MMIW hearings proceed despite protests

WINNIPEG — A national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women is moving forward despite calls from some groups for resignations and a restart.

Chief commissioner Marion Buller said she and her colleagues intend to go ahead with community hearings that are to begin Sept. 25 in Smithers, B.C., but will do so in a way that addresses concerns raised by relatives of the missing and murdered.

“We intend to move forward with our schedule, but we’re going to do it in a better way based on what we’ve heard this week,” Buller said Thursday after a meeting in Winnipeg at which the inquiry’s four commissioners heard from some family members and experts on Indigenous laws.

“We will be in meetings next week with our directors to take what we’ve learned and see how we … go forward with better practices,” added fellow commissioner Qajaq Robinson.

The commission has faced questions in recent months from concerned relatives who say they have lost faith in the inquiry because it is not giving families enough of a voice. Some family members say the way the hearings started in Whitehorse in the spring made it hard for some to attend the hearings or feel comfortable sharing their experiences.

The inquiry has also been hit with the resignations of staff members and commissioner Marilyn Poitras.

Sandra Delaronde, co-chair of a group that represents relatives in Manitoba, said her group still wants the remaining commissioners to resign so that the inquiry can start fresh.

“They are all very fine individuals …. but not everyone’s experiences are able to blend the needs of the community with the needs of the legal system, and so perhaps they are not the right people at the helm,” Delaronde said.

The inquiry is examining the systemic issues behind the high number of Indigenous women who have been killed or disappeared over the last four decades. It is expected to take two years and cost almost $54 million.

The first formal public hearing was held in Whitehorse in May, but subsequent hearings were pushed back until the fall.

Buller said there will be financial help to ensure relatives can attend the meetings, and other supports to ensure those who want to testify feel safe doing so.

“The community hearings are about families and survivors, and nothing but families and survivors.”

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