Grief, anger and a flood of other emotions are likely to continue pouring out of the families testifying Wednesday at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
But one family member says it’s not just about their individual suffering, or even their search for justice.
Delores Stevenson, whose niece Nadine Machiskinic died in a Regina hotel in 2015, said it’s about preventing these tragedies from happening to others.
That’s why she submitted nine written recommendations to commissioners on Tuesday, as the inquiry began three days of hearings in Saskatoon.
“I’m hoping that Nadine’s story will continue to set the stage, that it would continue to shed light on the systemic racism and all of the issues that surround many of these cases that families are presenting,” Stevenson told reporters following the emotional session.
Nadine Machiskinic, 29, died on Jan.10, 2015, after falling 10 storeys down a laundry chute in a Regina hotel.
Her death was initially ruled an accident but a coroner’s inquest was held and a jury found the manner of her death “undetermined.”
In July, Regina police said Saskatchewan RCMP would review the investigation by the Regina Police Service into Machiskinic’s death.
More oversight of police recommended
Some of Stevenson’s suggestions are specific to her family’s case, but others are more general. One calls for independent civilian oversight of police investigations. The Saskatchewan government has come under fire for lagging behind other provinces on that issue.
Other recommendations range from having a dedicated government-assigned family advocate, making the RCMP and coroner’s findings public, and creating a fund for children of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“Whatever the government decides to do with this information, that will be their action,” Stevenson said.
As Stevenson and her family testified Tuesday, many in the audience nodded their heads or wept. When a slideshow of Machiskinic was played on a large screen, some left the room crying.
Elders, support workers help the grieving
Support workers in purple shirts, elders and others were on hand to help those affected during Tuesday’s hearings.
One family member after another, both inside and outside the official hearing rooms, talked about their loved ones, including their last days with them. They slammed police, the justice system, bartenders, hotel staff and many others who they say could have prevented these tragedies.
But the families said there was a lot of love in the rooms as well, saying they drew strength from the others telling their stories at the hearing.
While Machiskinic’s family testified in one room at the Sheraton Cavalier, the family of Amber Redman told their story.
With a silk-screened image of Redman on a rug hanging behind them, they told the story of her life, and her death in Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask., in 2005.
Redman disappeared in July 2005, after last being seen in Fort Qu’Appelle. Her remains were found in May 2008 on the Little Black Bear First Nation near Fort Qu’Appelle. Albert Patrick Bellegarde pleaded guilty to her murder and was sentenced to life in prison in 2009.
“Amber had so much potential … I miss her a lot,” said her mother, Gwenda Yuzicappi.
The inquiry is scheduled to continue Wednesday and Thursday, with more than 80 people asking to testify. Earlier in the day, lead commissioner Marion Buller said the often-criticized commission has learned a lot from stops in other cities.
They allowed families to show up and register during the event, which rapidly doubled the number of requests.
Buller, a member of Saskatchewan’s Misatawasis First Nation, said it was good to be home.
During her opening remarks, Buller said all Canadians can learn from the families gathered to testify.
‘Not just an Indigenous issue’
“This is not just an Indigenous issue. This is a national challenge that faces all of us,” Buller said.
She began the day speaking with reporters. But when difficult questions began about the firings and other controversies at the inquiry, a handler called out “last question” and led Buller away seconds later.
Dozens of volunteers are involved in the event, including those keeping a ceremonial fire burning on the riverbank across the street.
“It’s a relief to tell these stories,” Stevenson said. “I hope the work will continue.”