BY BILL PHILLIPS
Even though the National Inquiry in Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW) has its trials and tribulations, Terry Teegee is urging Canadians not to give up on it.
“The fact remains that after many years of lobbying, we finally have an inquiry,” the B.C. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief said at a MMIW statement gathering event in Prince George Monday. “I think the BC Assembly of First Nations, family services and many other organizations need to assist the national inquiry. I think this might be our only shot to have a federal inquiry. Failure is not an option.”
The statement gathering session will be in Prince George until Wednesday, gathering statements from friends and family of Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing and from those who have gone through the residential school system.
“We have about 15 families who have pre-registered,” said Penny Kerrigan, the B.C. community relations liaison into the inquiry. “There will be people phoning in. Our spots are filling up.”
No commissioners are present, but the statements will be recorded and given to the commission.
Teegee referred back to the 2006 Highway of Tears Symposium in Prince George and stressed it has been a long time to enact change. In addition, even though there are officially 18 names on the list of missing and murdered women along the Highway of Tears, Teegee said there are many more who have gone missing.
“These stories, I’ve heard for most of my adult life,” he said.
Teegee said the hope is to create and society where women aren’t so vulnerable.
“It’s sad that we’re living in a society that’s in the top 10 places to live, one of the most progressive countries in the world, and yet our Indigenous women don’t see it that way,” he said. “It isn’t the situation that we want as Indigenous people. It has to change.”
He said he was encouraged by the fact that there are commitments to legislative reform from the provincial and federal government.
Mary Teegee, of Carrier Sekani Family Services, said Indigenous communities have waited long enough and that actual legislation is needed from the federal government to protect Indigenous women from violence.
“It’s taken so many years to get to where we’re at now,” she said. “The reason we had that symposium in 2006 is because Aleiah Auger went missing and we said ‘how can this go on?’”
She said that when her and Terry Teegee’s cousin Ramona Wilson went missing 22 years ago, it was the family putting up posters, not the RCMP.
She cited a United Nations report that said young Indigenous women are five times as likely to die from violence than non-Indigenous women. She said there were between 1,200-1,500 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women between 1980 and 2012.
“Every family, every community has someone who has been murdered or has gone missing,” she said. “And we have more than 60 First Nations in the North.”
She added Indigenous communities have to continue lobbying government to act.
“I believe we need a federal act to prevent violence against Indigenous women,” she said. “Because if we don’t have that, we end up with just another report.”