OTTAWA — In the absence of a plan from Ottawa, the Native Women's Association of Canada today released its own action plan for implementing recommendations from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The organization says it has lost confidence in the federal government and is walking away from a "toxic, dysfunctional" process.
President Lorraine Whitman says that her group's action plan is one that "puts families, not politics, first."
Whitman has sent a letter to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, which outlines NWAC's belief that the approach taken by the government to address the 231 calls for justice in the final report of the national inquiry is "fundamentally flawed."
The federal government created a number of committees consisting of Indigenous representatives to provide input to the plan. But Whitman says NWAC was denied a seat on key working groups where the main ideas for a national action plan were being considered.
For example, she says her organization — which was instrumental in pushing the federal government to hold the national inquiry — was not permitted to be part of the First Nations, Métis, Inuit, 2SLGBTQQIA, or Family Survivors Circle committees, even though they addressed issues of importance to the people her group represents.
Whitman says this meant NWAC was shut out of the major decision-making processes for creating the plan.
Further, Whitman says representatives from the Native Women's Association of Canada were subjected to "lateral violence and hostility" in their work with government on these committees.
"We could no longer be part of a process that was so toxic and dysfunctional," Whitman said.
Other organizations that participated in the government's process received funding for their work, but NWAC did not, she added.
"We were clearly an afterthought and perhaps an unwelcome intruder in the government's process."
The association has been vocal in criticizing Ottawa for not doing enough to implement the inquiry's 231 calls for justice, which found decades of systemic racism and human rights violations had contributed to the deaths and disappearances of hundreds of Indigenous women and girls and that it constituted a genocide.
Last year, the Liberals delayed their promise to release a national action plan on the one-year anniversary of the inquiry's findings, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The inquiry's recommendations spanned themes of health, justice, security and culture, including a number of calls for more effective responses to human trafficking and sexual exploitation and violence — with a national action plan at top of the priority list.
In its self-made plan released this morning, entitled "Our Calls, Our Actions," NWAC lays out details of 65 actions it plans to take to address the recommendations from the MMIWG inquiry.
A key measure will be to establish a number of "resiliency lodges" that will provide healing and counselling to Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.
NWAC says these lodges will offer health and wellness programs, preserve language and culture and help bring justice, economic and anti-poverty measures to help victims, those who have lost loved ones and marginalized Indigenous women across Canada.
One such resiliency lodge has already been built in Chelsea, Que., and a second is being prepared to open in New Brunswick.
Others will built across the country, NWAC says.
In a virtual event this morning, Whitman says she anticipates the federal government will come out with an announcement of their own on the second anniversary of the release of the inquiry's findings on Thursday. NWAC will not stand with government when it is released.
Instead, it will focus on its own plan, which they hope to fund through contributions from all levels of government as well as from private donors and foundations. Its plan has been costed at $29 million.
"The days of aspirational documents, and plans to create a plan, have come and gone. It is time to put the calls for justice into effect. Action," Whitman said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2021.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press