REGINA — Assembly of First Nations chiefs have rejected a call for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to replace the commissioners on the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
However, the chiefs, who were gathered for a meeting in Regina on Thursday, did pass a resolution calling for changes to the inquiry, asking the federal government to reset and alter its mandate and process.
That pleased Carson Poitras, whose stepdaughter Happy Charles has been missing in Saskatchewan since early April. Poitras wanted the commissioners to stay on.
90-minute debate on resolutions
"If we do a hard reset of the inquiry ... we may or may not even get the inquiry again because it'll take a couple of years for that to happen. We don't need that," said Poitras.
"And also for the families who have already done some their testimony, we don't need that redone either. It's tough when the families have to relive that every time. It's not just once that they have to tell their story, it's numerous times they have to tell their story."
Poitras said he would also like to see some new commissioners join the inquiry, suggesting it could help restore faith in the process.
The 90-minute debate on the two resolutions brought forward arguments from both sides.
Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan, said Aboriginal people can't afford another delay and risk more lives.
"Things are flawed, but we can fix it. We can do it together," Cameron said.
Chief Matthew Todd Peigan from the Pasqua First Nation told the assembly that by calling to remove the commissioners "you kill the inquiry."
"This inquiry, ladies and gentlemen, chiefs, took years in the making. If we kill it, you may not get it back," said Peigan.
Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, made the proposal for the commissioners to be replaced, arguing the current inquiry has not put families first and fails to respect their voices.
"Everyone's aware that the status quo isn't going to work and regardless of who the commissioners will be, they will have had to take notice and see that there is becoming a stronger undercurrent of opposition to the lack of tangible results," Dumas said after his resolution was defeated.
Things are flawed, but we can fix it. We can do it together.
Two of the commissioners spoke to the AFN meeting Wednesday night, where they tried to explain the testimony process.
But several families said the inquiry had already failed because they don't trust the process, commissioners hadn't communicated well and the inquiry doesn't hold police to account.
Commission spokesperson Bernee Bolton said in a statement that the national inquiry can and will consider the conduct of policing services and policies across Canada in 14 federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions.
Dumas questioned whether faith could be restored in the current commissioners.
"The onus is on them to produce and the onus is on them to show tangible results," he said.
The inquiry's chief commissioner, Marion Buller, said she was carefully following the results of the AFN votes "and will have internal discussions about what we have heard."
"Our commitment to listening and acting on the advice from families, advisors and communities across this nation is firm," she said in a statement. "We will keep moving forward in a good way, with respect for the spirits of the women, girls and LGBTQ2S who are no longer with us, and with respect for survivors."
The two-year, $53.8 million study is designed to examine the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Earlier in the day, AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde acknowledge that First Nations leaders are divided on what to do about the troubled inquiry.
'Our chiefs are divided'
Bellegarde is steering a middle course, saying the commission needs to focus all of its energy on ensuring the stories of families are front and centre, adding it is critical for the commission to improve communications going forward.
"Our chiefs are divided," he said.
"Some want a total reset, some want to start fresh and then there are others that are saying 'You know, we should be empowering those commissioners, we should be supporting those commissioners, we should be praying for those commissioners because they have a tough job, they're dealing with hurt and pain'.''
Bellegarde said policing must be a priority during the course of the commission's work.
"As national chief, I would encourage the commissioners to use their powers and push the envelope ... to ensure that all police services are reviewed, that they questioned, and hopefully some recommendations brought forward to fix what obviously is not working."