The final report of the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) national inquiry, published June 3, 2019, evokes mixed feelings. Do I believe that it is a genocide? No. Labelling it as such implies that there is a single villain. They are the forgotten people. Neglected and vulnerable to crimes of violence. I have been a criminal lawyer for 13 years. In that time approximately 15 of my First Nations clients have died. The majority were young Indigenous girls.
How did they die?
Most died by homicide, suicide or overdose.
Pikangikum, recently engulfed by fires, is the community my office frequents the most. It is plagued with violence, including homicides and suicides. Sadly, death of young people is routine in Pikangikum and other remote First Nations communities.
In 2012, Maclean’s magazine reported that Pikangikum held the title of the “suicide capital of the world.” In that article, Randy Keeper, a local carpenter who does double duty as the local undertaker, told Maclean’s that he stopped counting the number of funerals.
In 2011, the community of roughly 2,400 had a suicide rate equivalent to 250 per 100,000 — nearly 20 times that of Canada, and far and away the highest in the world. It has been so for 20 nearly uninterrupted years.
Through each election cycle we hear about the quality of life on First Nations reserves in Ontario. The hardships are not caused by genocide. These cyclical tragedies are caused by factors beyond the scope of this article. The MMIWG is an important report.
Most Canadians truly have no idea of the misery that is so much worse in remote First Nations communities — the forgotten people.
Originally published in the Lawyer’s Daily June 26th, 2019: https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/13332/a-personal-view-of-mmiwg-15-of-my-first-nations-clients-are-dead-?category=analysis