Northwest B.C. long-time advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women Gladys Radek says the National Inquiry’s report on the genocide of thousands of Indigenous women and girls finally validates what families have been saying for years.
Radek worked closely with the National Inquiry as part of the National Family Advisory Circle, who brought the families stories forward and advised the commission on “virtually all the recommendations.” Her family still has no answers for what happened to their niece, Tamara Chipman, who disappeared while hitchhiking in Prince Rupert in 2005.
“It’s been a long road,” Radek says. “I’m just glad I was able to give the families their voice — It’s not my voice I want them to hear, it’s the families, all of the families. And I think they were very loud and clear today.”
The 1,200-page report, titled ‘Reclaiming Power and Place,’ calls the violence against First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and girls a form of “genocide” and a crisis “centuries in the making.”
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was first launched in 2016 after calls for action came from Indigenous families and organizations to examine and report on the systematic causes of violence faced in Canada against Indigenous women and girls.
“These abuses and violations have resulted in the denial of safety, security, and human dignity,” the final report says.
Over the years, Radek has spoken with thousands of families who have experienced unimaginable grief and heartache over the loss of their loved ones as part of her work with the inquiry. While they were forced to work under a shortened timeframe, the more than 200 recommendations listed in the report accurately represent the wishes of thousands of families, she says.
“Our families always knew what was needed, and we just want Canada to hear the atrocities we’ve been facing. If [people] are in tears, you know they’re listening.”
The report also has calls for action in areas including justice and health, including that health-service providers develop programs that could help young people recognize the signs of being targeted for exploitation.
The recommendations — framed in the report as “calls for justice” — include developing an effective response to human trafficking cases and sexual exploitation and violence, including in the sex industry. They are not optional, but constitute legal imperatives, the report says.
Additional calls include the need to establish a national Indigenous and human rights ombudsperson and a national Indigenous and human rights tribunal.
It also recommends the development of a national action plan to ensure equitable access to employment, housing, education, safety, and health care, as well as long-term funding for education programs and awareness campaigns related to violence prevention.
The report also strongly focuses on the need for actors in the justice system and in police services to acknowledge that the historical and current relationship with Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people has been largely defined by “colonialism, racism, bias, discrimination, and fundamental cultural and societal differences.”
Missing and murdered Indigenous women are believed to number in the thousands in Canada, but the report says that despite the commission’s best efforts to quantify the extent of the tragedy, ”no one knows an exact number.”
“People should be outraged knowing the real truth about this genocide against our people,” Radek says. “This is exactly what the families have been saying for years. Now it’s officially on record that Canada should be held accountable for genocide.”
Moving forward, Radek says she wants to see the federal government’s promised comprehensive action plan responding to the recommendations outlined in the report regardless of the upcoming election this fall.
“I would like to see the [action plan] sooner than later,” Radek says, noting Trudeau’s recent actions with his cabinet’s previous justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould could fare poorly for the Liberals this election cycle.
“When they change prime ministers you always have to start reeducating them, then you have to go to them and say it’s up to Canada to do this.”
Governments recognizing the crisis as genocide was an important step, and while the report is a good start, there needs to be assurances that meaningful changes will come from all levels of government, Radek says.
“There’s no excuse for a certain population to be living in poverty. The resources are needed for our health healing and wellness programs, the resources are needed for housing, economic stability. [Governments] need to resource them, they need to fund these organizations not just part-time, we need permanent measures.”
The inquiry was first launched in 2016 after calls for action came from Indigenous families and organizations to examine and report on the systematic causes of violence faced in Canada against Indigenous women and girls.
In 2005, the Native Women’s Association of Canada created a database, tracking cases and produced a 2010 report documenting 582 missing and murdered Indigenous women.
In 2014, the RCMP released a national overview and pegged the number of cases between 1980 and 2012 at nearly 1,200. Other unverified estimates are far higher.
—with files from The Canadian Press