Madam Chair, I would like to thank the committee for allowing me this time to speak to you.
My name is Mary Teegee. I am from the Takla Lake First Nation. I come from the Wolf Clan. I am the executive director of child and family services here at Carrier Sekani Family Services. What we do is provide child welfare and health services and preventive services to 11 first nation communities here in north central British Columbia. Also we're the host agency for the Highway of Tears initiative. Of course, the Highway of Tears initiative is to really look at all of the recommendations that came from the symposium we hosted a few years ago and to implement those recommendations so that there are no more missing and murdered women in northern British Columbia.
The reason I'm here to testify today is to speak for those who can't speak because they are no longer with us, and I'm here to speak for those who have lost their spirits, who have lost their voice because of violence. When we're talking about violence, we have to look at the context of where it comes from and we have to look at the root causes. I think sometimes when you're looking at some of the research or the recommendations, I really emphasize that it needs to be culturally specific—it cannot be a pan-Indian approach—and it has to meet the needs of the first nation communities, where they're at.
We know that there have been missing and murdered women. There's also the domestic violence issue we have to deal with within first nation communities. We have to somehow figure out how we're going to break the cycle. Just recently we lost a very beautiful young woman, 22 years old, who had a three-year-old child, in one of our first nation communities. That is no longer acceptable. We have to figure out how we're going to work together. I don't mean just aboriginal service agencies. I think it's all society in Canada. We have to look at how we can collaborate to ensure this doesn't occur again.
We've had enough here in northern British Columbia. I think for probably for most northern provinces the same issues are there: the lack of services, the lack of resources, the judicial system failing our people, failing our nations. I do believe that one of those issues is around the judicial system. It has to be a part of the healing and it has to be part of the solution. In the northern communities—and I can only speak for northern B.C. right now—that isn't always the case.
When we look at some of the root causes of the violence, we think about, of course, the residential schools. It's interesting to note that while Prime Minister Harper did apologize for the atrocities that occurred at residential schools, I don't believe there has been enough action with that apology, so the apology rings hollow, especially when it comes to the issue of violence against women. I believe we have to look at what residential schools took away from our communities and our nations. That's what we must rebuild, and that is what's going to keep our young women safe, and that is around the culturally appropriate servicing.
I think when we're looking at the violence against women in indigenous communities, too many times we're just looking at the one case. We're not looking at it in its whole context. We understand the cycle of the abuse, the trauma, all of the mental health issues, but when we're looking at that, we also have to look at how we are going to overcome that. We're not giving enough credence to the traditional roles. Many times we're looking at dealing with just the women. We're not looking at the men's programming we need. Traditionally, everybody had a role in our society: the men had a role, the women had a role, elders had a role, and the youth had a role. Because of residential schools, that has been fractured; that has been broken. So when we're looking at services, definitely a key piece is to ensure that not only are we empowering our families and our women but also we're looking at what we can do to assist men who have also been victims of abuse, especially when it comes to residential schools. Sometimes that is overlooked.
I believe that when we're looking at the recommendations—and I do absolutely agree with the previous speaker, my sister Bridget Tolley, who talked about so many recommendations—we need to look at how we are going to implement those recommendations. Those implementations have to be community-specific, culturally specific. They have to meet the needs of where the women and families are at.
They have to be holistic types of services. We can't just look at one phase of life. As indigenous people, we are holistic. We also follow a life-cycle model. Any preventative service that we develop and implement has to take that into consideration.
We're looking at some of the issues that have occurred here in B.C. over the last few years and at some of the report recommendations that we've provided in British Columbia to deal with the issues. We also had, just recently, a Human Rights Watch report entitled “Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada”.
We also have the case in northern British Columbia of Judge Ramsay. Judge Ramsay was a predator who beat and sexually assaulted young girls who'd been in front of him at court. Yet, to date, we still do not have any assurance that this will never happen again. There have been no changes to the judicial system or to any system to ensure that we are going to keep our young women safe.
