Raw Emotion, Tears and Hurt at Thunder Bay MMIWG Hearings

MMIWG Commissioner Audet addresses the media
MMIWG Commissioner Audette addresses the media

Families Tell Their Truth and Seek Healing

THUNDER BAY – Raw emotion, tears, and hurt are on full display at the hearings for the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.

Hearing testimony in Thunder Bay on Tuesday, December 5, 2017, Commissioner Michelle Audette became very emotional.

Commissioner Audette says, “We have to do more for our children, for our grandchildren but also for your auntie. We will fight because we’re already fighting. We’ve been receiving the anger since the moment it was announced — legitimate anger because the system failed and it’s still failing today. Am I going to lose my job because I say that? Maybe, but I’ll sleep well.”

The Commissioner spoke out sharing her feelings that no matter what the Inquiry is doing that it is not enough. Audette says that the original scope of the Commission’s mandate has not allowed the inquiry to do all work that is needed.

MMIWG Commissioner Audet addresses the media
MMIWG Commissioner Audet addresses the media

“I wish we were able when they gave us that mandate a year and a half ago that we could have opened all the cases. Why are we being left in the dark?” stated the Commissioner. “Canada has a really dark history, and it means Canada has to really face up to what the realities are. Yes, there have been apologies made, but were they made by the people who did the atrocities”.

Seeing the courage and the sorrow of the families of the murdered and missing women is to see the raw human emotion at its most personal, and yet the family members choose to take that grief forward into public, to seek real resolution, real solutions, and hopefully closure to their family trauma.

Over and over the Commissioners hear those stories. It was inspiring is to see the depth of the care, concern and human empathy that the two commissioners at the Thunder Bay hearings expressed.

The amount of work and the depth of the work needed to do so, the Inquiry probably more likely will require an extension.

The MMIWG National Enquiry Hearings in Thunder Bay got underway on Sunday with opening ceremonies and prayers.
The MMIWG National Enquiry Hearings in Thunder Bay got underway on Sunday with opening ceremonies and prayers.

Missing in the process is that the Inquiry is currently unable to have meetings in many of the more remote First Nation communities.

Sources tell NetNewsLedger that what is needed are for either Chiefs and Councillors in communities to reach out to the Commission and invite them to host meetings in their communities. The Commission’s mandate NNL is told won’t allow the National Inquiry to simply choose to go to communities.

While the Commissioners and the National Inquiry has faced a great deal of negative public commentary, that is also something that perhaps is not fully justified. When the government set up the National Inquiry and set the mandate,

Tears and hurt were in many cases so strong that you would have to have a heart of stone not to feel the complete anguish of the families who are attending the hearings to testify.

Family members sharing their pain and ongoing hurt over the sorrow and in many cases lack real closure is very evident.

There has been anger over time much of it directed toward the Inquiry itself. That is where Commissioner Audette’s comments hit home with the families present at the Hearings.

Putting her heart on her sleeve and speaking out endeared the Commissioner to those who are sharing their truth with the Inquiry.

The overall hope from the hearings is strong here in Thunder Bay. There are many families who are hoping beyond hope that from these hearings there will be some resolution and closure to the pain they feel.

For many of the families, it is what they feel is a process of systemic failure of the processes right from the police, the healthcare system, the courts, and in many cases the organizations which should be offering the support to victims.

At the Thunder Bay hearings, there were several of the families who expressed how they were treated by the Thunder Bay Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police in many cases made them feel worse, and increased the fear of police that they felt.

“I wouldn’t want any other family to go through the frustration we went through,” commented one family member. “They are supposed to be there to help”.

At the Inquiry Hearings, there are support workers, Elders, and private spaces, along with a sacred fire where family members can gather and seek support for their grief.

FILU was on hand as a national organization to help women to heal and to find out more about what they need to work on their family’s cases.,

Family survivors are being asked, during their testimony to the hearings, what kinds of solutions they offer. For many, the difficulties are in telling their stories, and then in hearing so many other families who are going through the exact same issues.

One family member suggests that for police services there should be a special task force set up just to listen to the family members. “A ‘VIP’ protocol needs to be set up, with special procedures put in place to make sure that all of the information and evidence is heard”.

Many of the family members expressed that they feel that their concerns are not taken seriously by police.

Several times, the witnesses expressed similar messages that the system seems pre-disposed to judge the missing and the murdered women. When their families come forward looking for information, many expressed that they felt their words and cares didn’t get heard.

For many that lack of empathy is one of the things that prevents real solutions and for the families achieving closure, and it is a theme often repeated.

Another participant stated that “While many people ask us to ‘just get over it’ the reality is that it is still going on”. The numbers of deaths and the number of missing women and girls continue to climb including men and boys along with two-spirited and transient.

Issues with addictions are a factor, but often according to many of the participants, the issue is one of the people forced to try to deal with the stresses caused by the trauma they suffered.

“No matter how many times I come to tell my story, nothing ever happens,” stated another participant. In this case, the case has had no closure. The victim’s DNA has been shared with police agencies across the globe, seeking to find out any information, but years go by and nothing happens”.

“I don’t think a government can really do anything,” stated one witness. “I don’t think money can do anything to make you feel happy”.

“I don’t know, from coming here what to expect, but I hope to find answers on our missing and murdered women”.

“I would ask more questions, but I don’t want our family to hurt more”.

“How come she left?” asked another of the persons testifying, referring to their lost loved one.

An often-recurring message has been women do not have safe places to go, there are no places where many women can go to escape domestic violence. Often the women do not want to report their spouse to police or have charges filed. Yet in the legal system to gain access to help that is one of the requirements.

“What factors affected the families to be in an unhealthy position. How can families be healthy and well if they don’t even have a house to live in”.

“We have to stop looking at intervention and start working on prevention! It is too much for these programs coming into the communities and leaving.”

“$9.1 Billion of what was apparently put toward First Nations saw $4.1 Billion of those funds eaten up in the bureaucracy”.

Imagine what could have been done with less money eaten up by bureaucracy.

“Those voices you heard, those are the voices of the people. Those are the voices that need to be heard. Canada has a responsibility to listen to those voices and to act on their words”.

Perhaps a large part of the problem is the system applying blanket “White” solutions to Indigenous people and the issues they face.

Bernie Williams in the video is the spiritual grandmother to Commissioner Audette, and is an activist from British Columbia and a hereditary Chief.


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