with the public but felt obligated to do so at Feminists Deliver.
“Our sisters and two-spirit relatives who have been missing or murdered — they paid with their lives for this movement. They gave their lives so that we would be able to fight for the safety of other Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit folks…. We have a responsibility to them.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, was the final speaker to respond to the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
He said real change must be fought for, and Canada’s genocidal history described in the report must be acknowledged.
“It’s our responsibility to hold all governments at all levels to account, to ensure that the recommendations of this report do not gather dust on some bureaucratic shelf in Ottawa like the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples,” he said.
Phillip criticized Trudeau for what he said were his lack of concrete solutions to Canada’s genocidal history and present.
“We can’t allow Prime Minister Trudeau to prance in here and offer good intentions,” Phillip said. “We need action. Enough talk, enough consultation. The time for talk is over, now is the time for action. It’s our responsibility to ensure that happens.”