(Alaya McIvor at the national inquiry Tuesday in Winnipeg. Photo: APTN)
Tension about how the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls is spending its $54-million budget boiled over in Winnipeg Tuesday.
“This is not what I walked across Canada for, ” said Alaya McIvor to a crowded public hearing room that applauded her words. “For the commissioners to be sitting here hearing our stories that’s a lot of blood money.
“I really acknowledge you for being here but where’s the other three that are paid for on the backs of our loved ones?”
Only one of the four commissioners, Michele Audette, was listening to McIvor’s family recount the horrific details of the decapitation death of Roberta Dawn McIvor of Sandy Bay First Nation in 2011.
“I don’t believe in this. I’m sitting here because of my auntie,” McIvor said her voice breaking. “I walked across Canada for this and you’re failing us.”
Watch Brittany Hobson’s story from the national inquiry:
McIvor’s harsh words drew, even more, applause from the public gallery.
“This is not what family members pictured as a national inquiry,” she added. “Where are those other three commissioners, that head commissioner? That head commissioner that’s making $271,000 off the backs of our loved ones?”
Audette and commissioner Brian Eyolfson are the only ones in Winnipeg.
Chief commissioner Marion Buller is expected here Wednesday, while Qajaq Robinson was at the first hearing in Whitehorse in May.
A fifth commissioner – Marilyn Poitras – resigned over dissatisfaction with the process.
Audette continued to sit quietly as McIvor delivered a blistering critique, and detailed some of 36 recommendations she said families and survivors desperately needed to cope with the aftermath of losing loved ones.
“No family should be left behind,” McIvor added, as her cousins looked on. “This is supposed to be our inquiry, not your inquiry.”
McIvor works with sex trafficking survivors in Winnipeg.
She is also part of the city’s transgender community. She alleged family members of a murdered trans woman in Winnipeg had been turned away from testifying at the inquiry and refused accommodation.
Her criticism mirrored that of a coalition of Manitoba families who have demanded a reset before the hearings kicked off at a downtown hotel Monday, and called for Buller to resign.
McIvor said the inquiry needs to get back to basics and hold face-to-face meetings with families not “teleconference calls.”
And Audette should resign, she said.
But Audette, the former head of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, chalked up McIvor’s words to grief.
“I acknowledge her feeling, and position and statement,” Audette told reporters in a later news conference.
“I have to respect that’s how she feels. And, like I said to her. ‘Her family needs a strong voice and that’s what she has.’”
(Bernice and Wilfred Catcheway talk to media at the national inquiry Tuesday in Winnipeg. Photo: Kathleen Martens)
Frustration also boiled over for the Catcheway family of Portage la Prairie, Man., whose daughter Jennifer has been missing since 2008.
Parents Bernice and Wilfred Catcheway told reporters they were being forced by the inquiry to compress their testimony into 30 minutes or less on Friday.
“We have been waiting nine years to tell our story, to speak about the investigation,” said Bernice Catcheway. “We are hurting families who are supposed to talk for the same amount of time.”
Audette said commissioners are sharing the load by fanning out around the country.
She said Robinson is doing advance and preparatory work for upcoming hearings and Buller is doing community work in Alberta.
She said they’re adding more options for families to tell their stories by using “statement takers” and private hearing dates with commissioners.
In a statement to APTN News, a spokesperson said those options had been offered to the Catcheways, adding there was nothing more to say.
“The communications between families and the legal staff with the national inquiry is confidential in nature and we are not in a position to release any information about any of our conversations with families and survivors.
The Catcheways said they will appear Friday.