APTN National News
Harvey Michele was eating breakfast with his mother in Thunder Bay Ontario when the police walked in through the diner door.
“The police came and told my mom ‘can you please come and identify this woman,’” recalls Michele. “We went to the morgue and I accompanied her, and she went in and came back and it was indeed my aunt that was found murdered.”
His aunt’s name was Alice Quoquat, and 40 years later, her killer has never been found.
As a result, Michele has had an interest in the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).
Which is why he was upset when he came across a Facebook post on Feb. 15 by Inquiry Commissioner Michèle Audette stating that the inquiry was on its way to Montreal for a meeting.
“As a family member I felt as if I was left out, in this process of transparency of the inquiry,” said Michele.
The meeting, as is turns out, was meant for front line workers.
But that wasn’t clear to Michele.
The Ojibway man said the inquiry shouldn’t be dependent on social media to disseminate information. That in the interest of transparency, the minutes from all meetings should be readily available.
“We need proactive family engagement. It seems like, to me, well, if you’re not in the loop, then you’re out of the loop,” he said.
The national inquiry said better communication and transparency is on its way.
For starters they point to their website where they claim interested people can sign up for a newsletter.
” Our communication through the newsletter is going to be the information of how you can be involved in what’s coming up, including advisory meetings that are going to be happening throughout the regions,” said Waneek Horn-Miller, the director of community relations for the inquiry.
But the inquiry has yet to actually send out a newsletter, and other than stating that hearings will start in May, no date or location has been announced.
For Mohawk artist/activist Ellen Gabriel, it’s symptomatic of larger problems.
She said six months in, the inquiry should be in the public hearing stage.
“They have a two year mandate, a nice healthy budget and there is absolutely no excuse for the delay,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel attended the Montreal meeting and came away with the feeling that instead of addressing the finer points of how to conduct the inquiry, such as how to insure police cooperation using subpoenas, it was still mired in discussing systemic social issues.
“In the pre inquiry they travelled across Canada, they asked these [social issue] questions, so they had a guideline so they’re not starting from scratch, but from what I’ve seen it’s almost like they are starting from scratch,” she said.
Horn-Miller said the inquiry team is open to criticism, but emphasizes that the MMIWG inquiry is unlike any that has come before.
She points to the fact that they have to navigate orders and council from all the provinces, territories, as well as the federal government.
Other challenges also include security clearances for prospective employees that take six weeks, as well as significant mental health infrastructure that needs to be put in place for families.
“One of the most important things that we have to understand is this kind of inquiry has never happened before,” she said. “We don’t have a template we can follow so we’re moving forward with a few principles that we really want to make sure are held in the forefront. That is, do no further harm, we want to have a trauma informed approach to how we engage with families.”
For his part, Harvey eventually made contact with a liaison officer for the inquiry, which helped cleared up the misunderstanding.
He hopes that soon it will be easier for others to be included right from the get go.
“I’m more worried at the same time about my aunt’s sons, are they getting that information?,” he wonders,” he said.
Aside from the newsletter, the national inquiry into MMIWG said it will also begin a community radio campaign targeting more remote communities, but that for the time being the best way to stay up to date is to still follow them on social media. They expect to begin public meetings sometime in May.