Missing women’s inquiry leaders reconcile Canada Day with ‘genocide’ finding

Chief Commissioner Marion Buller says Canada Day reminds many Indigenous people about colonization

Commissioners Marion Buller (left) and Commissioner Michele Audette prepare the official copy of the report for presentation to the government during ceremonies marking the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report in Gatineau June 3, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

When Michèle Audette was growing up, Canada Day was not a celebration. It left her feeling bitter.

The daughter of a Quebecois father and an Innu mother, Audette didn’t see herself in the school curriculum.

She didn’t see a recognition of Indigenous populations that existed for thousands of years in many of the places she lived.

But she was also conflicted.

When First Nations, Metis and Inuit dancers took the stage there would be a feeling of pride, she says, even if it was only fleeting.

“They were there to remind Canada that people were here, are still here today, and showing the resilience of our nations. It is beautiful,” she says. ”But it needs to be there everyday. It needs to be there in the laws, the policies and the programs.”

Audette spent more than two years hearing testimony from women, families and experts as one of the commissioners from the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The inquiry’s final report, released in early June, detailed a deliberate and persistent pattern of abuses against Indigenous women, girls, two-spirited people and LGBTQ individuals, which it said can only be described as a genocide.

The report included 231 recommendations, including calls for all Canadians to learn Indigenous history and use that knowledge to break down barriers.

A lot of Indigenous people don’t celebrate Canada Day because it’s a reminder of colonization, says inquiry Chief Commissioner Marion Buller. And they won’t celebrate until they see a real change in policies and practices from all levels of government, she says.

“One thing that we all have to accept is colonization happened and is still happening,” says Buller, who is from Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan.

READ MORE: Billboard posted along B.C.’s Highway of Tears to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women

When the Europeans first arrived, First Nations helped the settlers survive. But over time, the fur market declined, as did military threats, and Indigenous people became an obstacle.

Reserves were set up on less habitable land to make room for railroads and settlements, or so that water could be diverted. Ceremonies were outlawed and a pass system was set up to control movement. Inadequate government rations left communities starving and susceptible to sickness.

Children were forced into residential schools where many faced physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Thousands of children died.

The ’60s Scoop in which Indigenous children were adopted out to non-Indigenous families followed.

Many Canadians were not taught this history growing up, the commissioners say, and were shocked to learn colonization continues.

Family members who testified at the inquiry spoke about multigenerational trauma. They told commissioners about ongoing policies displacing women from traditional roles, forced sterilizations, children being apprehended, confrontations with police, poverty, violence and housing insecurity.

“This country is at war, and Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are under siege,” the report says.

The inquiry found human and Indigenous rights violations, homophobia, transphobia and marginalization “woven into the fabric of Canadian society,” says Commissioner Brian Eyolfson from the Couchiching First Nation in Ontario.

Canada Day is an opportunity for education, he suggests.

“It’s important to include Indigenous Peoples and their histories, contributions and their current realities in celebrations.”

The holiday is problematic when it only reflects a palatable history of the country, adds commissioner Qajaq Robinson, but it doesn’t mean non-Indigenous people opt out because they feel ashamed.

“I don’t think it accomplishes much if we bow our heads in shame and hide in our living rooms,” says Robinson, who was born and raised in Nunavut.

She says the country’s positive aspects can be celebrated without glossing over the destructive parts of its past. But that means including Indigenous communities and making sure they feel welcome on their own terms.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

EDITORIAL: Coronavirus limits the right medicine

Opening up the economy a risk with cases overall still not under control

BCWS plans for woody debris burning in Esler area near Williams Lake

The debris is from wildfire risk reduction work

FOREST INK: Using observations until detailed results are available

Reliable test results often includes thousands of subjects and many years of observations.

Williams Lake RCMP seek assistance locating missing youth

Angel Emile has not been seen since Monday, July 7

Interior Health issues warning of increased overdose activity in Williams Lake area

H has released a number of safety tips and how to respond to an overdose should one occur

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Northern B.C. First Nations call for reversal of grizzly bear hunting ban

Growing grizzly populations have led to fewer ungulates and increased fear of attacks says Chad Day

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

NHL’s Canadian hubs offer little economic benefit, but morale boost is valuable: experts

Games are slated to start Aug. 1 with six Canadian teams qualifying for the 24-team resumption of play

‘Made in the Cowichan Valley’ coming to a wine bottle near you

Cowichan Valley has the honour of being the first sub-GI outside of the Okanagan

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

COVID-19 cases identified in Kelowna, after public gatherings

Those who were downtown or at the waterfront from June 25 to July 6 maybe have been exposed to COVID-19.

Most Read