Opening ceremony prepares Saskatoon for first day of National Inquiry into MMIWG
- Chelsea Laskowski | November 21, 2017
The national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has landed in Saskatoon.
A Monday morning pipe ceremony was held in advance of the late afternoon grand entry at the Sheraton Cavalier Hotel in Saskatoon, with the public hearings to begin on Tuesday morning and wrap up on Thursday. More than 40 family members and survivors are slated to speak. To mark the opening ceremonies, drummers played two traditional songs and Dallas and Phil Boyer played a Metis fiddle song which inspired an audience member to perform an impromptu jig. Indigenous ceremonies are an important part of a process like this, said the master of ceremonies Milton Gamble.
“We cannot stress this enough, especially in this process where our women are missing, our men are missing, we always rely on our ceremonies,” he said. “That’s what carries our families to that next day and the day after.”
FSIN Vice-Chief Heather Bear called the coming week “historic,” and thanked families for having the strength to come forward with their truths in order to make violence, murder, and disappearances of Indigenous females - and males - a thing of the past. She noted that the wide scope of the inquiry has been tough to navigate, especially considering the pain and suffering of hundreds of families. The four commissioners making it to Saskatoon for hearings, she said, can be considered a success and she encouraged people to be supportive throughout the process.
The inquiry’s probe into missing and murdered Indigenous females has been a long time coming for advocates like Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte. Sicotte is a member of Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation who has worked with a missing women’s group in Saskatoon since 2005, and will be testifying in private about the 1992 murder of her cousin Shelley Napope.
“I just feel so relieved that the process is really going ahead despite all the troubles that have been going on. Families will always go ahead regardless and so long as the commissioners hang in there we’ll get through these next two years and I know we’ll have a lot of really great recommendations that will be actioned,” Okemaysim-Sicotte said.
The controversy she is referring to includes the resignation of one commissioner, firing of several employees, a one-month postponement on the only Saskatchewan stop, and late notice of the scheduled events. Most recently, the firing of three staff last week brought the tally of those who have resigned, been laid off, or been fired up above 20. There have been concerns voiced by ex-employees and those testifying that there are not enough emotional supports in place for families who share their stories. In that capacity, Saskatoon’s Friendship Centre has opened its doors all week to provide a safe environment with art, food, and meetings with elders.
Saskatoon is the sixth stop on the cross-Canada hearings. Inquiry staff says there will be statement-gathering trips to other areas as the inquiry continues on. The testimony from this week will inform the inquiry’s commissioners in their final report, which has a deadline of December 2018.