A Fort St. John activist says she's cautiously optimistic after the federal government released details of a long-awaited national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
On August 3, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett unveiled plans for the inquiry, including its scope and terms of reference.
Five commissioners led by B.C. Provincial Court Judge Marion Buller will investigate the root causes of violence against First Nations women, who are more likely to go missing or die by violence than members of the non-indigenous population.
Holding an inquiry was a key pledge of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during last year's federal election campaign. While originally cheered by First Nations rights activists, the inquiry has come under fire over fears it will not adequately investigate police conduct.
Connie Greyeyes, a Fort St. John campaigner for missing and murdered women, said she's hopeful the inquiry's findings will make indigenous women safer.
"On the one hand it's 'Oh my God, they're actually going to do this inquiry,'" she said. "And on the other hand, is it actually going to do anything?"
Greyeyes said she personally knows 14 women from the Peace Region who have gone missing or been murdered. For years, she has attended vigils with Sisters in Spirit in Ottawa to highlight the problem in Northeast B.C.
The Northeast B.C. delegation's presence at the vigils attracted the attention of Amnesty International, which is expected to release a report on resource extraction, the Site C dam and violence against women this week.
An RCMP report released in 2014 found 1,186 indigenous women had been murdered or gone missing across Canada in a 30-year span, including along the Highway of Tears in North Central B.C.
Stephen Harper's Conservative Government resisted holding an inquiry, maintaining that the issue had received enough study. At a debate in Fort St. John last fall, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer said at least 42 studies had been done on missing and murdered women.
"If I thought an inquiry would save one life — one life — I absolutely would do it," he said, adding "one of the major drivers of missing and murdered aboriginal women is lack of economic activity or, simply put, a lack of a job." He said bringing economic activity to reserves was the best way to prevent women from falling into dangerous situations.
One of the chief criticisms of the current inquiry that commissioners cannot investigate police misconduct or compel law enforcement agencies to reopen cold cases. Since the terms of reference were released last week, the inquiry has also been criticized for not adequately consulting with families.
Greyeyes said she agreed with some of the criticisms.
"I don't think that it's going to be completely for nothing," Greyeyes said. "I've met Carolyn Bennett, she's a good person, she has a good heart, she's been to the rallies, I've seen her on the front lines. I do have faith her heart is in the right place."
"How are you going to delve into some of these cases that families want reopened?" she said. "Those are the kind of things family want answers for, and how much power are you giving these commissioners? Are you giving them enough power so they can really make a change for families? We don't know."
The commission is expected to complete the inquiry by the end of 2018. The federal government has given the commission a budget of $53.86 million.