“There were many, many calls for justice by families, Survivors and communities for years,” says Jeanie McLean, Minister responsible for the Women and Gender Equity Directorate. “They wanted governments to acknowledge the issues and to have an inquiry.”
In June, the Yukon Advisory Committee released the Implementation Plan for Changing the Story to Upholding Dignity and Justice: Yukon’s MMIWG2S+ Strategy. This is a significant milestone to end systemic issues that lead to violence against Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people.
Centred in truth
Reflecting on the National Inquiry’s work, Minister McLean says it was centred in truth. Without truth, there is no reconciliation.
“We knew before we could reconcile, we needed to have a true understanding of the history of colonization in our country and in the Yukon,” she says. “And we needed to bring Canadians along on the journey with us.”
Doris Bill, co-chair representing Yukon First Nations governments, says bringing the truth into the light is healing for Survivors.
“We were taught in residential school to conceal the truth – to not tell anybody, to hold it in,” says Doris. “So for us to release the truth, it's huge. It means we no longer have to carry the burden by ourselves.”
Decolonizing the work
In addition to three co-chairs, the Committee represents families and Survivors, Elders and Yukon’s three Indigenous women’s organizations.
The Implementation Plan was created through collaboration between the Committee’s members using a decolonized, community-led approach.
The Committee's work followed a decolonized approach and centred the perspectives of families and Survivors while developing the strategy. The Government of Yukon, through the Women and Gender Equity Directorate, supported the development and release of the strategy.
Minister McLean says the government’s role in decolonization is to listen to others to better understand the truth.
“We need to listen to the truth to fully understand the mistakes of the past and the reason Indigenous people continue to distrust governments,” she says. “Through listening and acknowledging the truth, we develop a greater empathy for the history of colonization and a better understanding of how to make change.”
Ann Maje Raider, Executive Director of the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society and co-chair representing Indigenous women’s organizations, says the test of decolonization is about action, commitment and accountability from the government.
“Nobody wants another document sitting on the shelf,” says Ann. “People want it to be alive, fluid and moving. They want to see action.”
Focused on families
For years, families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit+ people have used the slogan, ‘nothing about us without us.’
Ann says for too long governments have dictated what should happen and how things should come together. She says that changed with this strategy.
“We needed the experts in the room,” says Ann. “The families who went through this storm are the experts. They're the ones that helped us determine what needs to be done – they are the centre of it all.”
Minister McLean agrees.
“A key priority for us is to keep families informed and to be accountable to them, but also to each other,” she says. “We've heard them loud and clear and their words are reflected in the Strategy.”
Throughout its work, the Committee reported back to families. In the summer of 2020, the Committee held two family gatherings before the release of the final Strategy in December 2020.
The gatherings were designed to share updates, hear from families, and collect their feedback.
Before the Implementation Plan was released, the Committee travelled to several communities and met with families first to ensure they had it in their hands before it became public.
Minister McLean says keeping families informed is important.
“There’s a framework around accountability within the strategy – it’s a big part of the work,” she says.
The Committee held its first Accountability Forum last May, and the next one is scheduled for October 2023.
A whole-of-Yukon approach
Partners in the Strategy and Implementation Plan include all 14 Yukon First Nations, eight Yukon municipalities, the Canadian and Yukon governments, Indigenous organizations and politicians.
Doris says everyone – families, advocates, partners – need to come together for the Strategy to succeed.
“It's about building solid relationships in good faith,” says the Minister.“If we're going to resolve some of these issues we need partners at the table and we need to come together as a community – we all have a part to play.”
Minister McLean says creating systemic change in the Yukon can’t be done by one organization or one government alone.
“It’s going to take multiple partners that can identify gaps and support multiple organizations in working together to achieve a singular vision," she says.
A whole-of-Yukon approach extends across industries and sectors, regions and political stripes, but also generations.
Doris says the committee owes a debt of gratitude to the Indigenous women who kept the issue alive.
“They worked so hard and struggled for so long to deal with some of these issues. It's time that governments and leaders step up and take on some of this work to move it forward for them,” she says.
Ann echoes the sentiment.
“We all recognize how much in our hearts we want this violence to end and how much we don't want to see our grandchildren and children behind us still doing this work,” says Ann. “We want it to end and we want justice.”
Implementing the Plan
In June, the Committee held a technical forum on the Implementation Plan with partners and contributors. The Committee asked key partners to bring the plan back to their organizations to identify how they can lead or support milestones.
The Women and Gender Equity Directorate is now developing tracking templates to monitor the progress of government departments and strategy partners to meet Implementation Plan milestones.
Doris says the plan as a whole can be overwhelming, but breaking it into smaller pieces across partners makes it more manageable.
“There are ways that you can break it down and do what makes sense for you and your organization,” she says. Doris urges Yukoners to, “do a little at a time, but do something.”
She’s hopeful that solutions will be put in place to help families and Survivors going forward.
This fall, the Committee and its partners will begin to implement the plan. The work is centred on creating safety, supports and equity for Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit+ people to make the Yukon safe.