The federal government is promising a number of new commitments, such as rolling out public education campaigns and increasing funding to stop human trafficking, in order to help Indigenous women facing gender-based violence, health inequalities, and systemic racism.
Ottawa’s announcement comes amid Thursday’s release of the long-awaited action plan on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, two years after its initial report.
“For decades, your voices have made it clear how our systems have failed you,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said speaking at the virtual ceremony.
“When the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls presented its final report it called on us to work together to develop a national action plan to end systemic causes of violence … we accepted their findings, including that what happened amounts to genocide.”
The 30-page report, called the Federal Pathway, lays out a plan to help end violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people (two-spirt, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual people). It is only one component of the larger MMIWG action plan.
The federal government said it is working to end violence against Indigenous women through culture, health and wellness, human safety, and security and justice.
What the feds committed to
Ottawa promised to help preserve Indigenous culture and languages by speeding up the implementation of the Indigenous Language Act and providing language and culture camps.
There is also a commitment to a public education campaign aimed at challenging the acceptance and normalization of violence against First Nations women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. This will include trauma-informed training for those who work with Indigenous people on topics such as history, culture, anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-homophobia and transphobia.
“The federal government will also work toward ensuring Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people are represented and included in the public service workforce, including in senior positions,” the report stated.
Health and Wellness
The health inequalities and social disparities inflicted on Indigenous people contribute to the violence experienced by First Nations women and girls, the report stated.
Ottawa committed to increasing the number of nurses and other medical professionals in remote First Nations committees, as well as making sexual and reproductive health care information and services more accessible for vulnerable populations.
“Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old mother of seven children from the Atikamekw Nation of Manawan, died at the Joliette Hospital after suffering degrading insults from two hospital staff. Joyce’s Principle aims to guarantee to all Indigenous Peoples the right of equitable access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services, as well as the right to enjoy the best possible physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health,” the report stated.
The report said the government will promote health systems that are free from racism and discrimination where Indigenous people are respected and safe, such as expanding First Nations and Inuit midwives and doulas projects.
Safety and human security
To help Indigenous women and children facing gender-based violence, Ottawa promised to spend more funds on transitional housing, increase the number of shelters — including on reserve, in the North and in urban areas — and make transportation services more accessible and affordable.
The federal government will also increase funding for initiatives to stop human trafficking, including support for at-risk populations and survivors. This includes supporting Indigenous-led and grassroots organizations to help prevent and combat human trafficking and enhancing access to trauma-informed, culturally relevant supports for victims and survivors.
To address safety and security concerns for Indigenous women — a major theme of the national inquiry — the government says a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the impacts of temporary work camps located in proximity to Indigenous communities is needed, although such a strategy is not promised.
As part of its justice commitments, Ottawa said it will re-establish the Law Commission of Canada — an independent federal agency to advise parliament on how to modernize and improve Canada’s laws, de-funded by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2006.
The government said it will invest and expand the First Nations Policing Program into new communities, as well as repair, renovate and replace existing policing facilities in First Nation communities.
The RCMP will also take steps to combat systemic racism through, “collecting, analyzing, and reporting of race-based data; establishing the RCMP – Indigenous Collaboration, Co-development and Accountability Office to improve community engagement; and enhancing the access, design and delivery of appropriate education and training using an Indigenous lens,” the report stated.
Speaking at the event, Trudeau recommitted to making $2.2 billion in federal money available to help with some of the commitments.
The funding was previously announced in the 2021 federal budget.
What are the next steps?
Many of the initiatives proposed are general in nature and none have any dollar figures or timelines attached to them. The government has cited the need to co-develop these actions with Indigenous communities.
But the government said it will establish performance indicators and prepare annual reports to measure progress starting next fiscal year.
The overall plan, branded as the long-promised “national action plan,” is something of a preliminary, but comprehensive framework developed by a large group of partners, including the families of victims and survivors, each of Canada’s distinct Indigenous groups as well as provincial, territorial and federal governments.
— With files from the Canadian Press