Who’s in charge at the Inquiry? It sure isn’t the families says Joan Jack - APTN NewsAPTN News

Who’s in charge at the Inquiry? It sure isn’t the families says Joan Jack

Joan Jack
Special to APTN National News
It’s the middle of the night. Can’t sleep. May as well get up and write.

Then I think, “This is nothing compared to the sleepless nights the families have had worrying and grieving or their loved ones.”

I get out of bed.

I think about my husband who has lost his sister Barbara and his brothers Leonard and Lester. Barbara’s body was found on Grey Mountain. She was 14 or so. Leonard and Lester died by suicide.

So much loss.

Bryan said to the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development Northwest Director of Services.

“You may think I’m negative. If you think I’m negative, then you be positive and together we will make the spark that ignites the change we need.”

Yesterday and the days leading up to these first days of the National Inquiry into our Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls have been an emotional roller coaster.

“I have to be positive. If I’m negative, I won’t be welcome.” These are the thoughts that run through my head.

These are the thoughts that run through my head.

Why am I trying to be positive? Why do I second guess myself? Ok, I’ll just make the best of things. There will be enough people out there being critical, I’ll just be positive.

After several emails and phone calls, our family is offered a space in the public forum; we had missed the visit two weeks or so ago when families were meeting with the Inquiry lawyers and had been told that the Inquiry was coming back again and we could share our story then. I’m provided a room, etc. and I drive in from Atlin, BC and begin trying to round up Bryan’s huge family.

I meet with an inquiry lawyer and ask, “why are the families being vetted? Why do we have to see a lawyer before speaking to the commissioners?”


Inquiry Commissioners in Whitehorse Tuesday. Photo: Shirley McLean/APTN

It doesn’t feel right, I share. I am assured that the intention is simply to support families. “Oh, ok, you mean like in a residential school hearing where the lawyer is present to help people tell their story – like, in case they forget something.”

I am appeased. I relax.

Then, day one begins. Opening Prayers – check. Feel more comfortable. I squeeze into the side of the tent, I like the tents, where the first family is sharing the story of how the “Boozing Barber” killed their loved one.

More prayers. Sigh. Smile inside. Then, “would you affirm” or “would you swear.”

Can’t even remember now what was said because I was so shocked. Then, the Inquiry lawyer begins what could be described as leading evidence. I flip. Leave the tent. Find people on Inquiry staff I know and loose it completely.

End up crying and feeling stupid. How could I have not realized this was a legal process? I’m a lawyer for God’s sake. To me, it’s nothing more than a warm fuzzy courtroom.

So many feelings. I don’t want to offend the families that have chosen to participate or the family I can hear in the background “giving testimony.” These are people that I see in Extra Foods or Superstore here in Whitehorse. I am in a relationship with them outside of this Inquiry.

Media is set up outside the tents. A reporter sees that I am clearly upset and asks if I would share. I go and get another woman from Watson Lake and ask her to stand with me.

She does.

I do the interview sharing my shock and disappointment as I wrestle with my own feelings of fear that arise from speaking out and “not being positive” or “being so negative.”

Another reporter sees me doing the interview and asks me to come over. I think, well, can’t stop now.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Well, how could things be better?”

I’ll tell you what I told the Indigenous Inquiry staff when they asked me that question. “No offense, but that’s your job. Either you don’t know what you’re doing or someone is not listening to you, which is it?”

At this moment, I remember the whole pre-inquiry phase where Bryan and I came to meetings as did families all across the country.

Was no one taking notes?

What concerns me most in the middle of this night is this, and I feel that I should know the answer as I am a lawyer, but I don’t – “Why do we have to swear to tell the truth?”.

This is our truth. There is nothing else. This is not a criminal proceeding where a public demonstration and commitment to truth telling is somehow believed to ensure people aren’t lying.

Doesn’t being sworn in have something to do, legally, with being cross-examined?

This is us sharing our lives with you – it matters not whether you believe us – what we live through is so terrible it can’t be made up.

When are you going to get that?

If the Inquiry has no power to compel action, say within the police forces where racism clearly exists and results in harm to our people, or within the justice system where racism exists and results in harm to our people, why are we using Western legal traditions?

Finally, while I’m sure that the commissioners are personally wonderful and qualified people, I want to know how they were selected. In the middle of this night, I’m remembering how shocked I was when they were announced because having worked as a women’s rights advocate my whole adult life, I only recognized Michele Audette. I thought “who are these people?”

Now we will get to know them and I’m sure our lives will be richer for the experience, but I still want to know how and by whom they were selected? Who’s in charge here – really?

Ok, hope I can sleep now. Miigwech for listening. Just saying (Rez talk for “This is only my opinion”)


Joan Jack is a lawyer in the Yukon.

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