(Families at the AFN gathering in Regina, Saskatchewan anxiously await the results of a vote regarding the fate of the national MMIWG inquiry.)
APTN National News
The Assembly of First Nations on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for an expansion of the mandate and a full financial accounting of the inquiry into the national tragedy of the disproportionate number of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
About 320 chiefs and proxies in attendance also voted 60 per cent against a resolution drafted by Manitoba chiefs calling for the resignation of the inquiry’s remaining four commissioners after a heated debate.
Serpent River Chief Elaine Johnston moved the successful motion. She acknowledge the request from a group of families who made an emotional plea the evening before to have the commissioners removed. She said there was concern such a move would hurt the Yukon families of the missing and murdered who testified at the only hearing which was held in Whitehorse.
“We don’t want to re-traumatize families. Whatever we do, we respect where various families are at,” said Johnston, whose community is in Ontario. “We heard very clearly from the families that it is not working.”
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the debate that unfolded on the assembly floor made it clear the inquiry needs to be fixed.
“It has to be fixed and I think the families have to be put first,” said Bellegarde. “It has to be fixed, there is no question.”
Johnston’s successful resolution directed the AFN to push Ottawa into resetting and expanding the mandate of the inquiry and remove existing policy barriers that have hindered its work. It also called on the national inquiry to disclose its financial reports and “be accountable for how it allocates its funding.”
(Voting on the resolutation at the AFN gathering in Regina Thursday.)
AFN Manitoba regional Chief Kevin Hart, who holds the portfolio on the issue, supported the defeated resolution calling for the removal of the remaining four inquiry commissioners. Hart said the issue has divided families across the country.
“I heard from people from the B.C. region, the Alberta region, even the Saskatchewan region. There is a divide occurring because you have families that are for the inquiry and you have families that are against the inquiry and you have families out there that don’t want to participate,” said Hart.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who is also chief of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, stood his ground during heated debate on the AFN assembly floor over his resolution to remove the remaining inquiry commissioners.
“I think that we remained true to what it was we wanted to achieve here in the assembly,” said Dumas. “I believe that the defeat of the motion is a symptom of the lack of progress the inquiry has been made.”
Over the last 11 months, the inquiry has spent $11 million of its $53 million budget and held only one hearing, while seeing string of high profile resignations including of commissioner Marilyn Poitras.
Krista Shore, the daughter of Barbara Stonechild who was murdered in Regina in 1996, said she was disappointed the rest of the AFN did not back Manitoba’s position.
“I feel that Manitoba is speaking strong and talking about not complying, standing tall and speaking strong was the vision we needed,” said Shore. “I am taken by the lack of initiative or willingness for people who do not agree with other people, the voices of the families, to not practice real meaningful of humility….It’s the truth that is going to help us move forward.”
Shore wielded her drum and sang after the vote on the resolution.
“It’s been a hard couple of days. I sang that song to try to close myself up,” she said. “I was born into politics, I was born an Indian woman in the state of Canada. Every day I go out my door I face racism, racism kills our people.”
Inquiry commissioners Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson appeared before the AFN assembly of Wednesday evening. They were met with an emotional outpouring from several families, and AFN Elder Elmer Courchene, who called on them to step aside.
The inquiry’s Chief Commissioner Marion Buller told CBC News on Thursday they would not be stepping down.