The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and Girls has made its way to northern B.C. but the process is unclear to some.
MMIW community liaisons Alanna Boileau and Melissa Carlick were in Terrace July 19 and 20, to talk to explain the process with organizations such as friendship centres, health directors and leaders.
They said legal and health teams were here and in Prince Rupert taking names of people who want to speak at the public hearing or in private to the commissioner of the inquiry in Smithers in September.
The teams were also finding out if people need any supports to help them feel comfortable while speaking at the hearing.
“People are generous and welcoming. Everyone wants to help,” Boileau said.
“We stopped in at a few organizations to give a face to the inquiry and to do some outreach.”
A key item was to let families know how to participate – people can call, email, fax or send a letter.
“A lot just want their loved one honoured and their names to be somewhere,” Boileau said.
A curator is travelling with the teams to collect artwork from anyone who wants to participate through their artwork, she added.
Boileau said that the inquiry isn’t only about the missing and murdered Indigenous women and their families but also about Indigenous women and girls who have experienced and survived violence whether it’s domestic abuse, the sex trade or crime.
Also included are two-spirited people and the LGBTQ community and youths, she added.
“It’s about understanding the systemic barriers to wellness,” Boileau said.
But there was little notice leading up to the community liaisons’ visit, and some of the families affected were dissatisfied with the process.
Claudia Williams, a former Prince Rupert resident, whose sister Alberta Williams was murdered in 1989 along the Skeena River, and whose case remains unsolved, said she is frustrated with the timing of notices provided by the inquiry.
“How do they expect people to be involved with such short notice?” Williams asked, in reference to the announcement of community meetings. She also expressed frustration about the amount of time it took for inquiry staff to get back to her after her registration, saying it took far longer than a week to hear back.
“I [had to] resend my registration to them,” Williams said.
Williams lives in the Lower Mainland and said she isn’t sure if she is supposed to attend the community hearing in Smithers or wait for a hearing in the Vancouver area.
“It’s just so unorganized.”
On July 11, Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Carolyn Bennett admitted that the inquiry was suffering from communications issues.
“There is no question that we all agree that the communication has been an issue,” Bennett said at a press conference in Ottawa. “They have got to do a better job of communicating their plan and their vision, values and the way they’re going to get this work done.”
In light of Bennett’s revelation, it’s important to note that The Northern View received notice from the inquiry’s communications staff inviting affected families to visit Smithers, Hazelton and Terrace to register in person, on the same day registration began — July 18. Community meetings to register families took place in Smithers on July 18-19, Hazelton on July 19 and Terrace on July 20.
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen has expressed concern on how the federal government has handled the inquiry.
“There have been many challenges to getting the work of the inquiry off the ground, directly including families in the work, and developing a sufficiently broad mandate to allow real understanding of the deeper issues of violence against Indigenous women and girls,” Cullen said in a press release on July 10, after it was announced that the inquiry would travel to northwest B.C.
How the process works
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will be holding community hearings in Smithers during the week of September 25.
The community hearings are part of the overall “truth gathering process” and provides families, survivors and loved ones a comfortable and safe way to share their stories in one of five ways.
An information sheet found on the inquiry’s website states that affected families must first choose to become a participant and register. The release also provides the six steps participants will follow to share their stories.
For families who may not have received the notice to attend one of the community meetings to register for the community hearings, here are the ways you may sign up to participate in sharing your story with the commission:Telephone 1-844-348-4119
Mail: PO Box 500. Station A – Vancouver B.C. V6C 2N3
In-person during a community visit before a hearing
Participants are asked to include their name, phone number, email and location in their initial contact with the inquiry.
The current wait period to receive a response from the inquiry is one week, the release states, and after a telephone meeting is set up, individuals who are registered will move on to Step Two.
Step Two is where families are contacted by a member of the inquiry’s health team and allow for basic information gathering to help the inquiry team understand the support required to tell their stories.
Step Three is where a member of the inquiry’s legal team will contact the registrant(s) to help prepare them to share their stories in the best way possible, including counselling families and survivors to gather documents needed such as coroner, police and crown reports.
There are five ways the affected family members can share their stories:Before a commissioner in a public community hearing
Before a commissioner in a private and confidential hearing
In a circle, with family members, or other families, loved ones of survivors, before a commissioner
Before a statement gatherer in a private place with no commissioner (the commissioners will then read/view your statement)
By artistic expression like artwork, song, poetry or a video/audio tape that you have prepared
After families involved have determined how they wish to share, Step Four is preparation. A member of the inquiry’s community relations team will contact the affected individual and work with them on how to tell their story. It may be planning travel to and from a community hearing or to a location to be with a statement gatherer.
Step Five is for families involved to share their story in the manner they have chosen. A schedule of events will be shared with registrants and they will their health supports and a member of the inquiry’s legal team on hand to assist them through the process.
The final step is to follow up with support for families who have offered their stories.