The most prominent Indigenous women’s organization in Canada is handing the federal government a failing grade over its response to the recommendations from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, amid criticism over the delay of a national action plan.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) issued a scathing report card Wednesday to mark the one year anniversary of the release of the inquiry’s final report and unveiled its own strategy on what Ottawa should do.

“I’m really disappointed in the process because it’s lack-of,” NWAC president Lorraine Whitman said in an interview with CBC News. “But saying that, I do hope that they’ll start proceeding.”

NWAC gave Canada a failing grade in four evaluated areas: culture, health, security and right to justice.

The organization is calling on Ottawa to create a national task force with independent investigators to:

The organization also wants to be at all decision-making tables with the federal government on issues related to Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people. It is also looking for financial resources to create its own awareness campaign and an internal unit to work on the recommendations.

The federal government said it’s still consulting with Indigenous women’s groups, leadership, and provincial and territorial governments over the co-development of a national action plan to address the 231 recommendations or Calls for Justice, though the pandemic has prevented in-person meetings.

The federal Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs insists the strategy is not the federal government’s plan — it’s one that all partners will produce together.

To help national and regional Indigenous and gender-diverse organizations respond to the inquiry, the department is seeking more than $6 million, according to the latest supplementary estimates report.

Although Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett’s office said it has begun to receive interim and final engagement reports from its partners, it has set no submission deadlines for the national action plan and Whitman said NWAC was not asked to provide input. 

“A nationwide, co-ordinated response is imperative. Not disconnected patches of varied levels of engagement and response,” former commissioner Qajaq Robinson told CBC News.

“The feds are in a position to lead and facilitate the co-ordinated response. They have shown they can do this for COVID-19. They must do it for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as well.”

In a statement released today, the former commissioners of the inquiry decried inaction on the part of some governments and called on Canada to appoint an impartial international organization to oversee the implementation of the Calls for Justice. 

“The swift implementation of the National Inquiry’s Calls for Justice is essential to address Canada’s responsibility for the commission of genocide and for violations of fundamental human rights,” the statement read.

“Should Canada fail to do so in a timely manner, we strongly encourage Indigenous women, girls and 2S people to invite international and impartial oversight of the implementation of the Calls for Justice.”

The inquiry recommended governments establish a national Indigenous and human rights ombudsperson, and to establish a national Indigenous human rights tribunal. 

NWAC says Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people continue to face barriers to justice, inadequate victim services, food insecurity, and they are more likely to be unemployed — all of which is being made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which the federal government has blamed for the delay of the national action plan.

“When we are asked to do reports and what have you, we have a time frame and we have to have that report in to government whatever it be,” Whitman said. “Why does it not be reciprocated on the other end of the government?”

Whitman says COVID-19 has highlighted the fact that Indigenous people are at higher risk due to systematic overcrowding, food insecurity, lack of clean water and inadequate health services and infrastructure.

In an online survey conducted by NWAC and verified by Nanos Research, 18 per cent of Indigenous women and 25 per cent of Two Spirits reported experiencing violence in the past three months.

Whitman said using COVD-19 as an excuse to delay of the national action plan is a “double slap in the face” to Indigenous women, who are living in greater fear of violence because of isolation from the pandemic. 

Indigenous Services Canada is seeking $4 million to create new shelters and support violence prevention projects, while the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is looking for more than $3 million to create shelters on-reserve and in the territories, the latest supplementary estimates report said.

Whitman said NWAC has not heard back from Bennett’s office about its proposal.

Whitman has attended meetings over a national action plan, but said the dialogue is mostly going one way.

For example, Whitman said she was on a Zoom call on Monday with approximately 300 participants, including representatives from women’s groups and government officials, along with Bennett and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef.

Whitman said the jam-packed meeting left only a few minutes for each person to speak .

“That’s not consultation in my mind, because there’s no room for discussion,” Whitman said.

“Why would you want to do more consultation? … It’s now [time] for action.”

In a statement to mark the one-year anniversary of the inquiry’s final report, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime Heidi Illingworth described Canada’s response as “inadequate” and said it is not to be blamed solely on one minister. 

“All ministers and MPs need to be a part of the process and should also be held accountable to Indigenous communities,” Illingworth said.

Illingworth also said families and advocates have made themselves clear: no more consultations are needed.

It’s unclear how long the creation of a national action plan will take. 

NWAC plans to provide continuous report cards to measure progress.

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