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Carleton’s tipi represents the university’s commitment to Indigenous students and communities.[Photo © Emma Jiayue Liu]

An online federal government commitment tracker appears to confirm that a national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is months behind schedule.

Privy Council, facing Parliament Hill, is an office building dealing with indigenous issues at downtown Ottawa. [Photo © Emma Jiayue Liu]

The Trudeau government, in partnership with the Privy Council office, made the tracker public Nov. 14. The tracker allows people to check the progress of the 364 commitments that are found in the Prime Minister’s mandate letters to ministers. Each mandate is categorized based on its reported level of completion.

Of all the mandates listed, as of Dec. 1 nearly 60 per cent were showing as on track to be completed on time. Only 13 mandates fall under the category titled “underway with challenges,” with one of them being “(u)ndertake an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada.”

The push for an independent inquiry into the alarming murder rates of Indigenous women and girls was one of Prime Minster Trudeau’s most notable campaign priorities when he was elected in 2015.

Five Commissioners were put to the task of identifying the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women, through public hearings and community visits to be completed by November 2017. But according to the tracker, the commission’s works will not be completed until Dec. 31, 2018.

Verna McGregor, a representative of the Minwaashin Lodge Aboriginal Support Centre, is respectful of the extra time needed to complete what she calls a “much bigger mandate than what we thought.”

As a “Knowledge Keeper” in her community, McGregor makes regular visits to Carleton University’s Ojigkwanong Centre to mentor students and lead group sessions. As her job requires conversation, she says that the inquiry could be improved with some as well.

“I think that the biggest downfall with this inquiry is a lack of communication to put people at ease. I know that from a community perspective, there are a lot of critical people,” says McGregor.

“It does involve the judicial system and the police, but they’re also dealing with grassroots people who are very hurt” she says.

McGregor says she believes that the implementation of tangible changes will make the inquiry a success.

“I think they need to zero in on what’s achievable,” she says. “If you look back to the Stonechild inquiry in 2004, one result that came out of that was that they put recorders in police cruisers. That is an example of a concrete outcome.”

Others are far less optimistic.

Bridget Tolley, a member of the Kitigan Zibi First Nations Reserve in Quebec, has begun to lose hope in an inquiry that once seemed like the answer to her prayers.

Tolley’s mother Gladys was struck and killed by a police cruiser while crossing a lonely highway in rural Quebec. When the younger Tolley received news of her mother’s death on Oct. 5, 2001, she had no idea that she would spend the next 16 years advocating for the safety of women like Gladys.

Bridget Tolley stands with a photo of her mother at Families of Sisters in Spirit vigil on Parliament Hill in 2016. [Photo courtesy of Bridget Tolley]

When it was first announced in 2015, a national inquiry into the cases of her mother and others like her, Tolley was hopeful that it would provide a solution. But two years later, she is pessimistic.

“For a $53 million inquiry, you’d think we would be getting a little more than just sharing our stories,” says Tolley.

Sixteen years after her mother’s death, Tolley continues to do speeches and hold vigils, leading a grassroots organization fondly named Families of Sisters in Spirit. She hopes her own efforts will account for what she says the national inquiry has yet to accomplish.

“Nothing is happening, nothing is changing, and our women are going missing more and more every day.”

The statistics are grim. Indigenous women in Canada are five times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women, and 3.5 times more likely to experience violence.

For Jaelyn Jarrett, a young Inuk student, the effects of this violence are personal. Her cousin Loretta Saunders was murdered in her Halifax apartment in 2015. As a law and Indigenous studies major, Jarrett admits that she struggles to balance her hope and her skepticism.

“My grandmother is Inuk. The government has put her through awful things: she went to residential school. She’s only getting an apology now and she’s in her sixties, but she was so quick to forgive after Trudeau’s apology,” says Jarrett.

Jaelynn Jarrett is an Inuk student at Carleton University. [Photo © Emma Jiayue Liu]                 

“As a student, I am always forced to question everything, and take nothing for face value. It’s so easy to lose faith and oppose the government, but if my grandmother can forgive them then who am I to not have hope?” she says.

Jarrett says that the key to fighting for justice is to never grow complacent.

“I’ve come to the realization that we have to keep putting pressure on the government and holding them accountable for their promises.”

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