Why I don’t oppose a national inquiry on MMIW

The title might seem confusing to some, but trust me, it was worded very deliberately.

Some of you might be asking, “Who would oppose an inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW)? I mean, besides Harper and his cronies. Only awful people, probably!”

The reality is of course much more complicated than this. Many Indigenous people oppose an inquiry for some very valid reasons, mostly centering on Canada’s track record of pouring millions of dollars into inquiries that result in a whack of fantastic recommendations that are never, ever implemented. Or worse, setting up inquiries that are worse than useless and pretending the issue was dealt with, case closed.

Sarah Hunt wrote a very nuanced and specific criticism to the concept of a national inquiry on MMIW. I started quoting passages from it and then realized I’d pretty much copied and pasted the entire article, so please, stop now and read it.

Beyond the issue of recommendations that are left to gather dust or inquiries that are a tragic farce from start to finish, many people feel that the root causes of so many cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women are actually fairly well known already. The problem is deeply systemic, rooted in a fundamental devaluing of Indigenous lives, and of Indigenous women in particular. Can an inquiry, rooted in this system, see its own structures as a major factor in these deaths and disappearances? Even if it could, would an inquiry be able to actually make changes to that system?

I disagree with none of these points. I fully agree with those who worry that the response to MMIW is to reach for wider powers for police, more control over First Nations lives, more blame for victims and families and communities without building structures of accountability within government-mandated services that fail our people utterly. I do not for a moment believe that an inquiry is capable of doing away with any of these things. A national inquiry will not fix things.

So why then am I not in opposition to a national inquiry, despite the fact that I clearly do not support one?

Creating a National Narrative? Or Making Space for a National Discussion.

Truth and reconciliation commissions were designed as a way to bring to light truths that were deliberately being denied by the state. They are considered a form of transitional justice, because they are focused on providing a national narrative of (often state-perpetrated) violence without going through the very difficult and oft-times impossible process of establishing judicially recognized fact/culpability. They are a way to speak the truths that must be spoken for there to be any hope of healing, but they are only a first step in a much longer process.

In my opinion, these commissions should merely be called ‘Truth’ commissions. I do not believe they can accomplish reconciliation, and in fact many TRCs which provide amnesty in order to procure honest testimony, end up being used as a shield by state actors.

A national inquiry on MMIW would not be a truth and reconciliation commission, in the main because the violence being brought to light needs to have ended before the truth can be spoken about it. That is most certainly not the case here. We are still losing our relatives. The violence is ongoing.

What a national inquiry has the potential to do is foster a national discussion. I say discussion rather than narrative, because the story is not over. It continues to unfold around us, laying our hearts to waste one grisly discovery after another.

No doubt some people reading this are asking why we need an inquiry to have this national discussion. I ask the same question. Indigenous communities do not need an inquiry to have this discussion; it has been ongoing for decades. Yet the wider Canadian public has only recently begun to hear about MMIW as an issue. I suppose I would say that it seems to me, there is such a deep disconnect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples that these ‘official Canadian’ proceedings are one way of bridging the gap. A gap that itself is indicative of the systemic roots of violence against Indigenous land and bodies.

I don’t care about money. The Canadian government loses billions of dollars and doesn’t bother to account for it, so the millions an inquiry would likely cost are a drop in the bucket. Canada is so bereft of fundamental justice for Indigenous peoples, and the resulting cost in human lives is so high, no amount of whining about the sôniyaws this will cost are about to sway me.

I don’t for a second believe that the money a national inquiry would cost would somehow be funneled into useful projects to protect Indigenous women and children if only we chose that instead. That isn’t even on the table, no matter how much we know it should be.

Although I do not believe a national inquiry will stop this violence, I do respect the wishes of many of the family members who need this discussion to happen, for these stories to be told in order to help them heal. If that were all an inquiry could possibly accomplish, just a sliver of closure, of healing, for even one grieving family member, I would still say “let’s do it”.

An inquiry has the potential to examine the structures of violence and the way they intersect. It has the potential to get the general Canadian public talking about more than speculations as to choices made by individual victims. Let’s look into intergenerational trauma from Residential Schools. Let’s look into the impact of astronomic suicide rates in our communities, the violence of poverty, the way child welfare services are implicated. Let’s look at how police investigate (or fail to) these crimes.

