A Settler Reads the Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG (1)

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.

The Preface

The Preface of The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls includes forewords from the Commissioners of the Inquiry, messages from the Directors, reflections from members of the National Family Advisory Circle and from the National Inquiry Elders and Grandmothers Circle. The Introduction to the Report, “Understanding Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA1 people,” is also included in the Preface, but I will discuss it separately.

This post includes a few of the statements and comments from the Preface that I found meaningful, and my explanations for why they stood out to me.

Jeremiah Bosse, who is the widower of Daleen Bosse, was one of the members of the National Family Advisory Circle (NFAC) – an advisory group to the National Inquiry that was made up of families and survivors.

Bosse said, “At first my thoughts about a National Inquiry were, ‘Will this actually work or help?’ Doubt wandered around my brain, knowing how many First Nations issues have been swept under the rug.

“I now hope this National Inquiry touches the hearts of the people of Canada, helping non-Indigenous people understand the need for reconciliation. 

“Today I feel hopeful for the first time that as victims of violence our words will be heard. The words of our lost ones are spoken! We will be there to represent them; they may be lost but they are not forgotten.” (p. 18)

Bosse’s words made me glad that I had made the decision to read the Report, but it also made me concerned and sad because I am sure that most people will not have the time or opportunity or willingness to read it. Comments by many other individuals from the NFAC elicited the same response in me.

Statements like Bosse’s made me decide that, rather than just reading the Report, I would write down my responses to what I had read — thereby, I hoped, attracting the interest of others in the words so carefully put down in the Report.

As well as raising many, many issues, the Preface reinforced my awareness of the common concerns that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada share at this time in history regarding the future of our land. I considered that we can learn ways of doing from the people who were here first, and was reminded that in Indigenous cultures, very often it is the women in whom this knowledge has been invested.

Rebecca Moore said, “As an l’nu woman, I have been taught by my Elders that it is our inherent duty, as l’nu women, to take care of the water and protect the land for the future seven generations. I feel this is imperative for Canadians to understand. I take my inherent duty very seriously, which requires much of my time, effort, care and attention.” (30)

“Our Women and Girls Are Sacred”

In the Preface, the authors of the Report talked about how the structure of the Inquiry had evolved. They discussed the need they had felt to incorporate ceremony and spirituality in their work.

The Elders and Grandmothers Circle was an important advisory council to the commissioners and in a sweatlodge early in the process, they and the commissioners discussed “How the national Inquiry will proceed. For the Grandmothers (and Elders), for the Commissioners. What will our work be?” (Pénélope Guay, p. 33)

They realized that an important component would be the need to have “something that showed our Indigeneity and that blanket idea came out of that. Those blankets that are hung up around the rooms [at the hearings]. Those blankets that identify people, identify their Nations, their names, their land masses, the things that they use for their cultures…. That helped to shape us and to make sure that we never forget about ceremony, to incorporate ceremony into everything that we do.” – Elder Laureen “Blu” Waters, p. 34.

The Report states, “One of the most unique ways that the Grandmothers have guided the National Inquiry is by helping us understand what ‘sacred’ looks like in everyday life and in the context of this work. What does ‘sacred mean? and if women and girls are sacred, how does that affect what we do? From the Grandmothers, we can see that the idea of women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people being ‘sacred’ is as multi-faceted as people themselves” (p. 39)

With the guidance of the Grandmothers, the National Inquiry “did its best to incorporate the local traditions and cultures into its hearings whenever possible. [….] This includes the way the rooms were arranged and the opportunity for families to access both Indigenous and Western healing supports.” (p. 38)

“As Pénélope points out, making spirituality so visible in the National Inquiry is one of the things that makes it unique: “That’s still important. It’s an inquiry, there are Commissioners. Witnesses, lawyers. Putting spirituality at the centre of this National Inquiry allows us to work in a calmer atmosphere, rooted in cultural values that are thousands of years old’.” (p. 38)

Learning from One Another

It had not occurred to me that for participants, contributing to the Inquiry would not only help to inform institutions and non-Indigenous people of the many factors that have led to the murder and disappearance of Indigenous women and girls, but would also allow Indigenous people from different regions to learn about one another’s experiences. As time went on (it seemed to me), this outcome took on increasing importance as shared experiences among Indigenous groups built their sense of community and confidence in what they were doing.

Elder Louise Haulli, from Iglooluk Nunavet, “emphasiz[ed] how much she has learned from hearing the stories of so many other Indigenous women in Canada, and how important it is not to feel that we know it all, but to really pause, listen to the families and survivors, and learn from what they have to share.” (p. 36)

The Need to Pay Attention with Hearts as Well as Heads

Not everything I read produced an immediately positive response in me. Some statements made me react defensively. For example, when I read that Lisa Semmler, a member of the National Family Advisory Circle, had said, “I hope that all people in Canada will sit down and read everything that has been done to Indigenous people before they just say it’s our own fault. Without a shift in that thinking, nothing Is going to change” (p. 26), a voice inside my head protested, “I never said it was your fault. I have never believed that you have brought all this horror on yourselves.” But then I reminded myself that part of my purpose in reading this report is to learn how we white people are seen by Indigenous Canadians, and how Indigenous people perceive that we view others.

In relation to that reminder, here are other statements from the Preface that I highlighted so that later I would be able to reread them:

  • “Assimilation is still how the dominant culture approaches Indigenous Peoples. Somehow, we need to become them to be okay. We need to have their values. We need to have their world views. If we don’t, then there’s something psychologically wrong, deficient in us.” (Grandmother Leslie Spillett, p. 41)
  • “Ultimately it comes down to listening to Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIIA people. We have to value their voices, and fight against the stereotypes and centuries of colonization that have de-valued and dismissed the many gifts they have to offer.” (p. 43)
  • “For many non-Indigenous people, it’s important to be ready to ‘unlearn’ some learned behaviours. Blu points out, ‘There’s still a lot of others out there that don’t really think that this is that important. [….} They think these things happened 300 years ago and why are we still talking about it? If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. This is every Canadian’s responsibility not to turn a blind eye’.” (p. 45)
  • “…. whether it be water, whether it be land, whether it be suicides, whether it be missing persons, whether it be housing, whether it be lack of resources. The government has to start listening.” (Blu, p. 45)
  • “… it’s not just for Aboriginal people. Canadian society’s going to learn from what we write and what we do and what we say. They may not like some of the stuff they hear. That’s part of the healing process.” (Kathy Louis, p. 52)

Here is just one of thousands of reasons why we need to pay close attention to The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls: “Between January and September 2018, [Grandmother] Bernie lost a staggering 88 friends or family members to violence in the Downtown East Side. Children are experiencing a terrible psychosis, she says ‘and everyone just kind of turns a blind eye’.” (p. 43)

I will not turn a blind eye.

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