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Families of missing, murdered Indigenous women get support
Family information liaison units in Yellowknife, Inuvik help residents navigate system

Kirsten Fenn
Northern News Services
Friday, August 11, 2017

About a year after the federal government made the commitment, a project to help families of missing and murdered Indigenous women find information about what happened to their loved ones has finally materialized in the NWT.

NNSL photograph

Marie Speakman is the family support worker at the Native Women's Association of the NWT. She works with the justice department's family information liaison co-ordinator to help families of missing and murdered Indigenous women find the resources and emotional support they need. - Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photo

The territory's Department of Justice has established family information liaison units in Yellowknife and Inuvik, where residents can seek details about RCMP investigations, the coroner's office, court or other victim services.

Staff began seeing clients Aug. 1.

"You might think of them as an information navigator," said Megan Holsapple, team lead for family violence and violence against women at the department. "We're basically like a one-stop shop."

Although offered at just two locations - the Native Women's Association in Yellowknife and the Mack Travel Building in Inuvik, the units are intended to serve people from across the NWT.

According to Marie Speakman, family support worker at the Native Women's Association, residents from communities who can't physically meet with staff can connect via teleconference.

Last August, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould committed to providing $11.7 million over three years to establish family information liaison units in every province and territory across the country.

To date, Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec, Yukon and the NWT have operational family information liaison units, while units in the remaining six provinces and territories are still in the works, according to the federal justice department.

The announcement came the same day the federal government revealed the terms and commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

At the time, Raybould explained families had expressed during pre-inquiry meetings they were having difficulty finding the information they needed about what happened to their loved ones.

"There's a need," said Speakman, who works daily with the justice department's family information liaison co-ordinator.

When families initially learn a loved one has been murdered or gone missing, she said, they may not be able to absorb all the information they receive.

"In moments like that, you can't think straight," she said, adding the reaction is normal during moments of trauma. "They're in shock."

The family information liaison co-ordinators can help find any information they've missed, direct them to resources and help navigate the system. Speakman provides emotional support.

The family information liaison units cannot reach out to families.

"If they want our services, they need to contact us," said Holsapple, explaining they can do so by visiting the liaison unit locations in

Yellowknife or Inuvik, or via e-mail.

Although the units are not associated with the national inquiry, they can help families find the information they need in order to share their story with the inquiry if they choose.

"We do definitely expect that there's going to be a lot of crossover, that a number of our clients will want to participate in the inquiry," said Holsapple.

"But we're separate in that we don't share client information directly with the inquiry, unless the client asks us to."

Speakman said the Native Women's Association is also helping families of missing and murdered women heal through events like sharing circles, another of which is being planned for Aug. 28.

"Somehow, some ways, we're all touched by the ripple effect of what happened," she said, referring to the more than 1,000 Indigenous women and girls in Canada who are estimated to be missing or murdered.

The national inquiry is making a community visit to Yellowknife during the week of Aug. 28 and is holding a hearing the week of Nov. 13.

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