Two years after violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada was declared a genocide in the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), the federal government has finally released its national action plan to address the recommendations.
Arriving a year late, and during an emotional week when all eyes were on the federal government’s mistreatment of Indigenous people after the remains of 215 children were uncovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, the plan addresses some of the biggest findings of the over-1,000-page report, which followed the three-year $92-million federally funded investigation tasked with examining the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. Among the proposed short-term initiatives: Launching public education campaigns on the issues Indigenous people experience and to challenge the acceptance and normalization of violence, creating shelters, safe spaces, and an annual livable income.
Some experts worry the government’s plan falls far short of the 231 Calls for Justice made in 2019, and that not enough is being done to address this national crisis, during which thousands of women have been killed or gone missing and continue to do so. “[The inquiry report] said, ‘there's 231 systemic ways that you need to work out in order to address this violence and this genocide.’ So, it's not up to the government to back up and say, ‘we'll just select some items out of here,’” Lynne Groulx, CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), told Refinery29 the day before the announcement. “They accepted the report, they accepted responsibility. They have to implement.”
Some experts worry ... that not enough is being done to address this national crisis, during which thousands of women have been killed or gone missing.
Other criticisms are that this National Action Plan is very high-level as opposed to a concrete plan. As some pointed out online shortly after the announcement, it’s difficult to discern whether or not the document is an actionable to-do, or just another report talking about the need to implement a plan. (In fact, the plan itself says that stakeholders still need to work on and create an implementation plan for the National Action Plan.) “We don’t think it’s an action plan at all, we think it’s a visionary document,” Groulx adds.
It’s a vision that’s far from 20/20, according to NWAC. The organization takes issue with a component of the larger National Action Plan — called the Federal Pathway — that broadly outlines the federal government’s contribution to combatting systemic violence against Indigenous women via culture, health and wellness, human safety, and security and justice. This pledge includes doing things like: speeding up the implementation of the Indigenous Language Act to help preserve Indigenous culture, increasing the number of nurses and medical professionals in remote Indigenous communities, and taking steps to combat systemic racism within the RCMP.
We don’t think it’s an action plan at all, we think it’s a visionary document.
Lynne Groulx, CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada
While that all sounds great, Groulx says the Federal Pathway is only rehashing work and programs already being implemented by the government, and — like the rest of the National Action Plan — presents big picture ideas with little word yet on how exactly they’ll be implemented.
It’s also worth noting that neither the National Action Plan nor the Federal Pathway identify specific dollar amounts for funding. During the announcement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government has proposed that $2.2.billion will be put towards the Federal Pathway initiative over the next five years. This funding is in addition to the $18 billion over the next five years to improve quality of life and create new opportunities in Indigenous communities that was pledged in the 2021 Budget. But as many online have pointed out, there’s no sense of who — whether that be provincial governments, individual non-profits, Indigenous action groups — will be responsible for what.
Another concern is that there’s no real concrete timeline against which to measure progress. Short-term priorities will be worked on over the next three years, and the government has committed to releasing an “implementation plan” in the near future, but that is vague, at best. For what it’s worth, the Federal Pathway is supposed to be finalized by fall. Individual provinces like New Brunswick and Quebec also pledged to formulate responses to the National Inquiry before the end of 2021, but again, there's no mention of what exactly that entails. Which means months of more waiting for Indigenous people, many of whom are already frustrated with the government’s stagnant approach.
"That is a real disservice to Indigenous women and girls across this country to basically say that genocide is going to continue for a while until we can figure out an actual plan," said Pamela Palmater, chair in Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, at a news conference following the announcement of the plan.
NWAC is so dissatisfied, it's taking matters into their own hands. While the organization was previously working with the feds on the action plan, on June 1, it announced it would no longer be collaborating, calling the process “fundamentally flawed.” Instead, it’s created their own action plan to address the calls for justice outlined in 2019. And shortly after the June 3 release of the plan, NWAC announced that it would be taking steps to file a human rights complaint and request an International intervention and investigation by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN).
Speaking about Thursday's announcement, Dr. Beverly Jacobs, former president of NWAC and a MMIWG activist, told Refinery29 she happy to see so many family and community members, who had been affected by the national crisis, make their voices heard. “They’re the ones who have been impacted the most and are guiding the work,” she says. “The acknowledgement of what they’ve done to participate is important.” Still, she says she wants to know what the impact will be on-the-ground in the actual communities.
We'll all be watching to find out.
If you are a residential school survivor and need support, please contact the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line, at 1-866-925-4419.