A Settler Reads the Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG (2)

Note to Readers: I am a fifth-generation white European settler. My predecessors included many clergy and others who certainly must have contributed extensively to the colonization of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. The least I can do is to read this report with an utterly open mind and to learn from it, and to share what I am learning with my children and my grandchildren and you. This series of posts will highlight some passages that stood out as I was reading each chapter, as well as noting things I have learned and what I have thought about while I was reading. I am in no rush and it will probably take me months to complete this challenge. Your comments are welcome, although they will be filtered to ensure there is no racist or inflammatory language, but only thoughtful discussion. If you don’t like my publication standards re: your comments, please complain to someone besides me.

Introduction to the Final Report: Understanding Violence against Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA1 People (Part 1)

While the “Introduction to the Final Report” is included in the Preface, it is a very important (and lengthy) section on its own – which is why I am devoting two full posts to it, separately from the one I have written about the Preface.

The Introduction opens by explaining that 2,380 people participated in the National Inquiry, in many different ways: some in public hearings, some privately, some with spoken or written statements, some by creating works of art, and in many other ways.

Then it says,”The truths shared in these National Inquiry hearings tell the story – or more accurately thousands of stories – of acts of genocide against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The violence the National Inquiry heard amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, which especially targets women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Indigenous rights, leading to the current increased rates of violence, death and suicide in Indigenous populations” (p. 50).

The Introduction then goes on to define the word “genocide,” which it explains has been in use since 1933 and originally dealt with the actions of the Germans “within the context of the buildup to the the Second World War. [….] ‘Genocide,’ in its original construction, is defined as coordinated actions aimed at the destruction of a group, committed against individual members belonging to that group” (p. 50).

There follows an exploration of the two phases of ‘genocide’ as defined by Raphael Lemkin (“destruction of the national pattern of the group” and “imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor”) and the eight fields across which Lemkin wrote that genocide could occur (political, cultural, economic, etc), and what he stated as its objectives (p. 50).

The Introduction recounts the subsequent history of the use of the word genocide – when and why it was incorporated into international law and how, with Lemkin’s approval, the definition was modified by lawmakers before it was written into statute. It sets out the relevant articles of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a document which Canada signed in 1948 and ratified in 1952.

The Introduction to the Final Report explores ongoing international debates over the question of “intent” as it relates to genocide, the nature of groups that can be said to be the targets of genocide, and what qualifies as actual evidence of acts of genocide having been committed. Part of this ongoing discussion is occurring because the original definitions were set out more than half a century ago, the Report says, adding that “Today fields other than the law also examine genocide in different terms.” (p. 51)

The Introduction quotes informed writers in the field – including Daniel Feierstein, Director of the Centre of Genocide Studies at the National University of Tres de Febrero in Argentina, Canadian writer and filmmaker Larry Krotz, and genocide scholar Andrew Woolford – on the historic application of the word “genocide” and the difficulties involved in applying the term, given the extremity of the circumstances to which it has been previously applied. It also sets out in general the reasons why the Report has invoked this word to describe the acts that have historically been – and continue to be – visited upon Canada’s Indigenous people.

In addition to the background information included in the Introduction — and the evidence contained in the report itself – the National Inquiry is preparing “a supplementary report on the Canadian genocide of Indigenous Peoples according to the legal definition of ‘genocide’,” which will be available on the Inquiry’s website (p. 54).

No Time to Start Arguing

Despite two words that might have been taken as instructive – “Listening Deeply” – that are included in a subhead near the beginning of the Introduction, many readers, including a few writers of editorials and opinion pieces who happen to be white settlers (yet again giving us a bad name), seem to have stopped “listening” (reading) at this point in order to argue about the document’s use of the word “genocide.”

As an editor, I cannot count the number of times I have told authors of books and articles that the only way to write an effective introduction is to write it after they have written the rest of their books or articles. I am fairly certain that this must have been the approach that was taken by the authors of the Final Report. Since these individuals have lived experience as members of Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, and have “listened deeply” at the hearings and done a monumental amount of related research before writing this report and its Introduction, I will give them credit for having far more knowledge on the subject than I have at this point in my reading – or will likely ever have. I will therefore hold off on delivering my opinion on their use of the word “genocide” at least until I have read the whole Report. In the meantime, however, the definitions of “genocide” that they provide certainly seem appropriate to the treatment these people have received.

I encourage you to read at least this section of the Report.

The Statistics Are Stunning

I also encourage you to read the statistics contained on pages 54 to 57 of the Introduction to the Final Report. They are beyond comprehension, and they underscore the importance of the work done by this Inquiry and of the Report itself. Here are just a few:

  • An RCMP report confirmed 1,181 cases of police-recorded incidents of Aboriginal female homicides and unresolved missing Aboriginal females between 1980 and 2012 (p. 54).
  • The same RCMP report found that “Indigenous women made up roughly 16% of all female homicides between 1980 and 2012, despite making up only 4% of the female population.” Today, estimates place the percentage of female homicides who are Indigenous at 25% (p. 55)
  • Indigenous women are 16 times more likely to be murdered or missing than Caucasian women (p. 55)
  • Indigenous women are sexually assaulted three times more often than non-Indigenous women (p. 55)
  • One Ontario study of gender-diverse and Two Spirit Indigenous people found that 73% had experienced some form of violence due to transphobia (p. 56)

Framework for the Inquiry

One section of the Introduction to the Final Report addresses framework areas that the National Inquiry considered before undertaking its work.

Its mandate was very broad: “(1) to report on all forms of violence against (2) Indigenous women and girls” (p. 58), and it is clear that a great deal of effort went in to the important work of interpreting that mandate. The words “all forms of violence,” for example, gave the Inquiry an almost overwhelming purview and taxed it with a monumental amount of work, especially given its time limits, but it also offered necessary and desirable latitude in terms of how it was able to proceed.

Specific terms that formed part of the mandate also needed to be defined, such as “Indigenous,” which the Inquiry interpreted as including First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Further, the Commission felt it was essential to include Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGBTQQIA) people in their inquiry for reasons that are both inclusive and historically relevant.

One section of the Introduction is devoted to exploring the “powers and limitations of the National Inquiry,” explaining that the mandate of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was unusual in that it came not only from the Federal government but from each province and territory as well — and that the rules and regulations for the work varied by jurisdiction, adding to the complexity of the undertaking.

As far as limitations, the authors explain that the National Inquiry has no ability to do anything but make recommendations, although it hopes that its conclusions will speak loudly enough to create the kind of pressure that effects legislative change, and that it is unable to deal with individual cases.

The Process

In carrying out its work of “truth-gathering” (what a lovely way to say it), the National Inquiry “sought to be families-first (putting the family members of lost loved ones and survivors of violence ahead of others who usually hold the power, including politicians, governments and the media), trauma-informed (supporting healing in a way that does no further harm) and decolonizing (centring Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing),” based on the guiding principle that “our women and girls are sacred.” (p. 60)

There were four parts to the truth-gathering process. Part 1 was to listen to the lived experiences of family members and survivors, and the report explains that there were various means of collecting and witnessing these stories. Parts 2 and 3 involved “Institutional Hearings” and “Expert and Knowledge-Keeper Hearings.” Part 4 was made up of “Parties with Standing,” such as non-governmental groups and Indigenous women’s organizations that had “substantial or direct interest in the subject” (p. 61). This section of the introduction explains how prospective presenters were contacted, and how the stories were gathered. It also explains such procedural issues as who were qualified to speak as Experts and Knowledge-Keepers and who was permitted to ask questions of the Institutional and Expert witnesses.

(To be continued….)

1 Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: