NEWS: Nunavut March 09, 2018 - 3:30 pm

Nunavut MLAs acknowledge MMIWG testimony

"There are so many more stories that need to be heard"

SARAH ROGERS

(Updated March 12)

Members of Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly this week acknowledged the families who gave testimony at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ recent hearings in Rankin Inlet.

The inquiry held its first hearings in the territory last month as part of a Feb. 19 to Feb. 22 visit to the Kivalliq community, where more than 20 people shared stories with commissioners.

“I recognize them for their courage and strength in participating and sharing their experiences,” Jeannie Ehaloak, Nunavut’s minister of justice and minister responsible for the status of women, said at the legislature Wednesday, March 7.

A resident of Rankin Inlet, Laura Mackenzie, sought the support of hamlet council and other organizations last summer to formally invite the inquiry to visit the Kivalliq community.

Mackenzie was the first witness to give public testimony at the hearings Feb. 20, when she spoke about the 2003 death of her aunt Betsy Kalaserk and the culture of silence around sexual abuse in the territory.

Rankin Inlet South’s Lorne Kusugak, who also serves as minister of Community and Government Services, recognized Mackenzie personally in his March 7 member’s statement.

“[She] did some very important work on this and I would like to thank her,” Kusugak said.

Kusugak acknowledged his own loss; his sister Donna Kusugak was murdered in 2003. The man convicted of her manslaughter was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

“The people who spoke there and the people who came to listen there, even those who did not go there, this helped them a lot,” Kusugak said of the hearings.

“I encourage people who go to the hearings to keep going. There are so many more stories that need to be heard.”

This was the first public comment from MLAs on the inquiry since commissioners visited Nunavut last month. MLAs were unable to attend the event because it fell during the same week as caucus meetings held in Pond Inlet.

But Mackenzie said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News, following her Feb. 20 testimony, she was called into the constituency office of Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie and asked by a constituency assistant if she had requested leave from her GN job to testify at the hearings.

Mackenzie, who was on leave from work at the time, said she felt harassed and intimidated by the question.

In response, Towtongie’s constituency office sent an emailed statement to Nunatsiaq News March 9: “I believe during the MMIWG that emotions and going over the loss of a loved [one] in horrific situations [...] leads to heightened feelings in terms of intimidation when it was not in intended to cause those emotions.”

Towtongie contacted the newspaper after this story went to press to say she wasn’t in Rankin Inlet during the hearings and did not direct her assistant to question Mackenzie about taking a leave. “I do not know who made that comment,” she said.

Mackenzie said she’s since heard from many other Nunavummiut and survivors of violence who said they feel validated by her testimony. 

GN to hire more mental health workers

Back in the legislature March 7, Ehaloak urged all Nunavummiut families who took part in or who were impacted by the hearings to reach out to local support services if needed.

“The Government of Nunavut continues to support survivors of family violence as well as the families of missing and murdered Inuit women and girls in Nunavut,” she said.

“We hope that the inquiry will build upon the important work already being done to address family violence in Nunavut and that this process will help Nunavummiut to heal.”

The GN sent additional health resources to Rankin Inlet during the February hearings, including two mental health nurses.

To deal with a shortage of mental health resources across the territory, the Department of Health said it intends to hire new community mental health outreach workers throughout the Nunavut in the coming months. These para-professional roles would be filled by local people.