Six Na­tions fam­i­lies, coun­cil call for re­set of na­tional MMIWG in­quiry

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - TERI PECOSKIE

JOY WAS MORE than an aunt to Chastity Martin.

“She was my se­cret keeper, my con­fi­dant, my big sis­ter,” she says. Then she was gone. Three days af­ter she worked up the courage to leave him, Paula Joy Hill was stabbed to death by her hus­band in a Brant­ford mo­tel room. Her mur­der, 21 years ago last April, tore Martin’s fam­ily apart.

“We all stopped speak­ing to one an­other,” said the 44-year-old from Six Na­tions. “We all just felt guilty be­cause we weren’t able to pro­tect her.”

Martin, in a sense, is lucky — she had the means and op­por­tu­nity to tell her story. Oth­ers haven’t had that chance. That’s just one con­cern for Martin and the fam­i­lies of vic­tims seek­ing an over­haul of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s in­quiry into miss­ing and

“It must be built on the strengths and re­silien­cies of Indigenous cul­ture, val­ues, cer­e­monies and medicines.” AVA HILL ELECTED CHIEF, SIX NA­TIONS BAND COUN­CIL

mur­dered Indigenous women. They have called for the res­ig­na­tion of the cur­rent com­mis­sion­ers and for the in­quiry process to be re­set — a re­quest backed by the lo­cal band coun­cil and a grow­ing list of or­ga­ni­za­tions from coast to coast.

In a state­ment re­leased late last week, Six Na­tions Chief Ava Hill de­nounced the present in­quiry as rooted in colo­nial val­ues and pro­cesses. In­stead, she said, “It must be built on the strengths and re­silien­cies of Indigenous cul­ture, val­ues, cer­e­monies and medicines.”

Martin put it more bluntly, say­ing sim­ply “a change needs to hap­pen.” A Na­tive youth ad­viser for the Hamilton-Went­worth Dis­trict School Board, Martin has long had doubts about the $54-mil­lion in­quiry. Last Au­gust, about a month be­fore the process for­mally started, she told The Spec­ta­tor she was con­cerned about polic­ing and ser­vices for vic­tims and sur­vivors, and raised ques­tions about how the com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions will ul­ti­mately be en­forced. That hasn’t changed. “They can say and do all this stuff, but then what?” she said Tues­day. “I just think the money could be used in ev­ery­one’s com­mu­nity to do bet­ter things with your own peo­ple.”

That doesn’t mean she wants the in­quiry to halt or lose mo­men­tum, even if it has been plagued with prob­lems, such as the re­cent de­par­ture of a high pro­file com­mis­sioner. In her let­ter of res­ig­na­tion, Mar­i­lyn Poitras wrote that af­ter serv­ing on the com­mis­sion for the past 10 months she re­al­ized the vi­sion she holds is shared by very few within the na­tional in­quiry — with the sta­tus quo colo­nial model of hear­ing be­ing the path for most.

Poitras’s state­ment echoes the con­cerns of the fam­ily mem­bers of the mur­dered and miss­ing — Martin in­cluded — who en­dorsed an open let­ter to com­mis­sion chief Mar­ion Buller in May. The group is­sued a call for ac­tion and high­lighted a list of crit­i­cal is­sues and ques­tions it says need to be ad­dressed ur­gently. It in­cludes:

Proper plan­ning with com­mu­ni­ties in or­der to en­sure Indigenous laws, cer­e­monies and re­gional pro­to­cols are re­spected where in­quiry cir­cles, meet­ings and hear­ings take place;

An ex­ten­sion of the in­quiry’s two-year time frame;

Bet­ter lead­er­ship and the in­clu­sion of fam­ily lead­ers, ad­vo­cates, agen­cies and other ex­perts who, so far, the com­mis­sion has failed to en­gage (Ganohk­wasra Fam­ily As­sault Sup­port Ser­vices is one lo­cal ex­am­ple);

More trans­parency and com­mu­ni­ca­tion about the in­quiry’s plans, pro­ce­dures and sched­ule, and;

A clear ex­pla­na­tion as to how fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties, ad­vo­cates and the marginal­ized, in­clud­ing sex trade work­ers and the home­less, can ap­ply for stand­ing and make their voices heard.

On July 11, just a day af­ter Poitras no­ti­fied Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau she was step­ping down, Six Na­tions fam­i­lies met with com­mis­sion­ers and Indigenous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Carolyn Ben­nett to dis­cuss the let­ter and lo­cal con­cerns.

Those talks didn’t in­clude the mat­ter of Six Na­tions, the most pop­u­lous re­serve in Canada, host­ing a hear­ing, as pre­vi­ously re­quested on be­half of the fam­i­lies by Ganohk­wasra di­rec­tor Sandra Mon­tour and Hill.

On Thurs­day, how­ever, a band coun­cil spokesper­son said a let­ter of ac­knowl­edge­ment has been re­ceived by the com­mis­sion chief, Buller, but no date for the hear­ing has been set. The com­mis­sion didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. Asked about Six Na­tions’ ap­peal, the min­is­ter’s of­fice said it is up to the com­mis­sion to de­ter­mine where hear­ings take place. It also is­sued the fol­low­ing state­ment:

“We re­main com­mit­ted to the na­tional in­quiry and to end­ing the un­ac­cept­able rates of vi­o­lence against Indigenous women and girls. The min­is­ter has met with the com­mis­sion, dis­cussed fam­i­lies’ con­cerns, and en­cour­aged com­mis­sion­ers to re­spond di­rectly to their very real reser­va­tions in or­der to con­tinue work­ing and to see this through ...

“We are con­fi­dent that the com­mis­sion has the tools, the re­sources, and the net­works to en­sure that fam­i­lies are heard and that they have the sup­port they need.”

Martin doesn’t share that con­fi­dence.

“It’s very dis­ap­point­ing,” she said. “You’ll al­ways hope that things will work out, that they’ll get their act to­gether. Like, there’s noth­ing wrong with tak­ing a break and start­ing over, there’s noth­ing wrong with bow­ing down and let­ting some­one else have a chance ...

“There’s peo­ple who have been ask­ing for this and work­ing half of their life for it. I think give them the dig­nity they’ve been ask­ing for. If I didn’t do my job right, I’d be fired in a heart­beat. Why aren’t th­ese peo­ple?”

You’ll al­ways hope that things will work out, that they’ll get their act to­gether. CHASTITY MARTIN

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMILTON SPEC­TA­TOR

Chastity Martin with a photo of her aunt, Paula Joy Hill, one of Six Na­tions’ miss­ing and mur­dered Indigenous women. Hill was stabbed to death by her hus­band in 1996.

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