Public Hearings for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Conclude in Metro Vancouver

Though the inquiry is progressing, it has been the subject of heavy criticism

Seema Ahluwalia, professor of sociology at Kwantlen Polytechic University, dedicates much of her time towards community outreach work for Indigenous and women’s organizations. (Submitted)

After five days of testimonies from over 100 witnesses, the public hearings for the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) have concluded.

The inquiry seeks to examine the “systemic causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women [and] girls” in Canada, according to the inquiry website. It’s estimated that, within the past four decades, approximately 4,000 Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or have gone missing.

Family members and survivors gave their testimonies before the inquiry, recounting harrowing stories about missing and murdered loved ones, the child welfare system, failures of the judicial system, and the trauma caused by residential schools.

The national inquiry was announced by the Liberal government in 2015 at the behest of Indigenous families and officially launched on Sept. 1, 2016. Public hearings commenced on May 19, 2017 and have been held in all 13 provinces and territories since. An official report is due by the end of the year.

Despite this, Seema Ahluwalia, a professor of sociology at KPU, is concerned that the inquiry will be unable to fulfill its goals and will only scratch the surface of the true causes behind the crisis.

She says that one of the core issues behind the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is colonialism. This includes the vulnerabilities, poverty, and trafficking experienced by Indigenous women and Indigenous children forced into the welfare system.

Primarily, Ahluwalia says that the inquiry will fail to address the role of the “Canadian state in creating the current state of affairs for Native women, where they are targeted for violence, where they are made vulnerable by poverty and colonization, where they are treated as second-class citizens in Canada, and where there is largely indifference to their suffering by the Canadian population as a whole.”

She is also worried that, because the hearings are not being held in more rural communities, they are excluding others from coming forward and testifying about their experiences.

Since its beginning, the inquiry has been the subject of criticism. Ahluwalia says that it has suffered from underfunding, a lack of communication between the government and Indigenous people, and the resignation of key figures.

The commission has asked the federal government for a two-year extension but it is currently unknown whether or not that request will be granted.

The Wally Oppal Inquiry, which examined how law enforcement failed to apprehend serial killer Robert Pickton, was created in 2012. The inquiry was heavily scrutinized and viewed as a failure by advocates who said that it wasn’t in-depth enough, as key pieces of evidence weren’t studied or acknowledged.

Ahluwalia fears that the national inquiry might be a repeat of the Wally Oppal Inquiry, which she says many speak of “as a lost opportunity.”

She adds that Indigenous families are often not believed by law enforcement and that, when their concerns are dismissed, many families decide to investigate the disappearances themselves.

“Native women are three times more likely to be murdered by strangers than non-Native women,” she says. “It is a standard trope in Canadian culture now for people to talk about the ‘Indian problem’ but really Canada is the problem.”

While Ahluwalia teaches about Indigenous and women’s issues in her classes, she feels that there isn’t a strong awareness of them at KPU, and that much more can be done to educate students. She wants Canadians to remember that the women who have been murdered or have gone missing are loved by someone, and when tragedy strikes, their loved ones suffer.