With tempered expectations and a stumbled, somewhat confused start, the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls began in earnest Monday in Whitehorse.
Nobody involved in this inquiry wants it to fail. Not a single family member of the more than 1,181 lost women who make up the staggering tally of Canada’s national shame want it to falter. They want the problems — and there have been many, from a lack of a proper hearings schedule to who will pay gas money — fixed so that the inquiry can honour, not shame, their loved ones. Families don’t want lip service or promises written down and stuck on a shelf. They want a voice and change.
Over the coming months, as the inquiry sits in various communities across the country, the Star will publish a blog. Think of it as an accompaniment to the proceedings, informing you of things you need to know and showcasing the people pulling and pushing this inquiry along.
This blog starts with the perspective of the MMIWG families, and it begins with Maggie Cywink and her top five wishes for what is about to unfold.
Maggie’s sister Sonya Cywink’s body was found Aug. 30, 1994, outside London at the Southwold Earthworks, a national historic site in Elgin County. Her murder is unsolved. Every day since then has been a lesson in grief and understanding for Maggie as she channels her energy into making things better for all the other families.
During the inquiry, Cywink will act as Ontario’s special adviser between the families and this province — but on her wishes for the inquiry she says she speaks strictly as a family member, adding:
First, Cywink wants the communications problems solved. Families are confused by what they are hearing from the inquiry and what they are supposed to do. “They don’t understand legalese or the terminology the commission is using. What is witnessing? What is truth gathering? What is standing or the hearings? All of that sounds like jumbled stuff going on in the background,” she said.
Indigenous comprehension is not primarily academic or bureaucratic, she noted. “How do you expect them to want to participate in something they don’t understand?” she asked.
Second, Cywink wants all the work that has already been done on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls to be taken into account, including the 1,100-plus recommendations from existing reports, commissions and studies. She is speaking about the findings of the Honourable Wally Oppal’s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry on the conduct of investigations into the disappearances and deaths of women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She speaks of Amnesty International’s work and that of Sisters in Spirit, a research and education policy initiative run by Indigenous women.
Fourth, Cywink said transitional housing for women who are getting off the street — women getting out of sex trade, young Indigenous girls who are coming off the reservation but in need of safe housing — needs to be built. “We aren’t talking two months or four months but 24 months at minimum. They have no idea what it is like to live in a big city, how dangerous it is,” she said.
Fifth, Cywink wants to see MMIWG family members using their knowledge and experience to help implement the inquiry’s eventual recommendations. “Why would I go to a social worker who hasn’t lost a family member? Why would I want to call a 1-800 number that isn’t answered by a family member who doesn’t know what it is like?”
If Cywink could add a sixth wish, it would be for a strong aftercare system put in place for when the family is finished telling their story. “It just doesn’t end the minute I walk out of the hearing. There are ripple effects throughout my family.”