Saskatchewan aboriginal support groups are cautiously optimistic as the federal government launches its first phase of an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW).
Saskatoon’s Iskwewuk E-wichiwitochik (Women Walking Together) recently marked its 10th anniversary of advocating for victims’ families and pushing for an inquiry. While watching media reports and a news conference on television Tuesday, co-chair Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte saw a decade’s worth of work begin to bare fruit.
“When you have those kind of profiles (Indigenous and northern affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Status of Women Minister Patricia Hajdu and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould) leading the press conference, it means government really means business,” Okemaysim-Sicotte said. “They’re sincere.”
The federal government has already reached out to families as it begins a two-month consultation phase, Minister Bennett said during the news conference.
Okemaysim-Sicotte said Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations vice chief Heather Bear met with community members last week to gather information. She added she would like to see the similarities between the inquiry and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and proper information for families.
“I think they’ll do a great job,” she said. “I know it’s not dive right into the inquiry process and travel the country itself, but the design process is very important for building the methodology that is brought together by all the stakeholders.”
She cautioned against rushing the process over fears a drawn out inquiry will slowly fade into obscurity.
“People are still skeptical. They want to see action day by day because they can’t believe it’s happening,” she said.
She encouraged Canadians across the country to participate in surveys and keep informed about the state of the inquiry. She said her group would work to get information out to the local community.
Okemaysim-Sicotte is one of several Saskatchewan First Nations community leaders who were pleased with Ottawa’s actions Tuesday morning.
In the span of one day, the federal Liberals launched the first of their two-phase approach to a national MMIW inquiry, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reignited hope for renewed relations with aboriginal communities by becoming the first national leader to attend an Assembly of First Nations (AFN) meeting since his father.
In his speech, Trudeau pledged to make significant investments in First Nations education, implement all 94 TRC recommendations, repeal legislation unilaterally imposed on indigenous people by the previous government and lift the two per cent cap on funding for First Nations programs.
Lifting the cap will go a long way for reserve communities, Whitecap Dakota chief Darcy Bear said. Bear was in Ottawa for the AFN. He said he’s keeping an optimistic attitude.
“We are certainly looking forward not just to catch up in revising our funding but also some additional resources to invest in more infrastructure capacity,” Bear said.
His community’s first priority would be bridging the education funding gap for on-reserve schools and building better infrastructure.
FSIN chief Bobby Cameron called the announcements “by far the best news in over a decade”.