The chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) said governments and private-sector organizations can now begin strategizing how to address the report’s 231 recommendations.
Marion Buller was at Thompson Rivers University on Monday, speaking to a packed crowd in the Brown Family House of Learning about the report, which cited the significant, persistent and deliberate pattern of systemic human rights and Indigenous-rights violations and abuses as the cause of the disappearances, murders and violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls.
The report said the violence constituted genocide by the state against Indigenous people.
Buller described the report’s recommendations as “legal imperatives” rather than mere recommendations, given Canada’s commitment to international declarations and treaties recognizing Indigenous, human and civil rights.
She said the inquiry found “breach upon breach,” arguing the federal government cannot continue to promote an image of Canada upholding those rights while that not being the case domestically.
The report calls on all forms of government to ensure those rights are recognized and protected. That includes Indigenous governments, which Buller said were found to not have the full trust of Indigenous women to represent their interests.
The recommendations also extended to facets of society such as the media, hospitality and transportation industries and education and legal systems.
Buller told KTW both the public and private sectors should read the report and start to strategize how they can address its recommendations. She said the cities of Saskatoon and Winnipeg are already doing this and noted Kamloops can do the same.
“I suggest the mayor here call the mayors of Winnipeg and Saskatoon and find out precisely what they’re doing,” she said.
Buller also suggested the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation also read the report and develop priorities, strategies and partnerships needed in order to move forward.
Provinces and territories could begin to work on education, child care and the justice system independent of the federal government, given their jurisdictions in these areas, she said.
“Provincial and territorial governments, you have no excuse for not moving forward,” Buller said during her presentation.
Taking questions from the crowd, Buller was asked how a national action plan can be implemented when baseline data is incomplete and a federal election is on the horizon.
She said such a plan won’t be easy, but added it will need to be implemented through a partnership with Indigenous peoples at all levels of government.
“Not by government doing to us, yet again, but us doing it with government,” Buller said.
The inquiry heard from 1,434 family members and survivors of violence, gathered testimony from 83 experts and knowledge keepers and held 15 community hearings and more than 50 statement-gathering events across Canada, Buller said, noting a research team also analyzed more than 900 studies for the report.
She pointed to a number of disturbing trends that stood out to her over the course of compiling the report.
One was that women didn’t feel safe in their own communities or homes, particularly in Northern Canada.
“There are no safe houses. There may be only one road out and that is an ice road,” Buller said. “So many women do not have a choice that women in urban centres have.”
Buller also heard that violence was a normal part of women’s lives — a normalized occurrence passed down from multiple generations stemming from the residential school system.
Disillusionment with police was also a common theme, Buller said, noting she also heard numerous stories in which police officers went “above and beyond the call of duty to keep women safe, but those stories were few and far between.”
Too often, Buller said, she heard women say they had no choice but to sell their bodies to feed their children. Buller also heard from women who said they were trafficked.
“I am appalled at the amount of human trafficking that’s taking place in Canada,” she said. “As a judge, I thought I knew everything. I didn’t.”
Some of the recommendations Buller noted from the report include the need for better resourced First Nations police services, health care to be treated a human right, the need for mobile services and the importance of Indigenous languages being made official languages.
Safe and affordable transportation services to combat trafficking, greater context when educating students about first contact, expanding legal aid and changing the definition of some offences that imply consent on the part of the victim were other recommendations she noted in her presentation.
While addressing the use of the word “genocide” in the report, which sparked debate over whether it was an accurate term, Buller told KTW she thinks people are now turning their attention to the actual content of the report.
“Genocide is only one of millions of words in our final report,” she said.
Looking ahead, Buller said there are many people “who aren’t going to let this issue or this report gather dust all across Canada and internationally.”
The mandate of the report was to inquire and report on systemic underlying and historical causes of violence against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ people and make recommendations to stop that violence.
“What’s happened through the process of colonization is that Indigenous women have lost their power and lost their place in their own societies, “ Buller said. “We want to come back full circle.”