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'I can be her voice'
Rankin Inlet woman asks people to speak up as national inquiry schedules Rankin visit

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 2, 2017

As the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls prepares for the first of two visits to Rankin Inlet, one woman who helped make the visit a reality is encouraging people to speak.

NNSL photograph

Laura MacKenzie, holding a photo of her aunt Betsy Kalaserk, asked the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to come to Rankin Inlet. - April Hudson/NNSL photo

With the help of the hamlet, Kivalliq Inuit Association and Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women, Laura MacKenzie invited the inquiry to visit Rankin Inlet.

Although the inquiry has been punctuated this summer by resignations and staff turnover, an initial community visit for Rankin Inlet has been scheduled for the week of Aug. 14, with a community hearing to be held the week of Dec. 11.

Some of the issues the inquiry is looking into include systemic forms and causes of violence; ongoing social, economic, cultural, institutional and historic violence; and institutional policies and practices that have been implemented.

For MacKenzie, the inquiry's visit to Rankin Inlet will be an important step in the effort to end violence against Indigenous women.

She wrote a letter to the commission a year ago, recommending they look at both lateral and systemic violence against women as well as the existence of racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system, both of which are on the inquiry's list of what it can do. Lateral violence refers to violence within communities, which stems from more institutionalized systemic violence.

"If they're going to review the violence against women, I would anticipate solid resolutions to systemic issues that create violence," she said.

"This is a good start, but we need to do more with a solid action plan for families and the communities."

MacKenzie lost her aunt, Betsy Kalaserk, in 2003 in Yellowknife. Kalaserk's husband, Ian Adam Kirby, was convicted in the NWT Supreme Court of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life.

Speaking up about violence against Indigenous women has been a very personal journey for her, she says.

"I can't be the voice for other family members who have been affected, but I can be her voice, so that systemic lateral violence can be addressed at every level of government and that we no longer stay silent about this very important issue that affects everyone," she said.

"It burns in me, it's a desire and a need to help other families."

MacKenzie plans to speak at the community hearing as a way to give her aunt a voice, and is encouraging others to attend the hearing as well.

"I encourage everyone to go - even if it's (for) a distant relative, aunt or grandma, I'm saying, please go, please be a voice for her," she said.

"We must ensure that there will no longer be any violence. That's what I'd like to come out of this."

Once the hearings are complete, MacKenzie says she would like to see an independent body created to implement the recommendations that come from the inquiry.

She also wants a framework established to address the risks Indigenous women face.

"The critical issue out of all of this is to ensure we have proper funding for psychiatrists in the communities, who will be here to assist families that have been affected by lateral violence," she said.

"(That can) ensure individuals develop proper boundaries and proper ways of coping, having the support systems to ensure this no longer becomes intergenerational violence - that we are provided equal mental, psychiatric and health assessments and follow-ups for the rest of our lives."

MacKenzie, who has experienced first-hand criticism for speaking up on the issue online, said that is another reason why she is encouraging people to attend the hearing.

"I'm a strong individual, but not everybody could take that. That has to stop at every level," she said.

She credits a strong support system at home as well as men in the community for helping her to keep moving forward.

"I'm going to continue to speak. I'm going to keep talking for my aunt Betsy. I'm not going to shut up until there's no more lateral violence," she said.

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