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Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler proud of progress on MMWIG, but says real work just beginning

Lesa Semmler has been pushing to bring working solutions to the ongoing problem of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) for almost eight years, but says the real work is only now beginning.
Lesa Semmler says she’s happy to have ensured addressing the problem of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has stayed a priority for the outgoing Legislative Assembly. NNSL file photo

Lesa Semmler has been pushing to bring working solutions to the ongoing problem of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) for almost eight years, but says the real work is only now beginning.

And after working the last four years as Inuvik Twin-Lakes MLA, she should know. Pushing the GNWT to move forward on the recommendations of the Calls for Justice from the inquiry on MMIWG, which she addressed when it passed through Yellowknife Jan. 23-25, 2018. Semmler she was happy to at least see progress happening.

”Within the government,everything works very slowly, right?” she said. “So you got to get the buy in, then you’ve got to get the work done.

“Now, so now they have the work that they’re doing internally now for addressing that.”

It hasn’t been easy. Semmler said she has had to repeatedly put the GNWT’s feet to the fire to get key legislation and motions passed. However, now the government has tabled it’s own Report on Taking Action and all government departments now have to view how they operate through the lens of Truth and Reconciliation, so for her it’s a start.

Because the problems that put Indigenous women and girls in harm’s way are widespread, Semmler said an all-encompassing approach to how governments operate was needed to stop the cycle of violence.

Policies ranging from how housing deals with a woman taking her name off a jointly held lease if she leaves a relationship, the availability of beds at shelters for women trying to find a safe place to sleep, ensuring teachers coming up to work understand that many children growing up in the North are still living with the consequences of the Residential School System and even planning mining and other work camps so they aren’t presenting a threat to women who live in the area all factor into ensuring the North is a safe place for Indigenous women to live, grow and pursue happiness.

”(Government) employees, their policies and their processes, whatever they’re interacting with Indigenous women and girls they have to look at it through this lens now and how can they support Indigenous women? How do our programs affect Indigenous women?

“How are we protecting women in the policies Against Family Violence? It’s the awareness, it’s providing safer spaces for them and providing financial stability for them. It’s providing education for them if they need it.

“I think we as government in the Northwest Territories, have done a lot of good things. I never say that everything that the government is always bad, but there are still many things that can be tweaked.”

One area Semmler said needed changes in was child and family services, noting when the government intervenes and puts a child in foster care, the family gets a financial boost to help raise the child. But if the child’s grandparents or other extended family were to take on the responsibility to keep the children close to family, that funding was largely absent.

But after Social Development Committee held hearings on Child and Family Services and heard from children themselves who want to be close to their families for better or worse, Semmler said she’s pushing for shifts in how the department handles things.

”When we spoke with the kids the main thing that they said was they wanted to be with their family,” said Semmler. “They knew that their family had issues but they wanted to be with their family. So how come we’re not supporting the family enough to put them back together? We have to be looking at ways at the prevention side.

“I think that without family connection there, you get lost and that’s where when you end up missing and murdered indigenous women. Where can we make changes and what changes can we make that will that might, you know, change that outcome?”

Establishing a gender equity unit was a positive step, said Semmler, noting it would help ensure all departments are viewing through the proper lens.

While progress is definitely happening, Semmler is adamant the heavy lifting on changing the circumstances Indigenous women face in Canada is yet to come.

“When this first came across me was in 2016,” she said. “I didn’t really know what I was walking into, until I got there and realize this does affect so many of us in the North. From 2015 until all of the work that we’ve been doing nationally to raise awareness. Once we got the National Inquiry, people know that this is an issue people know that this happened, and they’re aware of this now.”

Further to the holistic nature of the problem, Semmler said the Legislative Assembly’s public action committee was holding forums throughout the Delta throughout the week regarding the GNWT’s implementation of the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP.) Those meeting were held Monday, May 1 at 7:00 p.m. in Fort Simpson at the Recreation Centre, Tuesday, May 2 at 7:00 p.m. in Fort Smith at the Salt River Business and Conference Centre, Wednesday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m. in Yellowknife at the Legislative Assembly, Thursday, May 4 at 6:00 p.m. in Tuktoyaktuk at Kitti Hall and wrap up Friday, May 5 at 10:00 a.m. in Inuvik at the Midnight Sun Complex.

Semmler noted the most important thing to help bring justice and peace to people in the North who are suffering was to keep the dialogue open, because otherwise people suffer in silence.

“One thing is that when you grow up in it, this is normal. We grew up in a time where it was normal to see violence against women, it was normal to see people fighting with normal was all the drinking in the home, that was normal to hear your friends were abused.

“So you tell your friends and you guys kind of keep it together you keep I think that’s your circle is here when you’re growing up. They know what happened. You know what happened you may know what’s happened in your home, you know what happens in their home, you guys ever nobody talks about it.

“Now we’re talking about it. Now we know it’s not a normal thing. It’s not okay to be abused. It’s not okay to grow up in a home that there’s abuse going on.

“We’re allowed to use our voice and people need to hear our voice.”

About the Author: Eric Bowling

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