Feeling the pain
Trudeau accepts finding of genocide in inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
What Sharon Williston remembers most about sitting in the room during the final report on the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was feeling the pain of family members.
“It was very emotional sitting amongst family members who lost their daughters, mothers, granddaughters, aunts and friends,” the executive director of Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network said of the event on June 3. “To them, that report is their hope for justice and that other families won’t go through what they’ve gone through.”
During the final report, Williston remembers hearing a woman — who lost her daughter violence — utter “genocide,” as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was speaking.
“Really, the amount of hurt in the room was overwhelming,” Williston said.
Trudeau didn’t use the term genocide during the final report to describe the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls. However, the following day, during the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver, he said he accepted the inquiry’s conclusion that it constituted “genocide.”
Williston was relieved the prime minister acknowledged it was genocide. Had he not, she said, more of a focus would be put on that instead of moving forward, conducting the necessary reviews and the call for justice into action.
While her organization never made a presentation to the inquiry, she said the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s network joined forces with the Eastern Door Indigenous Women’s Association and was able to get representation at the inquiry as a party withstanding.
Williston said the term genocide creates fear in people.
“We need to focus on how to replace that fear with positive action that will bring about positive changes,” she said.
Williston said while the RCMP and other government agencies, including the healthcare system, must look at the issue, people in the community should also address it. She said racism must be combatted through education.
Odelle Pike of the People of the Dawn Friendship Centre, who attended many of the inquiry’s presentations, recognized while the final report has been complied, putting the recommendations into action will be a monumental task.
She said First Nations, Metis and Inuit are all distinct peoples and the implementation must recognize and reflect the distinct needs and governance structures of all Indigenous groups.
“For these recommendations to happen we need the support of all levels of government,” Pike said.
She said the evidence in the report is very clear that changes are needed in the present structures to combat the violence that exists in this country’s Indigenous populations, and government has a legal obligation to make things right.
Pike said the prime minister gave his word his government will turn the inquiry’s calls for justice into real, meaningful and Indigenous-led action.
“He also said his government must continue to decolonize their existing structures. I can only hope that he will keep his word and start the process to make things better for all Indigenous peoples within Canada,” she said.
Odelle Pike of the People of the Dawn Friendship Centre, left, and Sharon Williston, executive director of the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network, pose for a photo in the Friendship Centre on Main Street in Stephenville.