Nunavut MMIWG hearings inspire unprecedented disclosures of abuse, loss
Communities have a responsibility to say “this is not acceptable:” commissioner
RANKIN INLET—Last week’s hearings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls heard Nunavummiut make public their long-private battles with sexual abuse, violence and murders of loved ones.
The commission hosted its first hearing in Nunavut Feb. 20 to Feb. 22, when commissioners heard about the wide-spread sexual abuse and violence that lead to Inuit women’s deaths.
Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada president Rebecca Kudloo can’t recall seeing that many Nunavummiut disclose their stories of abuse and loss all at once.
“I think this is a start,” said Kudloo, who sat at the hearings. “The families were strong and the recommendations were strong.
“Things have to change; if we don’t get healing for our people, the abuse and trauma will continue.”
Pauktuutit has been critical of the inquiry; Kudloo has asked for better communication and a more Inuit-focused process to reflect the reality of the North.
“Pauktuutit has been saying they want after care for the families,” Kudloo said. “A lot of them are going back to their very small communities with very few resources.”
The inquiry said it has created after-care plans with each witness who testifies, to ensure they have support after the fact. The commission will contract existing mental health services if needed once they leave a community.
In Rankin Inlet, for example, there is a permanent mental health nurse and outreach workers—all of whom attended the inquiry, but inquiry staff acknowledged it will have to be creative in some places where those positions don’t exist.
Kudloo said the inquiry is also rooted in many First Nations traditions, like the healing plants distributed every day of hearings by a medicine woman on staff, although “that’s not our belief.”
She still hopes to see the inquiry eventually visit all regions of Inuit Nunangat. But almost three-quarters into its mandate, that’s not likely unless the commission gets the extension it has asked for.
The commission is, however, headed to Nunatsiavut next week for a two-day hearing in Happy Valley-Goose Bay before it moves on to Montreal the week of March 12, where a number of Inuit witnesses from the Nunavik region are expected to testify.
MMIWG commissioner Qajaq Robinson said that some very clear themes emerged from the three days of public testimony, stories that reflect the day-to-day issues Inuit face.
“We’re heard a lot about a culture of silence when it comes to child sexual abuse and domestic violence and how people know those things are going on but don’t speak up,” Robinson said.
“And we’ve heard from a number of people that it’s time to speak and protect women and children and denounce violence.”
While the inquiry will make recommendations on what institutions like the federal government can do to respond to those issues, Robinson said testimony this past week has also called for individual and community responsibility, “to say this is not acceptable.”
Robinson, a Nunavut-raised, Inuktitut-speaking lawyer, said she hoped that bringing the hearing to an Inuit community would help answer questions or quell concerns in Nunavut about the commission’s work.
“I’ve been committed to making sure that Inuit have the space and the platform within the inquiry to be heard, and for Canada to hear the specific challenges that Inuit face,” she said.
“I’m hoping that, now that we’ve been here, they’ll see that the inquiry’s work is in partnership with the community and I hope that has cultivated some confidence in the work that we’re doing.”
The inquiry is hosting hearings in Happy Valley-Goose Bay March 7 and March 8 and then in Montreal from March 12 – 16.
The inquiry’s toll-free support line is available 24 hours a day at 1-844-413-6649.