Warning: The following report discusses missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. If you require immediate support, you can call the Native Women Association of the NWT’s emergency line at (867) 920-2978, the NWT Help Line at 1-800-661-0844, the Inuit and First Nations Hope and Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310, or the Kid’s Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or by texting CONNECT to 686868.
The federal government on Thursday released its national action plan to address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People.
The plan comes two years after the release of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ final report. That document, which examined systemic discrimination experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, found the scale of the issue amounted to a genocide powered by racism, sexism, and colonialism.
The national action plan – one of 231 calls to justice issued in the report – includes a number of action items, dubbed “short-term priorities.”
These include more financial support for Indigenous-led healing and violence prevention programming, the creation of a special task force to re-examine unresolved case files of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, and work to make available more shelters and transitional housing.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $2.2 billion would be allocated to achieving the priorities included in the plan.
“For decades, Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people across Canada have disappeared, suffered violence, or been killed,” he said. “For decades, many of you have been calling for justice, healing, and concrete action to stop this tragedy.
“For decades, your voices have made it clear how our systems have failed you.”
The NWT reacts
Louise Elder, executive director of the Status of Women Council of the NWT, said she was “relieved” the federal action plan had been released.
“We desperately need to take action to end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQ+ people,” she said. “I’m hopeful that as we work our way through this national action plan, we see a path forward to create the necessary change.”
However, she added, the plan is long overdue.
The federal government originally committed to releasing its plan on the one-year anniversary of the final report. Crown-Indigenous relations minister Carolyn Bennett instead announced last May it had been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Indigenous leaders, communities, and allies have long admonished both the federal and territorial government’s slow pace in addressing the calls the justice. On Tuesday, the CBC reported the Native Women’s Association of Canada had left the process to develop a national action plan, calling it “toxic and dysfunctional.”
“I think people understood that Covid disrupted all of our daily lives,” Elder said, “but on the other hand, the need for this action plan has existed for a long time.
“So, as I said, there was a sense of relief this morning that it was not further delayed, that it was being released today, and that there’s money to accompany the implementation.”
Mahalia Yakeleya-Newmark, a Dene woman and long-time advocate on the issue of MMIWG, said true justice can only be achieved with Indigenous communities leading the way.
“We have solutions for our own communities,” she said, “and so we need governments who are willing to work with us to support what those solutions are and to really hear what we think is best for our people in our communities.
“It’s really about working in partnership, rather than just relying on the government.”
For Yakeleya-Newmark, the crisis of MMIWG is very personal. She has lost family members to such violence.
Yakeleya-Newmark and her sister, Kalina Newmark, founded the Strong People, Strong Communities grassroots mural project as a way to honour her family and other Indigenous women and girls, pairing northern youth with Indigenous professional artists to design and create murals highlighting positive Indigenous stories.
Those involved will come together in Yellowknife this August to paint the pieces.
Where is the GNWT’s plan?
Caroline Wawzonek, the minister responsible for the Status of Women in the NWT, addressed the release of the national action plan in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday afternoon.
“I had the privilege of attending the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” she said. “I heard first-hand the stories of families and survivors from the Northwest Territories who experienced the tragedy of a missing or murdered love one.
“We have a duty to honour that by doing all that we can, individually and collectively, to create a society where all Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people feel safe, respected and have equal access to quality of life.”
Wawzonek is leading the territory’s work to develop its own action plan around MMIWG. The Status of Women Council and Native Women’s Association of the NWT are among organizations included in the public engagement process.
The first annual report examining the GNWT’s response was tabled on Thursday. A draft of the plan is set to be released this fall.