Lessons from Canada: National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

To Canada’s credit, it created a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, a two-year, $53.8 million effort listen to families’ stories and get to root causes of the violence.

This effort is well beyond anything tried in the United States and we could learn a lot from this example, both from its ambitious scope and its shortcomings. The process has been rocky.

Native women and girls disproportionately suffer from violence, according to the Inquiry’s website.

Aboriginal women in Canada report rates of violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault, 3.5 times higher than non-Aboriginal women.

Young Aboriginal women are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die of violence. Between 1997 and 2000, the rate of homicide for Aboriginal women was almost seven times higher than the rate for non-Aboriginal women.

The Inquiry has three goals: 1. Finding the truth, 2. Honouring the truth, and 3) Giving life to the truth as a path to healing.

The Canadian government began this work with a lengthy community process to decide on the design and scope of the Inquiry. The Inquiry officially began Sept. 1, led by five commissioners, all with First Nations roots and/or a history of First Nation’s advocacy.

The process is in trouble. This month, one of the commissioners resigned, according to a July 11 story in the Globe and Mail. Soon after, “the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), which had intervenor status at the inquiry, sent an open letter to commissioners saying it could not support the format and approach.”

What can the United States learn from this? For one, this work is incredibly difficult and brings up pain and trauma that takes incredible skill to navigate. A second and related point is that the process is key — the means and ends are inseparable. The respect, communication, and ceremonies used to start the healing process are the healing process.

This work cannot be rushed. Trying to put a timeline on the process (in this case, two years) to get to a “final report” of some kind might work against the very healing that is sought. It prioritizes “finishing” over listening and relationships. This violence has been going on for hundreds of years; it will take a long and sustained effort to find healing.    Continue reading