The Northwest Territories government will release its draft action plan in response to the 2019 final report of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls by December, said the minister of the status of women Wednesday.
Caroline Wawzonek told members of the N.W.T. Legislature's standing committee on social development that the action plan will respond to "widespread" shortcomings in government and create institutional changes to address the "genocide" of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQ people.
The first draft will be tabled Dec. 9 and will include a three-year plan that will start in 2022.
Wawzonek provided one example of how the territorial government's departments, such as Industry, Tourism and Investment, for which she is responsible, will contribute to solving the crisis.
As her department signs socioeconomic agreements, Wawzonek said, it should keep in mind how the agreements will or will not serve the national inquiry's 231 Calls for Justice.
One of the calls to justice, for example, are for governments to pursue measures eliminating the social, economic and political marginalization of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQ people.
"As a government we need to now answer ourselves ... are we doing enough to ensure we are truly reflecting the needs, the safety and the wellness of a community when we are entering into those agreements?" said Wawzonek.
"You start out by actually acknowledging that this is indeed a crisis" defined as a genocide by the national inquiry, she said.
"If you're going to truly accept that and acknowledge that, well then, you can't not act. You can't not respond if you, in fact, understand and appreciate what those words are telling you is happening."
Collaborating with Native Women's Association, gender-diverse communities
Elizabeth (Sabet) Biscaye, director of the N.W.T. government's gender equity division, told the committee the department is collaborating with the Native Women's Association of the N.W.T. and groups that serve 2SLGBTQ people, such as the Rainbow Coalition.
The department is hoping to identify community contacts who can lend gender-diverse perspectives to the action plan.
The gender equity division is preparing a communications plan that will raise awareness of the violence, and is willing to help Indigenous governments prepare their own responses to the action plan, she said.
The division hired a family violence coordinator who will travel to communities when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted to gather insights into what communities want to see in the territory's family violence plan.
Biscaye said N.W.T. government departments are also being asked to identify programming that could address the calls to justice — a "huge shift" in policy change and legislation that will take time. She added that departments have been instructed to seek community input from those with lived experience with MMIWG.
The federal government has committed $2.2 billion over 5 years to address root causes of MMIWG, said Biscaye.
Former Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett had said the amount was identified through the government's work on a national action plan. The figure was questioned by MMIWG advocates who questioned how Ottawa could commit money without a concrete plan.
Some of that money was already allocated to federal departments like Crown-Indigenous Relations, Northern Affairs Canada, and Women and Gender Equality, but there are already commitments to provide long-term stable funding to organizations that serve women and gender-diverse Indigenous people.
There will also be funding for data management that will benefit N.W.T. government departments as they carry out the action plan, said Biscaye.
She said that the plan would include reviewing government policies and legislation.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly encouraged Wawzonek to fast-track the release of the plan before the last day of the winter sitting of the Legislative Assembly, so MLAs and the public have more time to discuss it.
Otherwise, they will have to wait until session resumes in February and March, said O'Reilly.
Wawzonek said she would see how the date was chosen and if it is flexible.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson asked whether the government was prepared to make legislative changes, such as missing persons legislation, and whether the plan would be costed.
Biscaye said there are close to 90 actions included in the plan, and there are some legislative changes that must be addressed. She said missing persons' legislation is one of them.
She said some of the actions include policy reviews of programs and services.
Wawzonek said the plan won't be costed because it is not a line-by-line plan "suggesting there is a magical solution to what has been termed a genocidal level problem."
In the last budget, the territorial government allocated $1.7 million to a gender equity unit which was designed to put a gender equity lens on the government's programs and policies across departments. This unit is also responsible for developing the MMIWG action plan.
The federal government has committed $180 million to programming that supports a national MMIWG action plan, such as a permanent missing, murdered Indigenous women and girls secretariat, and programs for safe cultural spaces in Indigenous communities.
Wawzonek anticipates a meeting between federal, territorial and provincial ministers in the first week of December will be the next opportunity to pry for details on how federal MMIWG funds will flow to the N.W.T.
She said the plan goes beyond the budget.
"If we can truly change the way that government from ministers through to those at the frontlines delivering our services and programs, if we can truly change the cultural approach … that's when we will see the kind of social change, cultural change and relationship that is spoken to in the national inquiry."
If you are affected by the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQ people and need immediate emotional assistance, call 1-844-413-6649.