“No inquiry, as we know, can undo what has happened, nor can it restore what we have lost. But it can help us find ways forward, because we know, as a country, that we can and must do better.” Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke about the recent release of the first inquiry into the missing and murdered indigenous women.
The time seems to have finally come. Our federal government has decided to put money in a place that may not help our deficit- but may bring justice and peace to hundreds of families. Reading over comments on sites like the Globe and Mail and the Huffington Post, I am shocked by people’s outrage at this new action plan. The sentence “we’re screwed” surfaces in every second comment.
People are outraged at Justin Trudeau for his decision to spend $40 million over two years on this inquiry. When Trudeau spoke out about his decision he touched on Canada’s priorities saying, “We have made this inquiry a priority for our government because those touched by this national tragedy have waited long enough. The victims deserve justice, their families an opportunity to be heard and to heal.” The public’s response was to say he is only fulfilling this inquiry because of his incessant desire to be liked. And although I understand and share a concern about our country’s precarious finances, it is still difficult for me to morally wrap my head around this response of outrage. Canadians need to stop resisting a necessary improved relationship with indigenous people. We have gone on too long ignoring the needs of this group of Canadians and yes, we have spent money trying to rebuild a relationship that is so broken, with new treaties, paying for post- secondary education, tax breaks etc. But now is the beginning of a new era. An era of listening to what they want and need and actually learning from them.
And yet people are still fuming and I cannot shake from my mind how wrong this feels. How inappropriate this anger is. And then this number keeps playing over and over in my head.
One thousand one hundred and eighty one.
That’s how many women went missing or were murdered between 1980 and 2012. 1,181 families that don’t know where their daughters, wives, sisters, aunts and mothers were. That’s how many people to whom Canadians chose to turn a blind eye to, because facing the truth is too difficult, too sticky.
Canadians have a dark history with Indigenous people. We spent money on taking children away from their homes and putting them in residential schools, we polluted their waters with plans of building up, we as an urban society decided that their ‘ways’ were not right. We deemed them not valuable.
Then predators like Robert Pickton took them and killed them, hardly hid the evidence, and we stood by, ignoring their families questions and pleas. And then we feel guilty and yet still ignore them.
But today we have finally decided to listen. To admit that we have made countless, horrible mistakes. The government is going to go directly to these 1,181 families to form a plan for the spring. A plan that will with deep sadness, not likely bring back these women but at least give some closure to these families and the possibility to completely mourn the loss of loved ones. It will also open a discussion that is long overdue. Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says that this will address the fact that indigenous women are increasingly more vulnerable to violence. It’s a start.
So yes, maybe this inquiry will spend a huge chunk of our budget and will be coming from our taxes, and maybe I am being naive, but then I come back to that number. And I can’t help but think that a life is priceless. That losing someone, especially when it could have and should have been avoided will never be okay. We need to look at our own lives and imagine, what if it was your sister, mother, daughter, friend? How would it feel to suddenly lose one of them? To lose 1,181 of them? To experience the excruciating void of unexplained disappearance. “Mag Cywink, whose sister Sonya was killed in 1994, said she wanted to see the government take action. “An inquiry can never bring my sister back. I just don’t want this to happen to my nieces, to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” she said”
So the least we can do is acknowledge our irreversible mistake and bring those 1,181 innocent women and their families the voices they didn’t have a chance to have.