At the close of its second day, more than 20 people had testified at the Yellowknife hearings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Northerners testifying may do so in private, in public, or by approaching statement gatherers available at the venue, Yellowknife’s Chateau Nova Hotel. Public hearings are streamed live.

Wednesday’s public hearing heard from Jayda Andre, who remembered the death of her older sister, Joni, in 2004.

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Jayda was 15 and Joni 22 at the time. Joni’s husband, Stanley Itsi, stabbed Joni to death in Fort McPherson and was later convicted of manslaughter.

Counselling failings

“We all knew what was going on,” Jayda Andre told the national inquiry, referring to the domestic abuse her sister suffered. “We should have spoken up. We knew it wasn’t OK.”

Breaking down as she held the microphone, Andre remembered the night her sister died: “I never got to see her take her last breath. I never got to tell her how much I loved her.”

Joni Andre’s life, and death, illuminated in her younger sister’s memories, outlined tragic failings regarding the availability of a range of supports both for victims and families, particularly counselling. The only counsellors Jayda could access in Fort McPherson after the attack were members of Itsi’s family; she did not have the money to pursue alternative services in Yellowknife.

Andre chose the national inquiry to speak publicly about what happened for the first time. She told the inquiry’s commissioners it formed the start of her healing journey.

Jayda is the only survivor of three Andre siblings. Jonathan Andre was 31 when he was struck and killed by a car in Edmonton seven years ago.

Relief at speaking

Other testimonies heard on Wednesday came from Gerri Sharpe, James Jenka, and Sandra Lockhart.

Kathy Meyer appears at Yellowknife hearings for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in January 2018 - Jesse Wheeler-Cabin Radio
Kathy Meyer brought the story of her missing daughter, Angela, to this week’s hearings. Jesse Wheeler/Cabin Radio

Kathy Meyer, who told her missing daughter Angela’s story to commissioners on Tuesday, told Cabin Radio the experience had filled her with relief.

“Oh absolutely,” she said. “I feel much better than yesterday.”

Meyer’s comments focused on mental health treatments in the North. On Wednesday, she expressed concern that high turnover of staff in northern institutions means “they just don’t know, perhaps, or don’t care,” about the long-term wellbeing of patients.

She feels proud that her story, told on a national stage, may help to inspire change.

“We all know, all of Canada, that mental illness is a big issue out there,” she said.

“I hope it doesn’t happen ever again. It is not a good thing to see your loved one go through all the issues they have to deal with, dealing with the illness and the different side-effects of medication.

“No parent should have to go through that,” she added through tears, thinking of Angela. “I just hope something comes of this.”

With files from Jesse Wheeler