Caroline Wawzonek: Release of the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Draft Action Plan in Response to the Final Report of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Déclarations et discours de ministres

Yellowknife — 8 décembre 2021

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Mr. Speaker, I have just made a ceremonial offering to you as the presiding officer of this House, which represents the people of the Northwest Territories. The offering is presented to you representing the traditions of many First Nations, Métis and Inuit and their spiritual beliefs, values, and the principles by which they live. Through this offering, I am paying my respects and asking for their blessing but more importantly, to honour those Indigenous women, girls and two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual plus people who have lost their lives or who have experienced or continue to experience trauma and violence. 

Mr. Speaker, I attended the vigil for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, on Monday night, December 6th, honouring the 14 young women who were murdered at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal over 30 years ago. Violence against women, girls and gender diverse people is not only part of our country’s history, but a reality that is faced by many today, across Canada and in the Northwest Territories.  We must take a strong stand against all forms of violence in order to change our society and create a safe space for all to thrive in.

Before I proceed with my statement, I urge anyone who feels they need mental health support to reach out to this number: 1-844-413-6649.  This is an independent, national toll-free call line that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Mr. Speaker, later today I will be tabling the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Draft Action Plan in response to the Calls for Justice presented in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.  This response is the culmination of many months of the GNWT examining current programs and services and how they are provided, exploring and considering new ways of doing business and affirming the importance and value of building partnerships to make change.  Change must happen if we are to end violence directed at Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people.  This Draft Action Plan is a step towards that change.

I would like to stress that this is a Draft Action Plan.  Before we finalize the document, we will engage further on our proposed responses to the Calls for Justice.  This Action Plan is meant to build relationships between government and those we serve, build trust, empower. We must make sure that people and communities across the NWT, including public servants at the front lines of delivering this Action Plan, and especially people with lived experience, have opportunities to further shape this Action Plan.

The GNWT Draft Action Plan entitled “Changing the Relationship” is the GNWT’s response to the Calls for Justice.  The GNWT is committed to doing its part to start changing our relationship with all Indigenous peoples and this Draft Action Plan is an important step in achieving this.

Mr. Speaker, it is important to acknowledge that a high percentage of Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people continue to experience various forms of violence, for some, daily and sadly, families are often left to mourn. This has resulted in deep-rooted pain in our northern communities. This Action Plan is meant to lead to policy change and a whole-of-government approach to programs and services that supports Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people, and the benefits will be felt throughout the communities in the Northwest Territories.  Change tends to have a ripple effect and we are counting on that.

Mr. Speaker the Action Plan is a “living” document that is ready for change. We are prepared to work with communities, Indigenous leadership, and other organizations on the initiatives in the Action Plan.  We are ready and open to adapting our approach if what we are actioning is not achieving the intent.  This is why we are calling this a living document. Change is not static, relationships are not static, and we will not allow our response to this fundamental issue to be static. The work of relationship building, and cultural change takes time and I want to assure Members that we are in it for the long haul.

One of the things we did when reviewing the Calls for Justice was look for similar situations in the Northwest Territories that the Calls for Justice were meant to address. In a lot of cases, there were policy or procedures already in place along with programs and services, so it became necessary for us to look at these existing programs and services and see if there were ways to improve them. Where we are able to, develop a homegrown response that reflected our northern realities.

Mr. Speaker, this is a three-year plan.  This timeline allows us to work on initial implementation but then evaluate and revise the Action Plan to keep it relevant and responsive.  We also need to compliment the implementation of the National Action Plan that was introduced last spring and take advantage of lessons learned from that process. Three years also means this Action Plan will carry over into the new government ensuring continuity.

Partnership is an important component of this work.  By working in partnership with communities, Indigenous governments and organizations and special interest groups, we will be developing a network of resources and capacities that will help move these actions forward.  This Action Plan outlines the GNWT’s commitment to affecting change.  We implore everyone in the Northwest Territories to join in this movement.  You may think you do not have a role in changing the relationship, but I believe that everyone can have a part, big or small. 

Mr. Speaker, I want to note that although proud to have the opportunity to table this work in this House, I am also sad. The weight of the stories I have heard and carried from others, both survivors and perpetrators, during the last decade while in various roles are heartbreaking. It can be almost overwhelming, like no action plan can matter, and these are only the stories of the experiences, not the life of the person who lived through it. But I also feel hopeful. Hopeful that we are moving forward to a time when Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people can begin to feel safe, are valued and respected. I have also seen the different small steps and changes can make especially when made with vision, purpose and consistency. This Action Plan is itself a step and holds many more steps that can support Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people to reclaim their place in society on their own terms. 

Marsi Mr. Speaker.