In Manitoba in 1991 there was an aboriginal justice inquiry, the Sinclair inquiry, that talked about the failings of the judicial system. There was also an implementation committee or an implementation body that was tasked to oversee that those recommendations were brought to fruition. To this date, that still hasn't occurred.
There should be the same thing in British Columbia—some type of an inquiry into northern British Columbia, into the treatment of our young women, into the missing and murdered young women, into the Highway of Tears. We need to ensure that there are changes within the judicial system to ensure that nothing happens again to our young women and to our families.
We have other recommendations. I do believe we're supportive of a national commission or an inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls. I definitely think that has to happen. We need to ensure that there are independent civilian investigations of reported incidents of serious police misconduct, including incidents of rape and other sexual assault, in all jurisdictions. If you have a young woman who is afraid and is running away, in northern British Columbia there's very little trust right now in the RCMP or in the judicial system, given the history we've had to date. That has to be changed. We also recommend that a public inquiry has to take place into the violence experienced by indigenous women and girls in northern British Columbia. This inquiry could be part of the national commission of inquiry or a stand-alone inquiry from the province.
From these inquiries, we could really see where the gaps in service are and what needs to occur immediately and in the long term. I believe it has to happen in a specific way. One of the things that happened within northern British Columbia, and I'm sure across the province, was that there was more concentration in the bigger urban settings. Everybody hears about eastside Vancouver, yet all of the violence and everything that's taking place in the north has not really been concentrated on. There hasn't been enough concentration on that.
When we're looking at funding, we need money to provide prevention programs to make sure our girls are safe, to have community awareness. Look at something as simple as the AANDC funding, the aboriginal affairs dollars. They have family violence dollars of, like, a couple of thousand dollars—if you're lucky—for first nation communities. That needs to be looked at. We need to ensure that first nation communities have enough dollars so that they can figure out what they need to do in their communities to keep their women safe. Right now the family violence program that is federally funded—I don't believe it will be helpful when it's so minimal.
When we're looking at isolated communities in the north, there are no services where we are. There are maybe two or three safe houses in the small rural communities. I'm not talking just first nation communities here. I'm talking about northern British Columbia. I'm sure some of the other provinces share the same thing. There are hardly any safe houses, so where do young women go? I don't care if they're aboriginal or non-aboriginal, where do they go? It's no longer acceptable that we have no place to keep them safe. I do believe this is across northern Canada.
My isolated community is about six hours from the closest urban setting where they have a safe house. In Fort St. James, for example, they have one little safe house, and they serve quite a large area. So those are the issues that we're talking about in the north, never mind the lack of mental health therapists, or the lack of any kind of preventative programming.
We also have to look at safe, reliable transportation. Some of our young girls have gone missing because of hitchhiking, or they have been on the highway. Yet there still is nothing concrete that says here is the transportation system that we have worked together to fix. I believe in a simple fix. We have many recommendations in the Highway of Tears recommendation report. We now have the Oppal commission and their recommendations. I agree with the previous speaker that we need to ensure we have an implementation plan that is absolutely funded.
There is another thing that I strongly believe we need to do, and I look to our southern neighbour. The United States has the Violence Against Women Act, and that's for all women. But specifically, they have a new section that meets the needs of native women in the United States. Obama recently reauthorized this act, which came into being in 1994. Within that act, there are specific policies and things that we need to be a part of. I believe that Canada needs an act like that to show that it is doing something. Right now in the broader sense—the UN, the international human rights cases, all of these issues that are going on in Canada—we are all failing our families and our children, especially our women. Our young women are the most vulnerable and the most marginalized in our nation.
I think Stephen Harper could learn something from Obama and look at developing that act. If we had an act, ministers of the provinces and federal ministers alike would have to designate dollars to deal with violence against women.
My closing comment is that this is not just an aboriginal issue, and I think that's what needs to be mentioned. It's not an aboriginal issue; it's a Canadian society issue. That is the only way we are going to deal with it, by coming together and collaborating in every aspect of our society.
With that, I would just like to thank you for your time. Thank you. Meegwetch. Mahsi.