APTN National News
Families that make up the National Family Advisory Circle (NFAC) for the inquiry looking into murdered and missing Indigenous women are asking families and survivors for patience, and understanding as the remaining commissioners push through with the inquiry’s work.
“The NFAC stand with the Commissioners and supports the huge volume of work that they will accomplish in a short timeframe. We ask for patience as the Commissioners work with families to present their stories of their loved ones and document for the public record,” the circle said in a letter.
The letter, penned by Delilah Saunders whose sister Loretta was murdered in 2014, and Sharon Johnson, whose sister Sandra was killed in 1992, was released Thursday morning following a rocky week for the commission and the federal Liberals.
On Monday, Commissioner Marilyn Poitras sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing that she was resigning from the inquiry effective July 15 because of irreconcilable differences on how the inquiry was going about its business.
Poitras’ resignation followed those by senior communications officer Sue Montgomery, Tanya Kappo, manager of communications, Chantale Courcy, director of operations and Michèle Moreau, the inquiry’s executive director.
The resignations were enough for Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett to meet with the commissioners Monday to get an idea of whether this seemingly embattled inquiry was going to be able to fulfill its mandate.
On Tuesday, Bennett went before the national media in Ottawa and said the commissioners have a good work plan in place and the tools to do the job.
“There is no question, that we all agree, communication has been an issue. And that they have got to do a better job at communicating their vision, their plan, values and the way that they’re going to get this work done,” said Bennett.
But that endorsement and acknowledgement about the inquiry’s poor track record on communications weren’t enough.
On Wednesday morning, a coalition of Manitoba families and survivors held a news conference in the offices of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to call on the remaining commissioners to resign, and the federal government to reset the inquiry including rewriting the terms of reference to include a close examination of police forces across Canada.
“We the families of MMIWG and survivors in Manitoba have lost confidence in the national inquiry,” said Hilda Anderson Pyrz, co-chair of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Coalition of Manitoba. “The families and survivors agree that a hard reset required. This hard reset requires the resignation of the lead commissioner and of the remaining three commissioners and the explicit inclusion of policing in the terms of reference.”
That same day, the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) led by former national president Dawn Harvard, released a statement saying that it had lost the trust of the ONWA and rescinded its support from the inquiry.
To add the inquiry’s woes, ONWA has hired a law firm to challenge the inquiry about its upcoming hearings in Thunder Bay – the only public hearing scheduled for northern Ontario to date.
All of this started with an open letter written to the commissioners on May 15 signed by 57 families, survivors, advocates and organizations from across the country.
“Across the country, families, advocates, Indigenous leaders, experts and grassroots people are loudly raising alarms that the Inquiry is in serious trouble. We recognize that you and your fellow Commissioners have undertaken a difficult challenge, however, it is now clear that you must take immediate action to mitigate the damage and fundamentally shift your approach in order to move forward in a credible way,” the group stated in the letter.
But the NFAC said in its letter that it is supporting, and guiding the inquiry in its work and will continue to do so.
“The process is not perfect but nothing ever is,” the letter states. “The Commissioners have reached out to utilize the NFAC to help them in their work as they move along, albeit the relationship was slow to grow. It is now a relationship where the Commissioners consult with the NFAC for guidance on a regular basis.”
While there have been a number of calls for the commissioners to resign, head Commissioner Marion Buller told APTN Wednesday that there is “no possibility” that the commissioners will quit.