So you want a national inquiry? Perhaps you signed a petition? Maybe you tweeted something relating to #MMIWG (missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls) recently and are now all worked about the government not doing anything? Surprise! Welcome to Canada.
But what are you exactly asking for when you say that you want a national inquiry for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls?
Some people say this is a call to action. Actually, no, it isn’t a call to action. But thank you National Chief for that gesture of civility—you don’t have to apologize. We (well some of us) already realize the constrained structures that you are working within and how those structures limit what you can actually do or say, publicly or privately. Oh that darn locus of power, eh?
Some people say it is what we need RIGHT now. No, we don’t.
Let’s have a quick little discussion about what a national inquiry actually entails (and maybe we will throw in some already conducted inquiries, how they didn’t help, and what they couldn’t actually say given their tightly imbricated colonial mandates).
Many people have asked me why I am saying no to a national inquiry. Simply put, it maintains the status quo and besides the obvious, we already know all the reasons why this is occurring, and what about all of the other reports/research previously done? Plus, inquiries only allow certain voices to be heard and certain bodies to be seen. Not everyone is considered equal in the process.
The national inquiry is set up formally and its jurisdiction is established by legislation (we already know how legislation plays out in favour of Indigenous peeps—NOT); its set duration established in terms of reference (ToR). This means that the inquiry “can be short, medium or long” (oh the excitement!). The inquiry can be headed by one or more Commissioners (with legal and supporting staff hired). It is often open to public including documents, process, hearings, and final report may be posted on the internet (kind of like this 150+ page document here). Some organizations like to say that the inquiry’s relationship to the government is independent but this is contradictory in itself because it is established by the government–because it really isn’t independent. The costs can be high (for all the bullshit reasons that we need an inquiry in the first place). The structure is dependent on the ToR, the process is dependent on the ToR, and the activities include “generally intended to advise or investigate” and “may call subject matter experts, witnesses, etc.” This is where only certain voices and bodies matter to the inquiry. Just think about who is going to be called to be a witness and who isn’t? What differential power relations are at play here? Where will the hearings be held? How will the witnesses be able to get there? As for the big kicker, future actions? These are at the discretion of the governments that established the inquiry (which won’t be done by Harper I will tell you that much and that includes if the government who established the inquiry remains in power after the inquiry is over). Additionally, participation is only granted by Commissioner at hearings and maybe, just maybe written submissions may be accepted (probably in English, which ultimately views Indigenous languages as inferior—you know the usual). Oh, but don’t forget, all of this is non-binding (translation: the government can do what it has done before in other inquiries, ignore it).1
But wait, didn’t I say there was previous inquiries done? Yeah, like during the inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside—the same women that the police didn’t care about and turned a blind eye when they were reported missing by their families/friends. What was the outcome of that report? Well, Oppal basically wrote that serial killer Robert Pickton targeted Indigenous women given their status in present-day Canadian society, less than human.2 What was the outcome of that inquiry? Exactly. Nothing. Do we really need another inquiry to tell us why Indigenous women and girls are being targeted by serial killers/murderers because they are considered less than human and how the rest of Canada doesn’t care? No. We can have inquiry, after inquiry and they can all say the same thing: Canadian society doesn’t care about Indigenous peoples, specifically Indigenous women and girls. They can also give us all the same recommendations but you know what? Those recommendations are non-binding. Let’s get all up in arms about a process that is created by a colonial government and that doesn’t hold a colonial government accountable for its actions in remaining complicit in the violence against Indigenous women.
Other inquiries that were conducted on Indigenous peoples, including an Indigenous child that died in state care and an Indigenous man that died while waiting for urgent medical attention INSIDE a hospital: Brian Sinclair3 and Phoenix Sinclair4. The outcome of those inquiries didn’t mention anything about the racism or colonialism that is interlaced within ALL of these cases. So yes, let’s have a national inquiry that will ignore the racism and colonialism that cause so many Indigenous women and girls to go missing or murdered! And for what, another inquiry to have the government apologize again? How many apologies is that now from political leaders and other government officials?
How about instead, we support the community-based organizations that are working directly with the families and friends of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls? You can start by donating to Families of Sisters in Spirit.