Federal ministers in Halifax today heard intense stories from the families of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
“It’s very raw. People are telling their stories of incredible trauma, of loss, of extremely violent incidents they have witnessed or their loved ones have experienced,” said Minister of Status of Women Patty Hajdu. “It is a very moving day.”
The ministers were at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel, laying the foundation for an indigenous-led inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
They heard the stories of approximately 100 people in attendance.
Following the meeting, ministers said some people told their stories for their first time, while others relayed decades of experience advocating for aboriginal issues. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said it’s important to recognize that “people are at different places in their journey. There is a responsibility to help and support those who are coming forward for the first time.”
The ministers said they saw a strength in the community, with people coming together and understanding they are not alone in their suffering.
“We’ve seen estranged family members connect who may not have spoken to each other for years,” said Hajdu.
Bennett added, “It was quite heartening to hear from some of the families this morning about how much support they feel from their extended family, looking at all the people in the circle.”
Designing the inquiry
Bennett emphasized these meetings are only the first phase. The federal government, she said, will consider many aspects of the inquiry, including the participants, the structure, the role of ceremony and the inclusion of families.
In previous meetings across the country, Bennett and Hajdu acknowledged that survivors will play a greater role in the formalized inquiry than was originally anticipated.
“We left out the survival category of people who are still with us,” said Bennett. “Not everyone was ready to tell their story today…The first one we heard was in Thunder Bay, of someone who was captured and strangled.”
Hajdu said statistics on missing and murdered aboriginal women do not accurately reflect the actual number of women who are missing, or those who have experienced extreme violence and survived.
Both ministers agreed they hope the conversation will extend further than the people in the room. They said they have heard from more than 7,000 people online, and continue to receive input from individuals who are unable to attend meetings in person.
Consultations began on Jan. 8 in Yellowknife. The next meeting will be held tomorrow in Quebec City.
All Canadians are invited to participate in the pre-inquiry consultation process by filling out this online form.
Minister Carolyn Bennett discusses the need for an aboriginal-led inquiry. (Shot by Rachael Kelly)