APTN National News
Diane Lilley can’t remember whether it was the right hand or the left hand that police used to identify her sister.
Tina Washpan’s body was discovered along the Highway of Tears 20 years after her murder.
Lilley said she will always remember the feeling of sitting by the telephone waiting for answers.
“Even today it is quite hurtful to think back to my sister when she went missing and was found,” Lilley told APTN. “But I’m here to support the families and to keep my sister Tina’s memories alive.”
Lilley is now working to help other families in the north, by sharing her story at the first national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls regional advisory meetings in Whitehorse in the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün and Ta’an Kwach’an.
The meetings in Whitehorse began on Tuesday with a welcoming sacred fire ceremony that drew around 100 people and meetings on Wednesday and Thursday dedicated to families and community organizations.
Fifty family members of Indigenous women and girls who have gone, missing, been murdered or experienced violence who met with Chief Commissioner Marion Buller, Commissioner Marilyn Poitras, researchers and members of the commission’s legal team to discuss their legal options and how they can participate in the national inquiry.
Community organizations such as the Aboriginal Women’s Circle and the Yukon Women’s Directorate were also on hand to inform the commission on the practices and protocols of the north and how they could best conduct the inquiry in the Yukon based on area-specific systemic issues.
Tiar Wilson, communications advisor with the inquiry told APTN that Whitehorse was chosen as the starting location for the regional meetings because of the the Territorial government and the Women’s Council’s strong pitch and advocacy on the issue.
The regional meetings are part of the terms of reference in preparation for truth-finding gathering also known as a hearing, something Butler said she is happy with.
“Holding these preliminary, regional meetings is the right thing; that’s the Indigenous thing,” said Wilson. “To consult with people, to understand their protocols, their rules of proper conduct, to understand their languages and their issues.”
Aimée Craft, director of research with the inquiry, said that each regional meeting will help inform the commission on how the process should unfold in this particular region.
The truth-finding gatherings, an Indigenized term taken on by the commission in place of the more colonial and legal term “hearings” are where information and stories will be recorded.
Those will begin in Whitehorse on May 29.
On Friday, the commission announced that it is postponing future truth-finding gatherings until further notice and it’s not clear on whether that will delay the start of the official inquiry.
Poitras said that the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women collected by the commission has grown since the commission arrived in Whitehorse.
“So far, the commission has more than 250 names of people registered to take part in the National Inquiry,” she said.
For Gina Gill, who has numerous family members reported as missing and murdered the meetings have been helpful to both her and her daughters.
“It’s been an amazing experience I’ve heard from a lot of women including myself,” she said. “It is a very healthy environment. It’s professional and very warm and that’s exactly what the women need to carry on.”
Gill’s sentiments on the Inquiry is not shared by all.
The inquiry has been criticized by some families for confusion over registration.
According to the commission, the national inquiry is committed to taking a voluntary approach when it comes to collecting registerees.
“We are relying on what we call ‘families of the heart’ to come forward,” said Karen Snowshoe, a lawyer with the commission.
Poitras told APTN that the term “families of the heart” were adopted by the commission after they were approached by an individual in Vancouver who suggested the commission change the term from family to ‘families of the heart’ to include individuals outside of the legal definition of immediate family who wish to participate.
Commissioners told the media that testimonies can be given in public or private, spoken, written and or through artistic expression.
The national inquiry will also schedule a set of hearings for institutions, such as governments, the RCMP, coroner services and child welfare agencies.
The commission will then hear from experts such as members of the LGBTQ2S community, elders, youth and experts in aboriginal law.
In a statement issued immediately following this week’s meetings, the inquiry announced that they would be postponing upcoming regional advisory meetings, citing the need for more time to reorganize future meetings.
At this time there is no set date for the next set of regional advisory meetings.