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