(What appears to be an empty office of the national MMIWG inquiry in Winnipeg. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN)
A former manager at the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls says there is no treatment plan for hurting families.
“There is no aftercare plan; not that I’ve seen,” said Morene Gabriel, who was fired as the Inquiry’s community relations manager for Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
The care plan is supposed to be a major plank in the foundation of the Inquiry to ensure families are coping, after emotional and often gut-wrenching testimony.
Commissioners even delayed the long-awaited schedule of hearings to make sure they were following a “trauma-informed” process.
But Gabriel told APTN that she was not allowed to refer people for professional help.
“My concept of after-care is intense therapy, not check-in calls,” she said. “When a family went into crisis, I was on the phone for four hours with them on a Friday night and again the next Saturday morning.
“Everyone was gone for their weekend, the health manager was away. There was no support internally to give me direction on what to do.”
Gabriel said she did her best to look after people with the limited instructions she was given.
She said she developed her own health framework and got to work.
“I’ve had to deal with the tough stuff. I’ve been called out, yelled at, but I gained their respect.”
Gabriel is one of three people fired in the last week. Another two employees resigned in protest.
The inquiry did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
It is scheduled to hear from families in Saskatoon next week and Gabriel is worried about them. She says she checked in with families after she was fired.
“There’s no governance document, no policies, and procedures, no human resources. I don’t know why I was fired.”
Gabriel shared the letter offering her the job to start June 5, 2017.
She also showed APTN News the email telling her she was no longer needed.
“I was never given a reason,” she said, adding co-workers she left behind now tell her they fear for their jobs.
“It was a toxic workplace and this makes it worse. There was lateral violence, gossiping, nepotism, favoritism.”
Gabriel said she sent an email to Chief Commissioner Marion Buller seeking an explanation. She said Buller sent it on to executive director Debbie Reid.
Gabriel says she worked from home because there was no furniture in the office the inquiry has leased in downtown Winnipeg.
She said a smartphone she received did not come with a charging cord.
For that she blames “backlogs” with the federal government – something commissioners have complained about since they were tapped by Ottawa to lead the two-year probe into ongoing violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Sue Caribou blamed those same backlogs for why she stepped down from the National Family Advisory Circle Wednesday.
“This is hurting families,” she said, near tears. “The prime minister has to stop this.”
According to a statement provided by a spokesperson at the Privy Council Office, the non-partisan wing of the prime minister’s office the provides support and advice to cabinet, the government is up to date with any invoices it has received.
“The funds are fully accessible by the Commission and payments are made once approval from the Commission, along with the appropriate supporting documentation, is received,” the statement said.
“I can’t do this anymore,” said Caribou. “The grandmothers have not been paid, families have been stranded in airports. I’m waiting to be reimbursed for travel.
“It’s all too much.”
Caribou said a recent conference call with circle members from across Canada and the commissioners ended in tears.
She said the stress is more than she can handle.
Both Caribou and Gabriel have lost family members to violence.
They said what started as a way to help others has become an emotional roller coaster.
“I’ve encouraged my former co-workers to speak out. This is such a toxic culture.”
Gabriel said she tried to help by making recommendations based on feedback she received from families her suggestions were rejected.
Caribou said she was similarly frustrated. “They ask us for advice but they don’t listen to us,” she said. “There is no support, no communication.”
Caribou, who testified at the Winnipeg hearings, says she wants the Inquiry stopped. So does Gabriel, who is worried about the mental health effects on families.
“This could do some real damage,” Gabriel said.