On Tuesday, December 8th,  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the launch of a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

The Prime Minister made the announcement to Chiefs-in-Assembly and more than 1,000 delegates at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Quebec.

“This has been a long time coming, and we have always said the families and individuals impacted by violence against women be central to immediate action and a national inquiry,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “After years of denial and deflection, it is my hope we can make real strides in achieving justice for families and achieving safety and security for all our people.”

The Prime Minister, along with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould participated in the Grand Entry and engaged First Nation leaders during the opening of the three-day Assembly.

The inquiry was also announced in the House of Commons by the federal ministers of Justice, Indigenous Affairs, and Status of Women, Patty Hajdu. The ministers will lead meetings across Canada with families, national Aboriginal organizations (including AFN), provinces and territories and interested parties and experts.

“Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls represent a heartbreaking national tragedy that must be addressed immediately. Inaction ends today. This is why we need to hear from all Canadians – especially survivors, families and loved ones, Indigenous organizations, and provinces and territories – to help us identify the best process for this inquiry,” said Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

“The unanswered calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada end today,” said Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice. “The launch of this inquiry is an important step towards a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship and sense of trust between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

“We recognize that a number of factors, like racism, marginalization, sexism, and poverty have contributed to the ongoing tragedy of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. This inquiry is necessary to address and prevent future violence against Indigenous women and girls. These women are not statistics – they are daughters, sisters, and mothers – and they have the right to live safely and free of violence,” said Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women.

A discussion guide has been developed and will soon be available online to help focus meetings on the inquiry design process. It includes questions about who should conduct the inquiry, the length of the inquiry, who should be heard, and what issues should be considered. Canadians and stakeholders are also encouraged to submit their own answers to these questions in a soon-to-be launched online survey.

Bear AFN Assembly

FSIN Vice Chief Heather Bear (right) speaking with youth during the AFN Special Chief’s Assembly. Photo credit Robert Cote.

At the end of this engagement process, the Government will report back on what has been heard from the participants. The views and ideas will allow the Government to develop the inquiry, including the mandate, the terms of reference, the format of the Inquiry, and the timeline.

Also in his address at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly, PM Trudeau confirmed the end to the 2 per cent cap on funding to First Nations bands, consultations on all major natural resource developments, sustainable and long-term fiscal funding arrangements for all First Nation bands, increased funding for First Nation education, and a commitment to implement the recommendations contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Prime Minister called for solidarity and for government, leaders and communities to begin working together to close the gap on First Nations quality of life across the country.

“History was witnessed today as Prime Minister Trudeau kept his promise to attend and address our leaders from Saskatchewan and across Canada. The Prime Minister reaffirmed his election promise of a new nation-to-nation relationship with the Liberal government and Crown, and the recognition of our Treaty and Inherent Rights,” Chief Bobby Cameron said.

“We want to commend the Prime Minister for his commitment and promises kept to our people. It is a new day in Canada and now the real work begins to discuss, negotiate and implement the new nation-to-nation relationship based on our Inherent and Treaty Rights,” Chief Cameron said.

FSIN Vice Chief Heather Bear says there is hope, optimism and scepticism at the AFN special assembly adding that another group of missing people needs to be addressed.

“The other item that came up of importance was that resonating across the room was the men and boys, their over represented in this country as far as the issue,” said Bear. “Although the women and girls have this big issue that just pertains to the women  We need to look at addressing missing and murdered indigenous persons as a whole as well.”

Bear says the FSIN will work with families, grass root organizations, and consult with leadership to get their input on the inquiry process.

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