Members of the Native Women's Association of the NWT, with lawyer Caroline Wawzonek (right), address reporters in June 2019. Sara Wicks/Cabin Radio
The Native Women’s Association of the NWT made just four, broad recommendations to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) – and says all four are reflected among the inquiry’s 231 calls for justice.
Addressing reporters on Wednesday, the association said its four recommendations were designed to “really look at the way society is structured and the way that government delivers services.”
Those recommendations were to:
acknowledge the harm and national crisis;
rebuild trust in relationships between service providers, governments, and citizens;
change the focus of program and service provision to being centred on communities and people; and
“What we wanted was to ensure that there’s accountability this time, so that whatever recommendations are put forward are actually going to be meaningfully attended to,” said Caroline Wawzonek, who represented the association at expert and institutional MMIWG hearings.
“A lot of the calls for justice, as we went through them and analyzed them, do fit into the four [recommendations] that we’ve suggested. And that’s certainly a starting point, to the extent that they’re picking up exactly what we’ve been asking for.”
However, Marie Speakman – who has spent almost 20 years as a victim services worker with the association – said there remained “massive challenges” on the ground in NWT communities.
In particular, Speakman and the association drew attention to the inquiry’s calls for justice regarding policing.
The inquiry’s final report made 11 recommendations specifically directed at law enforcement.
Among them is a recommendation to end the practice – well-known in NWT communities – of limited-duration posts, whereby RCMP officers spend three to five years in a community and are then invited to move on.
The RCMP should “instead implement a policy regarding remote and rural communities focused on building and sustaining a relationship with the local community and cultures,” the MMIWG final report stated.
“This relationship must be led by, and in partnership with, the Indigenous Peoples living in those remote and rural communities.”
‘Some of the calls are doable’
Speakman – who travels across the NWT in her role – said maintaining a relationship with police remained difficult, particularly as some NWT communities still have no dedicated RCMP presence.
“I have learned services are lacking. Some places don’t have a police station and, when they do call, they get the Yellowknife call centre,” she told reporters. “It’s very challenging.”
Jane Weyallon – president of the association and its Tłı̨chǫ representative –said: “I think if there was a police presence in most of the Indigenous communities, I know there would be more reported cases.
“Right now, there is some unreported domestic violence and lateral violence happening in the communities.
“I can use my Tłı̨chǫ region as an example: Gamètì and Wekweètì have no police stations. We’ve heard from the leaders that there are a lot of issues within those communities that are not being reported.”
Missing and murdered Indigenous women of the North are remembered at the Native Women’s Association. Sara Wicks/Cabin Radio
Asked if there was any sense of fatigue at another report being issued with another set of recommendations, Therese Villeneuve – who serves as an Elder on the association’s board – said she remained optimistic about the findings being turned into action.
“There have been recommendations upon recommendations … but we are really hopeful that it’s not going to be put on the shelf and collect dust,” she said, “that there will be some action taken.
“Some of the calls are doable – not all, maybe, but some of them are. We’re in a positive mood.”
The Prime Minister has promised a national action plan in the wake of the final report’s publication, while the Dene Nation last week similarly urged residents to hold leaders – including its own – to account and demand action.
Just as Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya had done, Native Women’s Association representatives expressed gratitude to the federal government “for pushing [the inquiry] forward and acknowledging … a serious issue.”
Wawzonek also praised the relationship between the territorial government and the Native Women’s Association of the NWT throughout the process of the inquiry.
“It was extremely important and interesting that the GNWT, in their final submissions, expressly supported the four recommendations of the Native Women’s Association of the Northwest Territories,” she said.
“To our knowledge, there’s no other non-government organization that received this kind of support from their local provincial or territorial government.”
The Native Women’s Association of the NWT was fully involved in the national inquiry, serving first as a hub for information in the lead-up to sessions held in Yellowknife, then as a family liaison unit assisting families and survivors of violence to come forward.
Sara Wicks contributed reporting.
Phone numbers for support
If you’re affected by issues raised by the national inquiry or this report, there are numbers you can call to access help.
For information on counselling or emotional and cultural support, Health Canada can be reached on a toll-free number dedicated to the North: 1-866-509-1769.
To reach the family support worker’s office at the Native Women’s Association of the NWT, call 867-447-3050.
The national inquiry has established its own, toll-free support line, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for anyone who requires assistance: 1-844-413-6649.