Wednesday marked the first official Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls day in Canada. Vigils were held across the country to remember those lost, but in Ottawa, vigil attendees presented Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a stern message.
Trudeau attended the Families of Sisters in Spirit vigil on the steps of Parliament Hill and the organizers spoke directly to him in their address.
Connie Greyeyes from Fort Saint John, B.C. did not hold back.
"How dare you come out here and say these things, without any action?" she said, adding that a fight continues against Indigenous people around family, land, healthcare, education, and water.
“You’re going to come out here and tell us how much you support us — I don’t buy it anymore,” she said.
Maggie Cywink from Whitefish River First Nation also spoke out. She said that the members of the National Inquiry have done nothing with the information they’ve been given.
“They take the information and leave, with no aftercare,” she said. “This is not trauma-informed.”
Cywink’s sister was found dead in 1994 near London, Ont.
The government of Canada launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in September 2016. It is made up of five commissioners and it is independent from government and crown corporations. Their mission is to observe and report on the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
“A hundred years from now, will you be looked at as a prime minister who changed the course of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people?” Cywink asked. “Or will you be seen as yet another politician, in the very long list of politicians, who simply peddled in the age-old craft of empty promises?"
An RCMP report in 2014 indicated that just under 1,200 Indigenous women were murdered or had gone missing between 1980 and 2012, but Patty Hajdu, Canada's former minister for the status of women, said in 2016 that the actual number could be as high as 4,000.
When Trudeau took the microphone, he thanked Cywink for her anger and frustration on the issue.
"The missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry is something that I have long believed in, long supported," he said. "It was never going to be easy."
Trudeau said he will rededicate himself and his government to this issue.
“I have always been of the opinion that the families need to be at the heart of that process so that we can get healing for the families, justice for the victims and put an end to this ongoing national tragedy,” he said.
Indigenous women represent 4.3% of Canada’s female population, but they make up 16% of female homicide victims and 11% of missing persons cases involving women, according to an RCMP report from 2015.
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