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When federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers meet next week, the key national organization representing Indigenous women and girls in Canada will not be at the table.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) expected to attend the meetings alongside politicians and representatives from other Indigenous organizations. NWAC has been invited to attend other meetings with ministers as recently as August.
However, NWAC was not invited to the meetings between federal Justice Minister David Lametti and his provincial and territorial counterparts. For Carol McBride, NWAC president, the timing feels like a “slap in the face.”
The insult came just one week after hundreds of vigils were held across the country for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people.
“In keeping with our government’s practice of working with Indigenous Peoples on a distinctions basis, the agenda for the Justice-Public Safety Federal, Provincial, Territorial, Indigenous meeting was co-developed with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council,” said David Taylor, a spokesperson for Lametti.
“This allows elected officials to exchange views with their Indigenous counterparts on a host of mutually relevant issues,” he added.
“It’s very disappointing because we hold a lot of knowledge,” McBride said in an interview.
“We represent women, girls, and gender-diverse [Indigenous] people in Canada, and they’re not calling upon us to participate at this very powerful table,” she said. “And this is where changes are going to be made; it would only be right if we’re called upon.”
In June 2022, NWAC released its report card of the federal government’s National Action Plan. The report found very little progress, citing a “lack of critical, actionable, measurable, and costed steps in the National Action Plan.”
For Carol McBride, NWAC president, being shut out of meetings with justice ministers across the country a week after hundreds of vigils were held for MMIWG2S feels like a “slap in the face.”
The report also found a “lack of transparency on the development of initiatives, actions and funding distribution,” which made it challenging for NWAC to evaluate the federal government’s response.
The NWAC report gave the government a failing grade.
And for Canadian prisons, Indigenous women make up 50 per cent of the population in maximum security prisons, according to the Office of the Correctional Investigator. Indigenous women make up only four per cent of the total female population in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
NWAC heard the news that it had been shut out of the meetings through the grapevine, McBride said.
“We’re trying to get at least a telephone call with the minister to discuss this, how important this is, and what we’ll bring to the table,” she said.
“What I’m hoping for is Minister Lametti has enough respect for NWAC and what we do to call me directly,” she added.
No phone call had taken place by the end of the day on Friday, according to McBride’s office.
“Minister Lametti looks forward to working productively with the new president of NWAC, Carol McBride,” Taylor said.
Blake Desjarlais an Indigenous MP who represents Edmonton-Griesbach for the NDP, thinks not having NWAC at the table is in line with the government’s ongoing response following the national inquiry.
“It speaks volumes of the government’s interest in addressing this crisis,” he said in an interview. “They don’t even have the courage to invite one of the largest women's organizations in Canada to talk about it.
“That’s a message all by itself,” he added.
Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer