AFN national chief blasts governments’ inaction on fifth anniversary of MMIWG report

AFN national chief blasts governments' inaction on fifth anniversary of MMIWG report
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Monday, June 3, 2024.

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations blasted all levels of government on Monday, the fifth anniversary of a national inquiry’s report into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, for what she calls slow progress to stop the crisis.

Only two of the more than 150 calls to action focused on First Nations people have been implemented since 2019, Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak said.

That’s despite constant calls from advocates for more funding from all levels of government for Indigenous housing, justice and programs for LGBTQ+ people that they say would keep women and girls safer.

“There is a long, winding road ahead to address and prevent all forms of gender-based violence,” she said Monday morning.

“But together, with all Canadians, we remain hopeful that we can get there step by step.”

The 2019 inquiry concluded Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to go missing or be murdered than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

The commission brought forward a total of 231 calls to action to help curb the epidemic.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a statement, said that after the release of the inquiry’s report, Canada’s failure to respect and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples became “irrefutable.”

Trudeau gave examples where his government is acting, such as partnering with the Manitoba government on plans to search a Winnipeg landfill for the victims of a serial killer, as well as working to pilot a Red Dress Alert system which would issue public alerts when an Indigenous woman, girl, two-spirit or gender-diverse person goes missing.

“On this solemn day, and everyday, we recommit ourselves to advancing this path of reconciliation,” Trudeau said in the statement.

The final report was the culmination of testimony from more than 2,380 family members, survivors, experts and knowledge-keepers over two years to understand the crisis and form solutions.

Family members spoke of intergenerational trauma and the impacts of poverty as compounding factors, while knowledge-keepers highlighted how women, through colonization, have been displaced from their traditional roles.

“The steps to end and redress this genocide must be no less monumental than the combination of systems and actions that has worked to maintain colonial violence for generations,” the report read.

Five years after its publication, however, Woodhouse Nepinak said governments have abdicated their responsibilities, and inaction is not acceptable for First Nations peoples.

She said she hopes it’s not acceptable for Canadians, either.

Woodhouse Nepinak called on governments and their agencies to bring forward meaningful change, based on justice and respect for human rights, with survivors and their families in mind.

Duane Aucoin, the Assembly of First Nations’ 2SLGBTQ+ council representative for the Yukon region, highlighted how “little progress” has been made for his community in particular.

“There’s 32 calls for justice for (two-spirit) people, but not one has been implemented,” Aucoin said after speaking about a rise in hate crimes, what he described as anti-LGBTQ+ policies in some provinces and his own experiences with discrimination.

The federal NDP echoed similar concerns, saying in a news release Monday that sustainable, long-term funding is lacking.

“This year’s budget devoted more to auto theft than it did to MMIGW2S,” the release reads. “Obviously, this is not a serious priority for this government.”

NDP MP Leah Gazan, who represents the riding of Winnipeg Centre, said the inaction sends a “very clear message” about the government’s de-prioritization of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals.

“So I’m calling on the Liberal government to stop talking,” she said.

“They say a lot of nice things, but this is serious. People are losing their lives.”

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree said that while progress may not be as fast as community members expected, his government remains committed to addressing the issues.

He disputed the Assembly of First Nations’ suggestion that only two calls to action were completed since 2019. Of the 215 recommendations in the purview of the federal government, 107 have been “advanced,” he said.

When asked what “advanced” means, Anandasangaree pointed to the Qikiqtani Truth Commission — an Inuit initiative that seeks to investigate the killing of qimmiit, or sled dogs, between 1950 and 1970. He also pointed to a formal apology made by former Crown-Indigenous relations minister Carolyn Bennett.

“My message to (advocates) is we will get there. We are so grateful (to you) for welcoming us into the spaces that are deeply personal and deeply challenging and hurtful,” he said.

“We are not going to turn our backs on you.”

By Alessia Passafiume, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2024.

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