Bernie Williams says she and other indigenous women have already been to hell and back — and now is not the time to give up on a national public inquiry they’ve spent decades fighting for.
Williams, a long-time women’s advocate from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, is among family members of missing and murdered women raising their voices in defence of the commission as it faces a stream of criticism from activists and indigenous leaders.
“I have to believe that there is something that is bigger than all of us out here that we can get through this together,” Williams said in an interview. “I have to believe in my heart, my soul, my being that … we are going to get our justice.”
Williams, who says she lost three sisters and her mother to murder, is confident the five commissioners are well aware of the extent of underlying issues plaguing indigenous communities, including rampant sexual abuse — an issue documented over the last year in an ongoing investigation by The Canadian Press.
She believes the inquiry must proceed very carefully, to leave no room for mistakes.
“I know when we sat at the family advisory circle outside of Toronto, they heard the horrific stories,” she said. “I’ve been abused right from the time I was three years old and I know all too well.”
Sue Martin, who says she lost her 24-year-old daughter to murder in 2002, also supports the inquiry’s work and has provided feedback to commissioners on a voluntary basis with other family members, including Williams.
It is important for families to work with the commission instead of fighting against it, she said.
“I’ve heard from a lot of family members and I tell them to lay their medicines down and keep the faith,” Martin said. “Let these commissioners do their job … and stop the negativity.”
The inquiry is facing a barrage of criticism as it prepares to hold its first public hearings in Whitehorse next week. Testimony from about 30 families will follow…