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Nameless faces to the public; Precious souls to those who lost them

Take a moment to look into the faces of these women. Imagine their lives, their upbringing, their families. Imagine their dreams and ambitions; mourn over the cruelty of their murders, and the systemic injustice of a culture and a nation that had not taken this seriously. Are we even ready now to accept the unspeakable notion that the genocide was persistent and ongoing under our very noses.

Some are arguing against the conclusion that Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls fits the legal definition of “genocide”, but that seems a bit pointless. Commentators like Chris Selley cynically suggest this report was “more of an academic and ideological exercise than a road map to practical change.” I am sure there are legal implications – but I can’t think of any that would dis-imply our common responsibility for reconciliation – for reconciliation should always be our focus. Evan Dyer reported:

I think it’s important for everybody, for all Canadians, to know that we often think of genocide as the Holocaust, the killings in Africa or elsewhere. And of course that is genocide, and of course that is tragedy,” said [National Inquiry commissioner Marion Buller].

“But the type of genocide we have in Canada is, as my colleague Commissioner Robinson said, death by a million paper cuts for generations.”

By accepting a finding that Canada committed genocide, Trudeau arguably placed the country within a tiny group of self-declared guilty nations.

Until [June 4], the group included only Germany, Cambodia and Rwanda. Ukraine marks the Holodomor as a genocide but does not consider itself the perpetrator, blaming instead Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Coincidentally, this report was accepted the same day the world remembered – with the notable exception of China itself – the Tiananmen Square tragedy. China has yet to come to grips with its own genocide during their cultural revolution; sadly China has no philosophical frame of reference to accept responsibility for truth or reconciliation.

But no one should mistake the Chinese genocide (or any other) to overshadow our own genocide. The inquiry into “Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls” – is a startling title for a shocking report. Missing sounds so benign, as if something just got lost.

The reality is Indigenous Women and Girls didn’t just go Missing… they got Murdered!

Thus as National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated on June 21, it is a profound moment to grieve, to ponder, and to listen… again. In a poignant summary of the report process, one surviving mother said,

This has derived from our hurt, our loss, our tears, our heartache.”

Shirley Wilson, whose daughter, Wannitta Wolfe, was shot and killed in Regina in 1999.

As if they are our own

Not only are we invited to grieve with those who grieve, but we are to take on the murdered and missing as if they are our own, for indeed, they are. This report is a follow up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report of 2015 whose 382-page summary came out with 94 recommendations.

In contrast, the MMIWG report consists of more than 1,200 pages and includes 231 recommendations (!) – or the preferred name: “Calls for Justice.”

It must be understood that these recommendations, which we frame as ‘Calls for Justice,’ are legal imperatives – they are not optional,” the report reads.

“These Calls for Justice represent important ways to end the genocide and to transform systemic and societal values that have worked to maintain colonial violence.

“The commissioners heard direct testimony from nearly 1,500 people, including 468 family members and survivors. Another 800 people participated through other means such as written submissions.” (Source: National Post). A report can be such a sanitized artifact, scrubbed somewhat of it’s emotional connection to what happened. Survivors refuse us that option; they remind us of the particularity of the person lost and of the survivor’s personal loss.

‘I’m hoping that it will bring change, change to make the people understand we all matter,’ Carol Wolfe said [whose daughter, Karina, was murdered in 2010]. ‘It makes me mad and angry that I had to lose my daughter to bring change. It still breaks my heart daily and I feel sad. But I can pray for change.’

The sadness of the missing & the shame of genocide?

We Canadians are learning to be less smug about the guilty past treatment, and indeed, the ongoing systemic mistreatment of Canada’s Indigenous populations. Jorge Barrera reported:

The rate of violence against Indigenous women and girls continued unabated during the mandate of the national inquiry created to investigate the root causes of the issue…

There were more than 130 Indigenous women and girls reported as victims of a homicide, whose death was deemed suspicious, or who died while in institutional care from 2016 to 2019…

I suspect it will take more generations (7 Generations?), and there will be more reports with more recommendations on this “long walk of doing and undoing.”

Lord have mercy.

For more on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, see “Truth & Reconciliation.”

For more on the impact of violence against women in general, see “Violence against Women.”

To contemplate what it means to miss a loved one, see “Every Hour Without You.”