The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women was Ineffective
Updated: May 6, 2021
Over 1,000 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or have been murdered in Canada since 1980, according to a report by the RCMP (2014). In response to this statistic and pressure from Indigenous rights groups, the Government of Canada launched a national inquiry in December of 2015. This essay will argue that the national inquiry was ineffective because of its lack of concentration on police complacency, its restricted power as a committee due to its ties to the government, and its seeming lack of concrete goals. While the inquiry has potential to enact social change, it does not have potential to enact political or institutional change, which is widely believed to be the solution to lowering the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Indigenous women are four times more likely to go missing or be murdered than non-Indigenous women in Canada, according to the RCMP (RCMP, 2018, p.7). Complacency by law enforcement in many of these cases has urged Indigenous rights groups and activists to pressure the government to launch a national inquiry. When asked about the possibility of an inquiry in 2014, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that “it isn’t really high” on “our radar.” (Paquin, 2015). However, the government changed with the election of current liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November 2015, and the inquiry was launched just a few weeks after his inauguration.
Description of the National Inquiry
The inquiry’s official website states that the inquiry’s mandate is to investigate the “systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, including sexual violence,” (2019) and that it must consider how social, political, institutional and cultural elements factor into this epidemic (2019). The site also states that its mission is to “find the truth by gathering many stories from many people,” “honour the truth through public education,” and “give life to the truth by creating a living legacy through commemoration and artistic expressions.” (2019). The inquiry completed and released an interim report in 2017, 112 pages in length, which details its findings since 2015. The interim report mainly includes ‘truth-gathering’ data, which includes personal testimonies from families who have lost loved ones. It also touches on the statistics concerning missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, its legal and jurisdictional limitations, and its commitment to respecting Indigenous culture and self-determination (2017). The inquiry is expected to complete a final report of its findings at some point in the future, mainly containing recommendations and calls to action.
Analysis of the Inquiry
It is important to note that this inquiry symbolizes something very important. Though ineffective, the inquiry symbolizes that the government has acknowledged the current crisis happening in Canada with missing and murdered Indigenous women, and has acted. This, after years of silence and neglect derived from Canada’s colonial roots, can be considered a small but monumental step in the right direction. The inquiry also has the potential to enact social change through awareness and activism but lacks the potential to make lasting political or institutional change. As Sarah Hunt mentions in “More Than a Poster Campaign: Redefining Colonial Violence”, many of these murders and abductions go unnoticed by most Canadians (Hunt, 2018, p. 553). This inquiry is helping to keep these cases circulating in the media, thus raising awareness and creating social change. The inquiry also prioritizes women, as shown by the commonly used phrase “our women and girls are sacred,” (2017). Historically, Indigenous communities were matriarchal (women often had more power than men), but this changed during contact with European Settlers because they would only negotiate with men, as mentioned by Bonita Lawrence in “Regulating Native Identity by Gender” (Lawrence, 2018, p. 325). In fact, Wanda Nanibush says in “Anishinaabe-kwe and/or Indigenous Feminist?” that colonial gender reform is one of the reasons for so much violence against Indigenous women and girls today (Nanibush, 2018, 36). This being said, a renewed concentration on Indigenous women and the violence they face is a way to revitalize the historic sacredness of women, and perhaps change the culture of violence against women.
To begin, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is ineffective because of its lack of concentration on complacency from law enforcement concerning the hundreds of unresolved cases. In many cases, law enforcement officials only partially investigate these occurrences because of racist, colonial stereotypes surrounding Indigenous women. These stereotypes have created the belief that these women ran away to become sex workers, or they were drunk and fell in the river. This misrepresentation of Indigenous women is causing law enforcement officials to overlook evidence that states these women died or went missing under suspicious circumstances (Green, personal communication, February 11, 2019). Juxtaposing the statement on the inquiry’s website: “The National Inquiry must look into and report on the systemic causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women and girls,” (2019), the inquiry itself has seemingly overlooked police complacency as a cause for these unresolved cases in its terms of reference. The interim report, however, did touch on this topic but one of the ways the inquiry vowed to act upon this crisis is by handing over cases to the very same law enforcement that have been complacent in the violence for decades. Doing so would not cause any beneficial changes to this epidemic, neither political nor institutional.
Next, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is ineffective because of its governmental position. The inquiry was launched by the Government of Canada, which means it falls under federal jurisdiction and must follow the rules set up by the government. According to the Government of Canada, the inquiry was given two years and a $53.8 million budget to complete its tasks (2018). The original deadline for the inquiry to submit its final report was December 31, 2018, however, the commissioners of the inquiry requested an extension and a bigger budget in March of 2018 (2018). Since the inquiry falls under government jurisdiction, they had to seek approval before continuing with their work. This caused months of delays, so much so that the general public began to accuse the commissioners of not accomplishing anything at all. However, the commissioners claimed that they simply cannot investigate years worth of cases with that small of a time frame and budget. To add, the inquiry does not have any political power. The only authority they have over the Government of Canada is the ability to make recommendations, but the government has no obligation to act upon them. Given other historical moments when the government received recommendations to improve Indigenous-Settler relations, it is unlikely that the government will oblige by any or all of the recommendations provided to them. These restrictions make it extremely difficult for the inquiry to make any real, lasting political or legal change concerning missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Lastly, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is highly ineffective because of its seeming lack of concrete goals. As shown in the description of the inquiry above, its mission is rather vague and does not mention any goals related to policy, legality, or Settler institutions. The website states that the inquiry’s mission is to “find the truth,” “honour the truth,” and “give life to the truth.” (2019). The inquiry’s website seems to pride itself on ‘truth-gathering’ and collecting testimonies, rather than enacting real change. It seems that the focus of the interim report was to prove that Indigenous women are disappearing and being murdered at alarming rates in this country. In truth, the general public of Canada already knows about this issue and wants to fix it, not try and prove that it is actually occurring. While the families of the victims deserve to have their voices heard, it is also essential that the inquiry focuses on making sure this kind of violence stops.
To conclude, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is ineffective because of its disregard of the complacency from law enforcement in hundreds of unsolved cases, its limited power due to government jurisdiction, and its seeming focus on ‘truth-gathering’ rather than change-inducing. The inquiry’s ability to enact political, legal and institutional change is lacking, but it does have the potential to foster social change through awareness and activism.
Green, Robyn. (February 11, 2019.) “Cultural Representation and Cultural Appropriation.”
Hunt, Sarah. (2018). “More Than a Poster Campaign: Redefining Colonial Violence.” In Gender and Women’s Studies: Critical Terrain (p. 552-554). Toronto: Women’s Press.
Lawrence, Bonita. (2018). “Regulating Native Identity by Gender.” In Gender and Women’s
Studies: Critical Terrain (p.325-333). Toronto: Women’s Press.
Nanibush, Wanda. (2018). “Anishinaabe-kwe and/or Indigenous Feminist?” In Gender and
Women’s Studies: Critical Terrain (p. 37-39). Toronto: Women’s Press.
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