Does it matter that these questions have been asked before? Does it matter that we have some of the answers already? Couldn’t we bring together all the studies that have already been done, and cobble together a pretty good ‘big picture’?

Sure. That’s what Indigenous-led organizations are already doing. But I do not oppose there being yet another venue for discussion. Let there be a flood of studies, and databases, and memorial projects and marches. Let the hue and cry grow so loud and inescapable that for one goddamn moment this country be forced to pay attention.

One Tool of Many

Despite all of the flaws I do see with a possible national inquiry, I see very little use in opposing it. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples submitted 444 recommendations, the bulk of which were never implemented. Yet the report has had a tremendous influence on court cases, on policy development, on research, on people just trying to learn more of the history of this country. I have a love/hate relationship with the RCAP but I refer to it often, and I am grateful for its existence.

What we cannot allow, is for a national inquiry to be the final or only response to violence against Indigenous women. I think whether you oppose or support such an inquiry, this much is clear.




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10 Responses to Why I don’t oppose a national inquiry on MMIW

  1. Brian Egan says:

    Great points. National inquiries or commissions do serve to diffuse or deflect attention from the real problems–they make it seem like the state is doing something about the problem, when such is not the case–but also, as you note, they can play a role in bringing more (and broader) attention to the issue and sparking a larger discussion. The larger problem remains how we deal with the deeply ingrained prejudices that are so evident throughout our society and that allow the epidemic of violence to continue largely “under the radar” when it comes to state response and public awareness and interest.

  2. april Joyea says:

    Its so sad we just lost a cpl of young native teens

  3. sameo416 says:

    “Canada is so bereft of fundamental justice for Indigenous peoples, and the resulting cost in human lives is so high, no amount of whining about the sôniyaws this will cost are about to sway me.”

    This speaks a powerful truth – thank you for your witness.

  4. Brian Fisher says:

    Yes Sarah Hunt’s response is excellent. And her statement that: “An inquiry will only help if it has action attached and if it shifts power into the hands of indigenous women, meaning it is led by indigenous women.” is a very powerful image of what is ultimately required. Voices for change must continue so that more and more people can hear and act.

  5. Miya says:

    There must be more accountability here with our gov’t and the way natives are mistreated..

  6. Debwewin words that reflect reality of this world. policy… we are under legislative genocide in so many facettes

  7. Perry says:

    This issue hits very close to home for me. I have two Aboriginal siblings, a brother and sister, adopted by my parents in the sixties scoop. My sister now has four children, two of whom have children of their own. Last year, my then 15-year-old niece got mixed up with the wrong crowd and ran away. When my sister called to tell me, I really freaked out. I had lived in Vancouver’s eastside for ten years and did advocacy work around the issue of street prostitution. I made submissions on that work to both a parliamentary committee studying prostitution and to the Missing Women Inquiry held in Vancouver a few years ago. So, I was well aware of many tragic stories that started out as run-away or missing teen stories, and greatly feared for my niece.

    My sister was immediately proactive and got a school counselor and police involved. But the real scary thing was that they both were already aware of the home my niece ran away to as it had been previously reported for harbouring minors, some of whom got caught shop-lifting. I don’t know all the details, but I think there was some hesitancy by the police to forcibly return her home against her will. I began looking into what emergency role, if any, the BC Child & Youth Advocate could play to get my niece out of that dangerous situation. However, this story has a happy ending as my niece eventually returned home. Still, it was a very scary thing to experience. Through my advocacy work and that experience with my niece, I can feel a tiny bit of the terrible pain family members of missing or murdered Indigenous girls and women must feel.

    Since this is a systemic problem I think it requires a systemic solution. I feel helpless to do anything else but speak out against racism whenever I encounter it. But how do you erase racism on a large scale.

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  9. Lisa LaBlanc-Willis says:

    “What we cannot allow, is for a national inquiry to be the final or only response to violence against Indigenous women.” Thank you for making this, and so many other great points. Solidarity from the US. Thank you for this excellent piece, and excellent blog.

  10. Pingback: Disturbing trend in debate on inquiry into missing, murdered aboriginal women | Ecocide Alert

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