Sharon Allen still has unanswered questions about what happened the night her niece Destiny Nahanni-Hope died in Wrigley on December 5, 2014.
Nahanni-Hope went missing in Wrigley after attending at party on Dec. 3 of that year. Her body was found two days later at the bottom of an embankment on the Mackenzie River without a coat and only wearing one shoe. RCMP concluded she died of exposure.
Allen’s hopes, along with many indigenous families across Canada, that the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will provide answers as to why indigenous women such as Nahanni-Hope go missing and are murdered at such alarming rates.
The inquiry has a budget of $53.86 million to complete its mandate of examining systemic causes of violence against indigenous women and girls by the end of 2018.
To do this, the inquiry, made up of a group of commissioners, plans to travel across the country to interview people affected by indigenous women who have been murdered or have gone missing. The inquiry will only go to communities they have been invited to.
This inquiry received harsh criticism last week in the form of an open letter penned by Metis activist and artist Christi Belcourt and a second report card on the inquiry from the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Both documents call on the inquiry to make substantial changes to the way it communicates with families and the public, ensure the process is sensitive to the trauma it might cause, provide legal and emotional support to families, act with transparency and engage indigenous leaders in its work.
The open letter, signed by 57 individuals and groups, stated the inquiry “has already left some families re-traumatized.”
“The families are frustrated,” said Allen, adding her own experience of not knowing what happened to her niece is traumatizing.
She said investigations like the one into her niece’s death were not done well enough by the RCMP and she wants to see the inquiry take another look at cases like Nahanni-Hope’s to give families closure. She is also calling for the government to put resources in place to help with re-traumatization caused by opening old wounds.
“I don’t understand why our government is not helping, assisting with the process so people can have some answers as to why it’s taken as long as it has,” said Allen.
While Allen is looking to the GNWT for assistance, the territorial government is also in the dark about the details of the inquiry.
Caroline Cochrane, minister responsible for the status of women, said she has not heard anything about when visits will happen here.
“We have no more head’s up than anyone else, even though senior officials are working to try to keep us as updated as possible on the inquiry,” she said.
The Department of Justice has hired two family liaison workers to assist the inquiry and the Native Women’s Association of the NWT will have two more, paid for by the Government of Canada.
Cochrane is waiting for instructions as to how the inquiry will be deployed but she expects the workers will be operational by July.
The inquiry did not respond to media requests by Yellowknifer’s deadline, but sent a letter responding to the criticisms.
The letter from chief commissioner Marion Buller said the inquiry has hired a new communications director, is reviewing the need for an extension of its timeline and is looking at how to reach remote communities, street-involved people and sex workers.
Commissioners from the inquiry’s first community visit is scheduled to be May 29 in Whitehorse. Buller promised the inquiry would start hearing from families and survivors in the rest of Canada starting September.
Cochrane said the response was sufficient.
“Whether the commission does great work or not, being there in itself is a positive step to addressing the concerns of violence against women,” she said.
Allen wants to see representatives of the inquiry travel to different communities in the territory instead of waiting to be invited.
There is no comprehensive figure for how many women and girls have gone missing or been murdered in the territory. A database compiled by Maryanne Pearce, as a graduate student at the University of Ottawa, contains 12 names from the NWT.