A life-sized bronze monument honouring missing and murdered indigenous women and girls was recently unveiled near the main entrance of Saskatoon police headquarters. Created by artist Lionel Peyachew, the sculpture depicts Red Star Woman, a fancy dancer with her shawl as wings Photo by Tim Yaworski

Bishops look for healing at missing, murdered Indigenous women inquiry

By 
  • June 1, 2017

The road to healing is long, but it is a destination Canada’s bishops hope can be reached by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The long-awaited public meetings into what Bishop Douglas Crosby describes as a “horror” began May 29 in Whitehorse.

“We have written a letter very much in support of this inquiry,” said Crosby, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Hopefully it will bring some insight and it will bring understanding into what is a horror. A horror has taken place.”

Last month the CCCB issued a letter asking Canadian dioceses to support Indigenous communities by assisting the inquiry, as well as identifying and documenting residential school cemeteries.

“This will bring peace of mind and soul to a lot of aboriginal people,” he said. “This is what this is about.”

The MMIWG inquiry was announced by the federal government on Dec. 8, 2015 and has been under fire with accusations that it has not communicated well with affected families.

It is estimated that at least 1,200 indigenous girls and women were either murdered or went missing over several decades.

“We need to find out exactly what has happened and where are these people and what has happened to them,” said Crosby.

The hearings will take an informal approach and be held in non-courthouse buildings. The Catholic bishops have offered the use of parish halls and centres as needed during the inquiry, which is scheduled to present its final report at the end of 2018.

Crosby said by using a spiritual setting the hearings have a greater chance at going beyond conversations.

“It is not just a conversation, it has got to lead to healing,” said the Bishop of Hamilton. “It is the healing process and the healing process is done by dialogue.”

In addition to providing a place for the hearings the Catholic bishops have called on local parishes to assist those involved with the inquiry with transportation, accommodations and spiritual support as needed.

“That will happen at the local level,” he said. “Where there’s a need and where the Church can lean in I believe that the Church will, again, at the local level.”

Following the three days of hearings in Whitehorse, the inquiry will hear from experts on violence against women before turning their attention back to the families in the fall.


National Inquiry into MMIWG

BACKGROUND

  • - Rates of violence against aboriginal women in Canada 3.5 times higher than non-aboriginal women, according to data from various native and non-native groups.
  • - A 2014 report by the RCMP said nearly 1,200 indigenous women and girls have disappeared or were slain in recent decades. 

TIMELINE

  • - Federal government announced launch of national inquiry on Dec. 8, 2015
  • - National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2018. Marion Buller is the chief commissioner.
  • - Cost of inquiry: $53.8 million
  • - About 300 families are participating 
  • - Whitehorse site of first community hearing, May 29-31. Public hearings expected to resume in September.
  • - Interim report to be completed by Nov. 1, with final report by Nov. 1, 2018

INQUIRY MANDATE

  • - The inquiry says it “will look at the web of services and programs that are meant to create healthy, protective and livable communities across Canada.” Specific areas include “systemic causes of all forms of violence” and “institutional policies and practices implemented in response to the violence.” 
  • - The inquiry is not mandated to investigate or re-investigate cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, nor provide monetary compensation or restitution.


Sources: MMIWG, Native Women’s Association of Canada

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