Of course we do! Too much controversy flows around the question of whether or not we need a formal inquiry into the disproportionate numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
Why not? Most responses to this question range from “these are crimes, and are already being dealt with by police forces” to “the cost would be too high for something that’s unnecessary”. That seems narrow and trivial to me compared to the escalating cost of our military-industrial complex or the costs of building extra prisons.
In fact, we need not only a public inquiry on the tragedy but much more. Nothing less than a full, all-encompassing “commission of inquiry” will do, akin to the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Inquiry in the 60s.
The commission should travel from coast to coast to coast, holding local town halls and “courts” everywhere they go, covered on national television. What an education and consciousness-raising it would be! And the commissioners appointed should be of the same level of qualification, respectability and integrity as those on the B+B commission, with at least some aboriginal languages among them.
Having grown up in Quebec, and listening to my Quebecois friends, I was well aware of the long-standing, increasing sense of frustration, unfairness and oppression among French-Canadians in the sixties. Those feelings were totally understandable, given the actual unfairness that was obvious to anyone paying attention. All of this was officially acknowledged through the B&B commission – finally – with recommendations for resolution. The commission had a profound impact on French-Canadians and Canada, with one result being the Official Languages Act of 1969. This didn’t change bigotry – but the bigots eventually grow old and die out. It did, however, change a hell of a lot.
Over the decades, thinking Canadians have been gradually acknowledging and dealing with historical injustices — language issues and gender equality issues, for example. The time is long overdue, for dealing with the entire relationship of Canadian aboriginals with the land and the peoples of Canada, including all historical and current injustices with their often tragic consequences.
All groups of human beings trying to “live together” – have a natural need to regularly engage in a caring, respectful, open-minded conversation together about how they are all doing in this experiment called “civilization”. Sometimes we go through periods of relative enlightenment, and pass laws reflecting that. Others are always resisting, fighting back, trying to reverse those laws. What is happening in the U.S. is a good illustration: steady efforts to reverse progress made on behalf of women and African-Americans, are having some disappointing success. It’s a bitter reminder that we can never assume progress is permanent. The conversation must go on – forever – one generation to the next.
A point: You cannot educate historically disadvantaged categories of people, but then refuse them a seat at the table of important discussions. And once we acknowledge that reality, it’s just natural to recognize that we, as a society, must do whatever it takes to enhance and support any progress made.
The challenge to then “formerly-oppressed” groups – that would include Aboriginal Canadians in the ‘post-Commission’ period – is that they also must be willing to live among the former-oppressors. As the song says, “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you!”
If the human race is to survive, we have to stop dismissing groups by labels. We will all be richer with such a change. Just imagine how much we all have to learn from each other, two unique human beings at a time.