The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was reaching out to those affected in Smithers and Hazelton recently to start laying the groundwork for hearings expected the week of Sept. 25.
Smithers was the second stop in the country for the Inquiry after Whitehorse.
The visit was just before a motion to replace all the commissioners was defeated at the Assembly of First Nations in Regina.
“It’s a process that’s re-victimizing families, and I think we need a hard reset,” said Sheila North-Wilson at the AFN, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents 30 First Nations in northern Manitoba.
Inquiry community liaison officer Alana Boileau explained that the work they were doing visiting communities ahead of the hearings — which recently got an extension to the fall — could be described as intake and outreach.
“So we’ve got three members of the legal team, three members of the health team, and three members of the community relations team,” explained Boileau.
“The members of the health team are meeting one on one with family members. The first step of intake is about assessing their current health needs and supports, so making sure that families have services and supports around them that will help support them through their experience with the inquiry.”
Families were also introduced to lawyers.
“Meeting with a lawyer and beginning to share their story so that the lawyers can prepare them to share their stories with the commissioner at the hearing … That relationship continues after we’ve left. So the lawyers are going to keep in touch with them over the phone and keep hearing about their story and deciding together with the families what it is that they want to share,” said Boileau.
“It’s about establishing trust and making sure that when they testify, when they share their stories publicly — and in private because there’s different ways of sharing — that nothing is forgotten.”
The outreach part is what Boileau mostly does.
“We’re connecting with the organizations to make sure that we’ve got everyone involved in organizing the hearings and organizing supports after we’ve left, so that the hearings are respectful of protocol, that they involve people who’ve been doing this work for a really long time so that the community feels a sense of ownership over these hearings because they were part of making them happen,” explained Boileau.
“So that means working to find the elders, to find the venues where we’re going to hold it, to connect with supports, to decide together what the opening and closing ceremonies will be.”
Specific topics have not been chosen yet, but there have been consistent themes in what Inquiry workers are hearing.
“There have been stories of strength, stories of resiliency, but there have also been stories of families who have had inadequate services. But more specifically, those things will come out at the hearings … which are going to be public events,” said Boileau.
Locals she listed as taking part included First Nations leadership, the Friendship Centre, health directors, and Victim Services.