Fort St. John looks to host community forum on MMIWG report

Fort St. John city council wants to a hold a public forum to discuss the 231 recommendations coming from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

At their meeting on Monday, council directed city administration to prepare a report on the costs and logistics involved in hosting the forum with neighbouring First Nations. The forum would look to how the city and community can take action on the report’s recommendations.

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“What can we do as a community to address (those recommendations)?” Mayor Lori Ackerman said.

The national inquiry’s final report was released last week after years of study and testimony documenting the causes and impacts of violence of against indigenous women and girls.

Among the report's 231 recommendations are calls for a national Indigenous- and human-rights ombudsperson and a national Indigenous- and human-rights tribunal, increased funding for education, health and wellness programs and services aimed at indigenous women and girls, and improved public transportation in rural areas. The inquiry also raised concerns about the "urgent need" to consider the safety of Indigenous women in all stages of resource extraction projects.

The city will need to gauge the interest and willingness of First Nation communities in participating, Ackerman said.

Ackerman noted there’s grant funding available through the Union of BC Municipalities to host a community to community forums, Ackerman said, noting she sees the community discussion being more than just one event. The biggest cost would be bringing in an expert to explain the report and its recommendations, Ackerman said.

Last week, more than 150 people took part in the city’s first annual Moose Hide walk calling for an end to violence against children. The city also took part in a reception in Victoria hosted by Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin to commemorate the release of the inquiry's report.

Missing and murdered Indigenous women are believed to number in the thousands in Canada, but the national inquiry’s report says that despite the commission's best efforts to quantify the extent of the tragedy, "no one knows an exact number."

The inquiry, started in 2016, labelled the issue a “deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide”, and the result of a "persistent and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses, perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state."

The term genocide has become a flashpoint of national discussion.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stopped short of using the term in responding to the report, but said he accepted the inquiry’s findings. "Time and again, we have heard of their disappearance, violence, or even death being labelled low priority or ignored," he said.

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer disagreed with the inquiry's use of the word. “The ramifications of the term 'genocide' are very profound,” he said. “That word and term carries a lot of meaning. I think the tragedy involved with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is its own thing, it is its own tragedy, and does not fall into that category of genocide."

Ackerman didn’t wade into that debate Monday, saying, “that’s a pay scale above our level; we’re going to work community to community.”

— with files from the Canadian Press

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca 

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