Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Violence against Indigenous women and girls is systemic and a national crisis that requires urgent, informed and collaborative action across North America. In December 2015, the Government of Canada began the pre-inquiry process for launching a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). The National Inquiry was a government initiative focused on ending the disproportionally high levels of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls; the Inquiry is also the government response to Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #411 

We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal organizations, to appoint a public inquiry into the causes of, and remedies for, the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls. The inquiry’s mandate would include:

  • Investigation into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
  • Links to the intergenerational legacy of residential schools. 

 –  Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action 

Current public data on MMIWG oversimplifies and underrepresents the scale of the issue, yet still demonstrates a complex and pervasive pattern of violence against Indigenous women and girls who are often targeted because of their intersectional gender and Indigenous identity. While statistics cannot encompass the issues, they do provide a stark illustration to begin to understand the extent of the violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada:  

  • Indigenous women (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) are 3 times more likely to experience gender-based violence than non-Indigenous women, and 6 times more likely to be victims than non-Indigenous women2
  • Indigenous women make up 16% of all female homicide victims, and 11% of missing women, even though Indigenous people make up 4.3% of the population of Canada3
  • From 2001 to 2014 the average rate of homicides involving Indigenous female victims was 4 times higher than that of homicides involving non-Indigenous female victims4

An Overview of the National Inquiry

The mission of the National Inquiry was to “find the truth by gathering many stories from many people.”5 From November 2016 to March 2017, 2,386 people participated in the Truth Gathering Process. Of that number, 1,484 participants were family members and survivors who provided testimony; additional experts – including Elders, Knowledge Keepers, academics, legal experts, front-line workers, young people and specialists – also provided testimony.6 Shortly after these Hearings concluded, guided dialogues centered around 2SLGBTQQIA, Métis, Québec perspectives, Inuit, and Recommendations took place from October to December 2018. The Analysis and Validation process occurred between January and March 2019, with Their Voices Will Guide Us (an education guide) being released in February 2019.  In June 2019, the Final Report was published, and the National Inquiry was concluded. 

In 2019, the National Inquiry’s Final Report, entitled Reclaiming Power and Place: the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, was released. The Final Report reveals that persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people7. In order to better protect Indigenous women and girls from various forms of harm and violence nation-wide, the report calls for transformative legal and social changes. Testifying family members and survivors identified key factors which created a context for the violence:  

  • multigenerational and intergenerational trauma 
  • marginalization via poverty 
  • insecure housing or homelessness  
  • barriers specific to education, employment, healthcare, and cultural support

Testifying experts and Knowledge-Keepers who provided testimony identified “specific colonial and patriarchal policies that displaced women from their traditional roles in communities and governance and diminished their status in society, leaving them vulnerable to violence.8 

Calls for Justice

At the conclusion of the National Inquiry, recommendations for action were framed as the Calls for Justice. The Calls for Justice cite that, “as the evidence demonstrates, human rights and Indigenous rights abuses and violations committed and condoned by the Canadian state represent genocide against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.” It is emphasized by those who composed the Calls for Justice that they “are legal imperatives – they are not optional.”10 There are 231 Calls to Justice in total (found in Volume 1b of the Final Report); the Calls for Justice implores the government, institutions, social service providers, industries, and all Canadians to recognize and prevent future violence and harm by conducting positive action and change.  Under the various inquiry recommendations, the legal and social service sectors are responsible for ensuring that they are making necessary changes to structures and policies in the ways that are specified in the Final Report, so that they meet the unique needs of Indigenous women and girls. 

In seeking that these Calls for Justice be answered, it is emphasized that the implementation of any of the Calls for Justice will not be effective, nor meaningful, unless certain principles and ideas inform the change. Particularly, these principles and ideas are: 

  • A Focus on Substantive Equality and Human and Indigenous Rights 
  • A Decolonizing Approach  
  • Inclusion of Families and Survivors  
  • Self-Determined and Indigenous-Led Solutions and Services, Recognizing Distinctions, Cultural Safety, and Trauma-Informed Approach 

Regarding the principle of Recognizing Distinctions, it must be understood that Canada’s Indigenous population is diverse, comprised of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. The needs of one individual or community may not reflect the needs of another. Furthermore, these three groups are further diversified by geographical/regional differences (such as: North, South, East, West; proximity to urban centres, oceans, water, and natural resources; locations of traditional territories and homelands; and municipal, provincial, and territorial boundaries), residency (such as: on-reserve/off-reserve; rural/urban; remote and northern; and communities and settlements), and gender (women, girls, and the varying groups that make up the 2SLGBTQQIA communities).   

Progress and Regress: updates on action, 

criticism from Indigenous community 

“Justice delayed is still justice denied.”

