Feel­ing the pain

Trudeau ac­cepts find­ing of geno­cide in in­quiry into Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women and Girls

The Western Star - - CLOSE TO HOME - FRANK GALE

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.

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