The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is set to begin three days of hearings in Thunder Bay, Ont., and one longtime advocate says she’s going into them with a lot on her mind.
“I have a lot of mixed emotions,” Sharon Johnson said. “I was coming downtown today … [and] I just had a moment there to think about it and I got really emotional.”
Johnson’s sister, Sandra, was found dead in 1992 on a frozen, man-made floodway in Thunder Bay’s east end when she was 18. Her case was deemed a homicide by Thunder Bay police but has not been solved.
For years, Johnson has organized memory walks in the northwestern Ontario city to honour her sister and other missing and murdered Indigenous women as well as to draw attention to the issue.
The inquiry is tasked with examining systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls and memorializing the victims, estimated to be in the thousands.
Thunder Bay’s community hearings are scheduled from Dec. 4–6 at the NorWester Hotel & Conference Centre on Highway 61, with opening ceremonies held on Sunday. Hearings have already taken place in Yukon, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec.
The hearings in Thunder Bay are the only ones scheduled across northern Ontario, something that the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), a territorial organization that represents 49 First Nations in the region, is trying to change.
“We have been advocating to have hearings held in other parts of our territory, whether it was in Moosonee or Timmins or Sioux Lookout. We have been advocating for that,” said Anna Betty Achneepineskum, a deputy grand chief with NAN. “We hope that that will happen.”
The issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls is one that all Canadians need to be educated about, she added.
“That’s what I’m calling our citizens to do: no matter who you are, no matter what colour your skin is, we need to address this together and to stop this.”
Many Nishnawbe families not participating
In Thunder Bay, commissioners are expected to hear from about 50 family members and survivors through public and private hearings, sharing circle testimonies and artistic…