– Neskonlith Kukpi7 (Chief) Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs

In June 3, 2021, the Federal government released the Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People. The Federal Pathway is a component of the Canadian Government’s National Action Plan, which was developed in response to the National Inquiry Final ReportThe intention of the Federal Pathway is to outline an inclusive, intersectional, and holistic approach, one that is continually updated and enduring, to end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.11 The Federal Pathway is framed by the National Inquiry’s Principles for Change, found within the Calls for Justice. The four interconnected themes of culture, health and wellness, human safety and security, and justice, will be the focus while working with Indigenous partners to co-develop a plan to implement the Federal Pathway. The report that outlines a series of promises to “tackle the persistent inequities Indigenous people face when dealing with the justice system.”12 The plan includes government promises to spend more on Indigenous language, culture, infrastructure, health and policing. 

Despite the plans for implementing the Federal Pathway, Indigenous communities and advocates are vocalizing their valid dismay at the two-year delay in taking any action since the release of the TRC report in 2019. Pamela Palmater, chair in Indigenous governance at X University* in Toronto, is dissatisfied with the government’s response, saying “[The Federal Pathway] is not a national action plan.”13 Neskonlith Kukpi7 (Chief) Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, is also critical of the Federal Pathway, stating, “Justice delayed is still justice denied.”14 

On June 1, 2021, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) released its own National Action Plan entitled Our Calls, Our Actions. The Plan lists sixty-five “concrete actions,” which have been informed by the Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry report; the report states that, “The Indigenous women of Canada can no longer wait for governments to act. Their lives, and those of their mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunties, have been sidelined for too long.15 In conjunction with releasing Our Calls, Our Actions, NWAC announced that it had stepped away from the National Action Plan process, calling it “toxic and dysfunctional.”11  Lorraine Whitman, president of NWAC, stated, “We are no safer now than we were two years ago, so we are taking matters into our own hands.”16 

* “Ryerson” University is currently experiencing changes to its name, due to its’ namesakes involvement in the creation of the original residential schools in Canada. Many legal scholars, academics, and students and academics are referring to it as have begun to refer to the university as “X University”.  Read more here

  1. “Women and Gender Equity Canada. “Backgrounder – National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.” Federal Government of Canada. (June 2021) https://www.canada.ca/en/women-gender-equality/news/2019/06/backgrounder–national-inquiry-into-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-and-girls.html 
  2. Native Women’s Association of Canada. “Fact Sheet Fact Sheet: Violence Against Aboriginal Women.” (July 2021) https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Fact_Sheet_Violence_Against_Aboriginal_Women.pdf 
  3. Assembly of First Nations. “National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.” Accessed June 2021. https://www.afn.ca/policy-sectors/mmiwg-end-violence/#:~:text=Important%20Facts,urgent%2C%20informed%20and%20collaborative%20action
  4. Department of Justice Canada. “JustFacts: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.” Federal Government of Canada.  Accessed July 2021. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/jf-pf/2017/july04.html 
  5.  “Our Mandate, Our Vision, Our Mission.” National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (June 2021) https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/mandate/ 
  6. “Knowledge Keeper, Expert and Institutional Hearings.” National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (June 2021)  https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/part-ii-and-part-iii-knowledge-keeper-expert-and-institutional-hearings/ 
  7. “Final Report.” National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (2019) https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/ 
  8. ibid
  9. “Calls for Justice.” Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. p.1. Accessed June 2021. https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Calls_for_Justice.pdf
  10. ibid. p 2. 
  11. “Backgrounder: Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People.” Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. Accessed July 2021. https://www.canada.ca/en/crown-indigenous-relations-northern-affairs/news/2021/06/federal-pathway-to-address-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-girls-and-2slgbtqqia-people.html 
  12. John Paul Tasker. “Ottawa promises ‘transformative change’ to address violence directed at Indigenous women and girls.” CBC News. Published June 3, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/mmiwg-federal-response-1.6051661 
  13. Ka’nhehsi:io Deer. “MMIWG national action plan is an inadequate response to the crisis, say Indigenous women’s advocates.” CBC News. Published June 3, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/mmiwg-national-action-plan-indigenous-women-advocates-1.6052156 
  14. ibid
  15. “Our Calls, Our Actions: NWAC’s Action Plan to End the Attack Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and Gender-Diverse People.” National Women’s Association of Canada. p. 8. Published June 2021. https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NWAC-action-plan-FULL-ALL-EDITS.pdf
  16. Ka’nhehsi:io Deer. “MMIWG national action plan is an inadequate response to the crisis, say Indigenous women’s advocates.” CBC News. Published June 3, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/mmiwg-national-action-plan-indigenous-women-advocates-1.6052156 

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