Cowichan Tribes Chief William (Chip) Seymour is challenging the federal government to act quickly on the more than 200 recommendations contained in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry’s final report.
“It all depends on government and it’s what the government does that matters,” Seymour said.
“If they do something then maybe we’ll say it was a success. Until then all we can do is wish.”
Seymour and Patsy Jones, a Cowichan Tribes member who attended the report release ceremony in Gatineau, Que. earlier this month, expressed disappointment with several aspects of the inquiry. The chief says a lack of funding made it difficult for Tribes people, many of whom have been touched by violence perpetrated on family members, to participate in the inquiry process.
“Cowichan Tribes doesn’t have a fund for this type of thing. But we try to help as best we can.”
Jones, whose sister Cathy Joe was murdered in Duncan in 1977, says her family was interviewed by a MMIWG staff member last October, but otherwise the inquiry did not touch down in Cowichan.
She says attending the ceremony was an emotional experience.
“I was there on behalf of my family and Cowichan and it was overwhelming for myself,” she said.
“It didn’t hit me until I was actually there sitting in the front row with my pictures and posters and the cameras rushed in and I shared my stories,” she says.
Jones took a place near the front of the room only through her own stubbornness, she acknowledges.
“It should have been in a larger place. There wasn’t enough seating. I was told to go to the back but I stood up at the front and a lady gave me a seat.
“I didn’t come that far to be put at the back,” she smiles.
Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry, said the 231 recommendations are “legal imperatives” that must be implemented in order to end the violence that has claimed countless lives of Indigenous women and girls.
“This report is about these beautiful Indigenous people and the systemic factors that led to their losses of dignity, humanity and, in too many cases, losses of life,” Buller said.
“This report is about deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide,” she added.
The use of the word genocide has sparked considerable debate but Chief Seymour says the term is appropriate.
“Everything the government has done is about getting rid of the Indian problem,” he charged. “In the 1800s, they started doing this and it’s still ongoing in 2019.
“We have no problem using that word.”
Seymour and Jones expressed disappointment that there is no comprehensive database that reflects the severity of the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women and men.
For them, and many Cowichan families, it’s personal. No one has a definitive number of missing and murdered men and women cases over the years but some of the recent ones include:
• Desmond Peter, a 14-year-old who went missing in 2007. He was last seen near the old Malaspina College on Cowichan Way near the Trans-Canada Highway.
• Tyeshia Jones, 18, was murdered by William Elliott on Jan. 22, 2011. Her body was found after six days in the woods behind the Shaker Church on Cowichan Tribes land.
• Delores (Deedee) Brown, a 19-year-old woman from Penelakut, was reported missing in late July of 2015. Her body was discovered three weeks later on a Norway Island beach. Police continue to investigate her murder.
• Ian Henry was last seen in August of 2015. He was 26 when he disappeared.
• Everett Jones, 47, was last seen leaving his home in the Club Road area in Duncan on the morning of Feb. 10, 2016.
Seymour says there needs to be funding provided so proper searches can be conducted. Families need to be able to travel and to publicize the fact that someone is missing.
“All this work is done by the missing loved one’s family, people who are actually grieving,” he says.
“It’s done by community members. There needs to be appropriate funding set aside without strings attached to help their families in their quest to find their loved ones and heal from the related trauma.
“They are volunteering their time and services and that’s something we need to keep in mind.”