The Canadian commission investigating the root causes of disproportionately high rates of violence against indigenous women has confirmed that it still intends to hold in a session in Nunavut.
The announcement came after the National Investigation into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls indicated last week that the week-long meeting, originally scheduled to begin on December 11, would be postponed until 2018, due to a lack of a suitable venue in Rankin Inlet.
“After reaching out to family members to discuss the best way to move forward it was determined that the space originally planned to hold the hearings will not be able to accommodate the privacy and safety of those families wanting to share their truths,” Marion Buller, the inquiry’s chief commissioner, said in the original statement, issued last Thursday.
The MMIWG commission was established in 2016 in order to gather testimony from the families of as many of the more than 1,200 indigenous women who have been killed or gone missing since 1980. Though the exact numbers are not known, some estimates suggest that indigenous women may be 20 times more likely to be murdered or abducted than white Canadians.
Rankin Inlet, a Nunavut community of 2,900, had requested the commission to hold a session there to hear testimony from Inuit families from throughout northeastern Canada. So far, it is the only Inuit community where the commission plans to hold a session before it wraps up consultations next year.
The statement, however, failed to address speculation that the meeting would be moved to Iqaluit or Montreal. That lack of clarity, together with the suddenness of the announcement, caught families who were planning to attend off guard and distressed some, according to women’s advocates, who reacted strongly.
“Families have geared up and prepared for this process only to have it postponed with little information about future hearings,” said Rebecca Kudloo, the president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. “The inquiry says they work in a trauma-informed way but they are harming people. The inquiry needs to stop playing with people’s lives.”
Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada also criticized the commission’s explanation for the change, noting that representatives had visited the community this summer to identify locations where the meeting could be held.
“This is very confusing and concerning given the inquiry has said they will complete their family hearings for the families early next year,” the organisation said in a statement that also called for closer co-operation between the inquiry and local groups.