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Support for MMIWG inquiry is being discouraged, says retired minister

Talking in the hallway at the national inquiry’s community hearing in Edmonton: (from left) Harold Look and Raymond Yakelwa of NWT with Muriel Stanley Venne and Cecile Fausak. (Photo: Shari Narine)

“I’ve just been really disappointed that the different organizations, public organizations, who would be interested – and are interested in hearing and participating and being supportive – have not been encouraged or invited or involved in setting anything up." —Cecile Fausak

By Shari Narine
Windspeaker Contributor

Retired United Church Minister Cecile Fausak wonders if less control of the proceedings by the National Inquiry into the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls would mean more understanding for non-Indigenous Canadians.

“I’ve just been really disappointed that the different organizations, public organizations, who would be interested – and are interested in hearing and participating and being supportive – have not been encouraged or invited or involved in setting anything up. It feels like it’s been discouraged, as I tried to find out how could local church organizations be supportive. They were just saying it wasn’t necessary, it wasn’t needed,” said Fausak, who attended the inquiry hearing in Edmonton on Wednesday.

Even her attendance was made onerous, she said, as she was made to register for the event, something she didn’t understand as the lanyard around her neck had neither her name nor her organizational affiliation on it.

Fausak – and the United Church for that matter – is no stranger to social justice for Indigenous peoples. While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Indian residential schools was holding hearings throughout the country, Fausak served as liaison minister, ensuring that not only was the United Church congregation involved in providing supports, but attending community hearings, reporting back to the congregation, and undertaking congregational exercises to ensure knowledge of the Indian residential school system and its impacts.

Fausak does note that the United Church, along with the Anglicans, Catholic Entities and Presbyterians, were signatories to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement so were involved with the TRC and the process from the beginning.

But that doesn’t mean the United Church and other churches can’t be involved now, too. She said it was the United and Anglican churches along with the Native Women’s Association of Canada that began the Sisters in Spirit movement.

“There’s no partnership in helping this move forward … although we’re still dedicated to see that this inquiry happens. We’ve written all sorts of letters to the government to make it happen. But it just feels like that the partnership to support together, to help things move ahead has not been nurtured somehow,” said Fausak, who served as Reconciliation and Indigenous justice animator until she retired from the United Church.

Muriel Stanley Venne, founder and CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, sat with Fausak Wednesday. They listened as the family talked about Lori Lee Francis, who disappeared in October 2007. Stanley Venne and Fausak sat in a room filled primarily with Indigenous people.

“How can you reach out to all Canadians? You can’t, but you can make sure that they know and presumably we’ve been given the opportunity and it’s just a real concern that this opportunity might be lost,” said Stanley Venne. She contends the three days of hearings, which took place Nov. 7 to Nov. 9, were poorly publicized, poorly organized, and people and organizations were not invited to attend.

Stanley Venne says that her organization has not been involved with the hearings in any capacity.

“It’s just very frustrating not to have a grasp of what they’re after, what they need to do. So these are the hearings and I’m hoping that the hearings will result in concrete action,” she said.

Among that concrete action that Stanley Venne would like to see taken is an emphasis on apprehending and charging the murderers and recognizing those who are doing good police work.  She says the social justice award her organization began is an example of just that. In 2001, Edmonton Detective Freeman Taylor received the first award for his work in investigating the death of Joyce Cardinal in 1993. It took seven years for the murderer to be apprehended and charged.

“It seems to be that that’s the right way to do things. To take each murder seriously and determine that it is homicide and put the resources behind it to find the killers,” said Stanley Venne.

She is also pushing for prison visits and talking to the men who have been charged in the murders of Indigenous women.

“I suspect … that there is truth to be known there and however that truth is, it needs to come out,” said Stanley Venne, who serves on Correctional Service Canada’s National Aboriginal Advisory Committee.

But even in her frustration, she has hope. She is willing to give the inquiry a chance, but she says the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women will continue to fight. And the organization is not alone.

“What makes me feel good is, it’s not only here, but that across the country, women and other very concerned people are stepping up and getting involved. That was my dream from Day One,” said Stanley Venne.

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