Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut May 24, 2017 - 1:10 pm

Nunavut community invites MMIWG inquiry to bring healing, closure

“I want to be able to speak on behalf of my late aunt"

SARAH ROGERS
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett speaks last August at the launch of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman in Gatineau, Que. (PHOTO COURTESY OF GOV. OF CANADA)
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett speaks last August at the launch of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman in Gatineau, Que. (PHOTO COURTESY OF GOV. OF CANADA)
An obituary for the late Betsy Kalaserk, who died in 2003. Kalaserk's family in Rankin Inlet have invited the MMIWG inquiry to host a hearing in the Kivalliq community.
An obituary for the late Betsy Kalaserk, who died in 2003. Kalaserk's family in Rankin Inlet have invited the MMIWG inquiry to host a hearing in the Kivalliq community.

When Laura MacKenzie first heard about the launch of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, she knew it would be a good opportunity to bring healing and closure to her home community of Rankin Inlet.

Almost 14 years ago and a territory away, MacKenzie’s aunt, Betsy Kalaserk, was found dead in her family’s Yellowknife apartment.

Kalaserk’s husband, Ian Adam Kirby, was later convicted of criminal negligence causing the 29-year-old woman’s 2003 death.

More than a decade later, Kalaserk’s absence is still mourned by her large family in Rankin Inlet.

That’s why MacKenzie sought the support of the hamlet and other organizations to invite the inquiry to host a hearing in Rankin Inlet, to hear Kalaserk’s story and that of other women who have been murdered or gone missing.

“I want to be able to speak on behalf of my late aunt,” MacKenzie said.

“As bad as this is, we can learn from this. This is what we can do to ensure there no more victims.”

Rankin Inlet is the first Inuit community to officially extend an invitation to the commission, which plans to begin hosting community visits in the fall, although it has yet to say where and when.

Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, which recently gained standing to take part in the inquiry on behalf of Inuit women, has suggested the commission visit eight different Inuit communities in additional to hosting Inuit-specific sessions in six different southern cities.

Although it’s gotten off to a rocky start, the commission is stepping up its efforts to ensure it can accommodate Inuit families across Inuit Nunangat.

It’s done that, in part, by hiring a number of Inuit staff including a new community liaison worker for Inuit, Looee Okalik.

Okalik will soon begin to go into Inuit regions and urban sites to make contact with the families of victims and community organizations who’ll take part in upcoming hearings.

“It’s very important that Inuit reach out to us when the time comes,” Okalik said.

“We need family members to be spokespeople in order to produce good recommendations.”

To help with that process, the inquiry has hired Inuit lawyers, researchers and Inuit Family Advisory Circle members in each Inuit region to do local outreach.

So far, most of the Inuit who’ve come forward to testify or share their stories are from the Nunatsiavut region, Okalik said, but she hopes to see that grow as regional representatives meet directly with families.

“They’ll be guiding us throughout the process to ensure that we’re responsive and respectful,” she said.

Okalik notes that Inuit have had different lived experiences than those of First Nations and Métis, which present distinct needs for the inquiry to consider.

“So we’ve had to do our own teachings in the [commission] office so they can have a better picture of where we’re coming from,” Okalik said.

“This way Inuit will feel more comfortable and competent to tell their stories.”

Should the inquiry visit Rankin Inlet, MacKenzie said her key concerns are mental health support and privacy for the families involved.

“This is a very personal journey for people,” said MacKenzie, who worked for years as president of Rankin’s Kataujaq women’s shelter.

“Down south, people have family doctors they can make an appointment with any time, but we don’t have that,” she noted.

“We need to ensure that when we’re revisiting trauma, that there are mechanisms in place to deal with that before, during and after.”

For all the pain the inquiry may uncover in Nunavut, she believes the process will make her family stronger.

MacKenzie has yet to receive a response from inquiry staff, but she said she’d rather the commission take the time it needs to get it right.

“I’m just waiting patiently,” she said.

“I know people are saying it’s taking too long, but for me, I would rather wait for them to set the ground work. It’s already been 13 years—I can wait.”

Families and individuals who wish to get in touch with the commission can call toll-free 1-844-348-4119 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with their name, contact information and location.

A national, toll-free crisis line is available to provide support to those who needs it, 24 hours a day, at 1-844-413-6649.

You can also visit the inquiry’s Inuktitut-language webpage here.

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