Debra Ginnish, who’s niece was killed in 2004, has a list of questions to ask staff with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls when they arrive in Membertou First Nation in Sydney, N.S. today.
Ginnish mainly wants to know how staff is addressing the recent resignations of senior staff, public calls for the current inquiry commissioners to resign and for the federal government to do a hard reset on the inquiry due to its lack of consultation and communication with families.
“I know there’s been problems in their organization and people (are) leaving,” Ginnish said in a phone interview from her home in Membertou on Tues.
“Are they going to come back and start the whole process again?” Ginnish asked.
Staff with the national inquiry are holding community meetings in Nova Scotia this week as part of its outreach to include as many families as possible in the inquiry.
The meetings will give families and survivors a chance to share their story and ask questions about the process.
Inquiry staff, which already met with family members in Halifax on Tues., will be in Membertou First Nation in Sydney, N.S., today and in Millbrook First Nation near Truro, N.S. on Thurs.
Terrellyn Fearn, the director of health with the national inquiry, said the organization is addressing the public criticism regarding the lack of communication and community outreach.
“That’s why we’ve shifted our focus around community engagement to include more outreach, building partnerships and working collaboratively with provincial organizations, Indigenous grassroots organizations that have the connections to families,” Fearn said in an interview in Halifax Monday evening.
Fearn, a Mi’kmaw from the Glooscap First Nation near Hantsport, N.S., explained that up until three weeks ago, the inquiry only had 19 families from the Atlantic Region registered to participate. Now, Fearn explained, that number has increased to 34 registered families.
According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, there are 48 Indigenous women and girls in Atlantic Canada who have either been murdered or have been reported missing.
“In the past three weeks, we have almost 500 families registered across the country to participate in the inquiry,” Fearn explained.
“Since we started to shift to more community engagement, we’ve seen those numbers increase dramatically,” she added.
Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, said her organization can help families with transportation costs so they can meet with inquiry staff.
“The (national) inquiry cannot provide funding for families to come and do the intake so the Province of Nova Scotia and our network have found the money,” Maloney explained in an interview in Halifax Monday evening.
Ginnish concerned about hard reset of national inquiry
Ginnish, who participated in the pre-inquiry meeting held in Halifax in Jan. 2016, is concerned that she and her family members may have to go through the ordeal of telling their story about her niece’s death multiple times if there is a hard reset of the inquiry.
Michelle Marie Ginnish, 23, was killed in 2004 while attending a house party in Membertou. Michelle had gotten into a fight with Krystal Lee Paul who attacked her and stabbed her in the shoulder. The knife hit a main artery and Michelle died.
“There was no follow up after the Halifax meeting. Families, you know, were totally traumatized again,” Ginnish said.
“You were just left to deal with what had just happened. It was difficult,” she said.
Agnes Gould, also from Membertou, wants to know how the inquiry will support her and her family in their ongoing search for their younger sister, Virginia Sue Pictou-Noyes, in Maine, U.S.A.
Gould’s sister disappeared in 1993 after she left a hospital in Bangor, Maine. Virginia, 26, was taken to the Eastern Maine Medical Center by police after she was severely beaten by two men on the street. She walked out of the hospital while hospital staff were treating another patient.
Gould said she and her siblings have dealt with Maine state police as well as the state’s local district attorney regarding her sister’s disappearance for the past 24 years.
“At one point, my sister’s case was considered a cold case and put on a shelf,” Gould explained in a phone interview on Tues.
Gould said Virginia’s disappearance was only reopened after families in Canada began calling for a national inquiry into the 1,100 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Gould hopes there is no hard reset of the inquiry.
“Maybe whatever was happening internally can be resolved,” Gould said.
“I would really feel confident with (the inquiry continuing) on a community-to-community basis,” she said.
Meanwhile, Fearn said inquiry staff will be returning to Nova Scotia in the fall to meet with more families and survivors in other communities.
The inquiry also plans to schedule similar community meetings in the other Atlantic provinces in the fall leading up to the only community hearing taking place in Atlantic Canada this fall. That hearing is scheduled for Oct. 30 in Halifax.