Chief Commissioner Marion Buller speaks to a witness following her testimony during the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Richmond, B.C., Friday. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Missing and murdered inquiry emboldens those to move forward: chairwoman

RICHMOND, B.C. — Some of those who have told their harrowing stories at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls have since redoubled that courage by taking their complaints to police, getting treatment, or reuniting with family, said the head of the inquiry.

Marion Buller said in an interview with The Canadian Press that the inquiry’s value is that respect is too great to be calculated.

“We are hearing on an individual basis wonderful healing and personal growth as a result of coming to the national inquiry,” she said Friday.

Nearly 100 people had registered to testify at the final set of public hearings being held in Metro Vancouver this week and as many as 300 statements were expected to be gathered, organizers said.

Buller said it has not been easy for survivors of violence and their families to retread old wounds and share their stories, but they remain committed to making the truth known.

“The way they can get up in the morning and go about their daily lives after what they’ve endured, it’s amazing and it speaks to our grace and our strength and our beauty as Indigenous people that we’re still here and thriving,” she said.

Trudy Smith recounted the physical and sexual abuse she endured at a Vancouver Island residential school while testifying Friday.

Smith said she wanted to speak out not just for herself, but to demand justice for her sister, Pauline Johnson, whose mutilated body was found by police in Port Coquitlam 33 years ago.

Her sister’s murder remains unsolved, and little information was ever given to the family about the investigation, Smith said.

“There has to be people who are willing to be strong to help us, to solve the cases,” she said. “I’m not giving up on this.”

Smith said she had the opportunity for some vindication in the 1990s, testifying against one of her abusers, a serial sex offender, who was convicted and sentenced to prison.

“I did fight, and I’m here today,” Smith said. “I just want all our voices to be heard. We have the right to be heard about what happened to us.”

Buller said the inquiry has been an opportunity for those testifying to rewrite history that has long been suppressed in Canada.

Canadians are led to believe that as a nation we are kind and generous, but the truth about our history and treatment of Indigenous people suggests otherwise, Buller said.

Indigenous people have endured hundreds of years of systemic discrimination and racist policies, and the affects are still felt today, she said. Remote communities continue to lack resources such as health care and they experience high turnover of professionals including social workers and police.

The lack of support poses safety risks for the people in those communities, Buller said.

“Now Canadians are learning how Indigenous women and girls have to live in their own country and I think that is critical.”

The number of Canadians that have contacted the inquiry with interest in learning about violence and fear that have plagued Indigenous women and girls is heartening, Buller said, adding that by understanding the past, Canada will be able to move forward.

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