‘All we have is hope’: Mixed emotions as inquiry community hearings start in Edmonton

April Eve Wiberg started the Stolen Sisters and Brothers Awareness Walk as a way to express her community’s frustration with the lack of action on missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada. (Photo courtesy KTB Photography)

For seven years, ever since his sister Amber went missing, Paul Tuccaro has been waiting for answers.

As he stands before the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls this week in Edmonton, he’s hoping he’ll find some at last.

The inquiry’s chief commissioner Marion Buller and commissioner Brian Eyolfson are attending community hearings in Edmonton from Nov. 7-9, with more than 40 family members and survivors registered to share their stories. There will be some community hearings open to the public, while others will be private.

Amber, originally from the Mikisew Cree First Nation, was last seen in Nisku on Aug. 18, 2010, and her remains were found in the same area two years later.

“I’m looking forward to it because I’m the type of person who sits at home late at night, reading all the stuff I can, reflecting back on my sister’s case,” Tuccaro said.

“I’m going to ask these commissioners point blank … what’s going to happen here? How many times do I have to share her story over and over?”

The commission’s stated mandate is to examine and report on the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, as well as policies implemented in response to the more than 1,200 Indigenous women and girls that have gone missing or been murdered in Canada since 1980.

Many of the speakers are experiencing frustration and anxiety leading up to the hearings.

In Tuccaro’s case, he’s confused about how the process will unfold.

“Nobody even told me what time I’m speaking, or how long I’m going to speak,” he said, adding that his communication with representatives of the commission has been frustrating in some cases.

“If I didn’t reach out to them and keep on being persistent, I probably wouldn’t be leaving tomorrow (to go to Edmonton),” he said.

April Eve Wiberg, the founder of Edmonton’s Stolen Sisters and Brothers Awareness Walk, lost her great aunt, Sandra Isabelle Gibot, in 1983. She’s wondering what kind of supports will be in place for people reopening old wounds, and what kind of change the commission will create.

“There’s still a lot of questions,” Wiberg said. “But all we have is hope for something really solid and concrete, that real actions will be taken and not just recommendations that end up in a report and sit on a shelf.”

She said she’s heard from many people who have contacted the inquiry but were not able to successfully register for a chance to speak.

“One of my hopes and recommendations is that they will be open to families and survivors who are walking in … I think they should be prepared for that,” Wiberg said.

She would also like to eventually see an inquiry for missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys, and hopes the voices of marginalized people, such as those who are incarcerated, homeless or working in the sex trade will have a chance to be included too.

For Melanie Dene, whose cousin Shelly went missing in Edmonton in 2013, the opportunity to speak at the inquiry offers mixed emotions. She feels her cousin’s case was never taken seriously — even though they filed a missing persons report in July 2013, she said it took the police four months to file her as a missing person.

“I appreciate the fact that they’re giving this opportunity to families and to be able to speak about not just about their missing loved ones but also about the whole process with the racial judicial system that we’re faced with,” Dene said. “Why are these cases being dealt with in such a different matter as opposed to the non-Indigenous people?”

Tuccaro, Wiberg and Dene all hope the inquiry comes up with answers on what needs to change in the judicial system, how police can be more accountable to families, and also address some of the systemic societal issues that make Indigenous women and girls more vulnerable to violence.

“There’s always been that skepticism, will this process actually help locate some of our missing? Will it bring justice to those whose lives were taken?” Wiberg said.

“And what happens afterwards once the inquiry has come and gone?”

This story was originally published in Metro Edmonton. 


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