After months of delay, the Alberta government now has the final report and recommendations from the Alberta joint working group on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The report will inform the province on how to move forward on the 231 Calls for Justice that came from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
However, more time will be required before Alberta takes steps to implement the working group’s recommendations.
In a news release Jan. 5, Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson said the government would take “the time necessary to study their recommendations and determine the next steps.”
While Wilson didn’t set a timeframe with that comment, his press secretary Adrienne South responded in an email interview with Windspeaker.com saying that “Alberta’s government will have a response to the report and its recommendations this spring.”
She did not say whether that spring date meant action on the recommendations would get underway.
The Alberta government established the seven-member joint working group in March 2020. In January 2021, Wilson announced the working group had asked for an extension, but he expected their report by June 3, 2021, marking the second anniversary of the MMIWG national inquiry’s report.
By the time the province moves on the recommendations, it will be nearing the three-year anniversary of the national inquiry’s report.
“It’s not acceptable,” said Stephanie Harpe, member of the Fort McKay First Nation, who resides in Edmonton.
“You can’t go and collect what you need from traumatized people and then just leave them traumatized for this length of time. The 231 Calls (for Justice), that’s our north star. It’s just, whose following that star enough for it to show action…. We want to see something solid. We want to hold on to something real. And we don’t have that.”
Harpe’s mother Ruby Anne McDonald was murdered in 1999 in Edmonton. As of yet, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) has not charged anyone.
Harpe shared her story and her experience when the national inquiry for MMIWG was in Edmonton in November 2017.
Paul Tuccaro, a member of the Mikisew Cree Nation, also shared his story with the national inquiry in Edmonton. His sister Amber Tuccaro, 20, was last seen in August 2010 in Nisku, Alta. Her body was found two years later in a field nearby. No charges have been laid by the RCMP in her murder.
As far as Tuccaro is concerned, the province’s inaction is in keeping with his family’s experience in trying to get justice for his sister.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “If we sat back at home and depended on (the government and the RCMP), we’d still be sitting at home waiting for answers that we’re never going to get.”
Tuccaro says the province was forced to take steps because of public scrutiny.
Neither Wilson nor South have said whether the report in its entirety will be made public.
“Maybe there’s information in there that will make them be accountable. If that’s the case, maybe it’s them saying, ‘We have it and we’re only going to put out what we want to put out. We won’t put out the report as it is now.’ I don’t think it makes anybody happy,” said Tuccaro.
Neither Tuccaro nor Harpe have been sitting still waiting for the recommendations from the working group.
Tuccaro has been developing a curriculum on MMIWG, using his sister’s story. When it’s completed, he wants to make it available to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous schools through Alberta Distance Learning.
He is also developing a website and “setting up a group” that will advocate for and guide other families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls through the process.
As for Harpe, she and Kari Thomason, another grassroots advocate, have been conducting MMIWG gatherings across the province. Harpe says she’s also taken phone calls at 2 a.m. from families of missing and murdered women.
“We just need action. We’re sick and tired of talking, talking, talking, talking. We just need action but us grassroots advocates … (we) are doing the work. We haven’t stopped. We haven’t delayed. We’re just wanting to get more supports for grassroots advocates who are being impactful with action,” she said.
Harpe hopes that support for grassroots advocates is quantified with a recommended dollar figure in the report.
As the province moves ahead with further study of the report and the recommendations, both Harpe and Tuccaro want Indigenous family members to be leading the way.
“The processing (the government does) is so colonial that they need to come down to more traditional practises, and moving forward they just need to have even more Elders guide them in how they do the action and process and how they go to families and how they go to people. It needs to be de-colonized,” said Harpe.
The working group comprised four Indigenous women—Lisa Higgerty, Josie Nepinak, Rachelle Venne and Suzanne Life-Yeomans—as well as MLAs with significant Indigenous populations in their constituencies.
South said Wilson will be meeting with the group members in the coming weeks to “further review the report.”
As for funding, South said analysis of the report will include “examining what can be done within existing government resources and what may require additional funding.”
She did not say from where that additional funding would come nor when it would be made available.
“The completion of this report marks an important milestone in our work to build a safer province for Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people,” said South.
However, as far as Harpe is concerned, the completion of the report means little.
“We don’t know how to feel at this point…. We’re always failed. So where do we go from here? How are we supposed to feel? We’re so confused on things. I’m hoping that they have the right people at the table. I just hope they de-colonize their process. That’s what I want,” she said.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com