Two years after the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) released its final report, the Ontario government has announced its strategy to address critical gaps in supporting those at risk.
The response, called Pathways to Safety, includes six areas with 118 initiatives that touch on the 231 calls for justice from the final report.
"Our government has long been committed to creating an Ontario where Indigenous women can live free from violence and the fear of harm, especially in their own homes and communities," said Jill Dunlop, Ontario's associate minister of children and women's issues.
"We knew that we needed to respond to the calls for justice as effectively, as quickly as possible to ensure that future generations of indigenous women, children and LGBTQ2S+ people can live safely and heal from trauma."
The strategy also noted there will be an extension of the mandate of the Indigenous Women's Advisory Council past March 2022.
The Indigenous Women's Advisory Council was created in 2020 to provide input on violence prevention actions and the development of the strategy and is made up of 11 members representing First Nations, Inuit and Métis of the province.
"It also became clear that any efforts to address the root causes of violence cannot succeed unless they are led by Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women," Dunlop said.
Sandra Montour, co-chair of the Indigenous Women's Advisory Council, was present for the announcement.
"We sit at this table with our strong collective need to restore, reclaim and revitalize our safety, our culture, our strength and our inherent right to live free from violence, free from abuse and free from exploitation," she said.
"We know we are going to repair what has been taken by colonization. We need to work together."
The province committed to an annual public report to chart progress, which will be released at the beginning of June.
Dunlop said it will require $1.6 billion in funding to address all six pathways in the response including safety and security through prevention and healing, education and language, health through community-led renewal and restoration, justice systems transformation and structural change, and identifying and addressing anti-Indigenous racism and Indigenous gender-based analysis.
Meggie Cywink, an advocate for MMIWG families who is from Whitefish River First Nation, said she and at least 15 families she reached out to were unaware the announcement was coming.
She described the strategy as "somewhat flowery," adding she sees nothing new in it. Cywink said it feels like a further marginalization of the voices of families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Ontario by the provincial government and Indigenous women's organizations.
She said the province and organizations do not acknowledge that over 60 per cent of MMIWG families did not testify during the inquiry, and wonders how a strategy can be developed without knowing the actual extent of the situation.
"We need to understand the regional, territorial and urban specific needs of Indigenous women and girls and what is required in moving forward to better understand the immense challenges and solutions to eradicate violence against Indigenous women."
The Ontario Native Women's Association said in a statement that "Ontario's strategy aligns with what Indigenous women have been asking for because they listened to our voices, expertise, guidance and recommendations."
"When our truths are listened to and governments respect the recommendations of Indigenous women, we begin to build a foundation for change."