By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller says he is “absolutely willing” to discuss with chiefs how to move forward on addressing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys.
The topic “has been, unfortunately, lost in this narrative (about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse peoples). It is a big part of the reality of missing Indigenous persons in Canada,” Miller told Windspeaker.com in an interview Wednesday morning.
Last week, chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations special assembly said missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys can no longer be ignored.
“We need to give them the same status as MMIWG,” said Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs at the special chiefs assembly April 5.
Merrick moved an omnibus package of justice-related bills that included directing the AFN to lobby the federal government to commit funds and resources to establish a working group to examine the root causes of violence against Indigenous men and boys and to advocate for solutions.
“The statistics show us and tell us that we need to be able to support and that we need to be able to extend that required service as well for our families who are searching for their boys, that are searching for their relatives,” said Merrick.
According to numbers put forward by the resolution, in 2020 there were 201 Indigenous victims of homicide nationwide, with 81 per cent of those being Indigenous men.
An Indigenous man is four times more likely to be a victim of homicide when compared to Indigenous women and seven times more likely than non-Indigenous males, says the resolution.
Funding is needed to do this necessary work, said Merrick.
“We’ve overlooked the phenomenon of missing boys and that is something that needs to be acknowledged,” said Miller.
He has been having those conversations individually with chiefs, he added.
“When I sit down with them and go through the list of some of the missing community members, some of them are boys and men,” said Miller.
Many of the boys, he added, have been lost in the same ways outlined in the final report from the National Inquiry on Mission and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. One of those causes is systemic racism.
The issue of missing and murdered boys and men is not unique to Canada.
Miller said there is “some intersectionality” between Canada and the United States and he has been having discussions with U.S.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.
“We were talking about some of the cross-border work and the work we have to do together to make sure? (Indigenous) peoples are respected on both sides of an imposed border to keep them safe and alive,” he said.
Miller stressed the need to move forward on the issue in a way that kept survivors and families at the centre.
That is also a direction from the resolution: “The healing and prevention programs must be Indigenous-led, rooted in Indigenous knowledge, culture and ceremony and must include families of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Men, Boys, Survivors, Two-Spirited and Gender Diverse People and communities, also known as the family first philosophy.”
Miller said he had yet to follow up with the AFN on the resolutions they passed last week but “I’m glad always to sit down with the AFN and any working groups with their proposals.”
“We need that support for our women and men who are missing,” said an emotional Merrick last week. “Our lives matter.”
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with Windspeaker.com. LJI is a federally funded program.