Good morning and thank you for taking the time to be with us today as we explain the next steps that must be taken to end the violence being perpetrated against Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people in Canada.

But before we talk about our action plan, it is with a great deal of sorrow and with heavy, heavy hearts that we have received the news of the remains of 215 Indigenous children found buried at a former residential school in Kamloops B.C.

So many of those children were either deemed to have gone missing, or were murdered, raped, tortured, or starved to death. How could this have happened in a country like Canada?

The cultural genocide declared by the TRC and the National Inquiry is real. Today we are here to talk about a national action plan for missing and murdered women, also a part of the on-going genocide.

The genocide has not ended.

We are two days away from the second anniversary of the release of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

It has been two years since the commissioners of that Inquiry made public their finding that the violence that targets us, and our First Nations, Métis and Inuit sisters, is a genocide.

It has been two years since the commissioners issued their 231 Calls for Justice.

Yet, as we all know, very little has changed.

The National Action Plan that was demanded in the very first Call For Justice — a plan that the commissioners said all governments in Canada must develop in partnership with Indigenous People — has not yet materialized.

And we are no safer now than we were two years ago.

So we are taking matters into our own hands.

We cannot wait for the work of others to begin, and actions by others to be taken, to put an end to the violence. We cannot wait to begin the healing process for Indigenous women who are forced to live in fear and who, even today, are being subjected to the racism and discrimination that is the direct result of colonization.

We are here to tell you that the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the national organization that has represented and defended the rights of grassroots First Nations, Métis and Inuit women from coast to coast to coast for 47 years, has developed its own national action plan. We will be implementing it. And, in doing so, we, as an organization, will be moving forward on more than 65 of the Calls for Justice.

We are also announcing the most important and effective course of action that can be taken to meet those Calls, one that we have already put into effect in one province and hope to replicate across the country.

Because that is what our members want us to do. That is what the commissioners of the National Inquiry want us to do. That is what the Indigenous women of Canada want us to do. And, most importantly, that is what the families of victims and survivors of violence want us to do.

Now, you will no doubt have heard that, on Thursday, the federal government will be announcing the results of the work that has been done over the past year to create a National Action Plan. We, like you, will be extremely interested in hearing what they have to say.

We are hoping that what is unveiled to the public by the government later this week is a concrete plan of action for addressing the 231 Calls for Justice. We hope we will see a list of costed actions that will be taken, starting immediately, to address the ongoing violence.

I want to point out that the most important word in the title National Action Plan is “action.” And we will be very happy to see the government commit itself to take immediate and effective action on this important issue because, frankly, our lives – and those of our mothers, daughters, sisters and aunties – are at stake.

But I also must tell you that the Native Women’s Association of Canada will not be among those standing with the government as contributors to the document that will be released.

It is with great regret that we had to walk away from the process that led to its creation.

It was NWAC, after all, that first sounded the alarm over the missing and murdered Indigenous women with our Sisters in Spirit project. We were at the forefront of the calls for a National Inquiry. We provided input to that Inquiry. And we had huge hopes, when the final report was released, that real action would be taken.

But, as we said last week in a letter to Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, we had to respectfully withdraw from the work that the governments and the other Indigenous organizations were doing.

We believe that the approach they were taking is fundamentally flawed and inconsistent with the 231 Calls for Justice.

The government created a number of committees made up of Indigenous representatives to provide input to the plan.

But NWAC was denied a seat on key working committees where the main ideas for a National Action Plan were formulated. We were not permitted to be part of the First Nations, Métis, Inuit, 2SLGBTQQIA, or Family Survivors Circle committees, even though those committees addressed the issues of importance to exactly the people we represent. That meant we were shut out of the major decision-making processes that were intended to create the plan.

In addition, on the committees that we were permitted to have a seat, we were subjected to lateral violence and hostility. It eventually reached levels that forced us to walk away.

And finally, although other organizations were supported financially to carry out this work and to meaningfully participate in the National Action Plan process, NWAC was not.

Despite the fact that ending the violence against Indigenous women is central to NWAC’s mandate, and the fact that we have been the leading voice on this issue for decades, we were clearly an afterthought, and perhaps even an unwelcome intruder, in the government’s process.

That said, we genuinely want to work with the government and all other parties including other National Indigenous Organizations, institutions, social service providers, industry and all Canadians to stop this genocide.

And we intend to lead that effort.

So we are announcing today that we have created our own national action plan called Our Calls, Our Actions. It was made available on our website this morning.

It is a proactive document that has been years in the making.

It is a plan created by Indigenous women, to be implemented by Indigenous women, as the Inquiry intended. It has been developed in partnership with family members of victims and also with our grassroots members who have told us their priorities in meeting the 231 Calls for Justice.

It outlines more than 65 actions that will be taken, all of which align with those Calls. It is action oriented. It is fully costed. It is inclusive of the needs of First Nations, Métis, Inuit and 2SLGBTQQIA people. And its goals are measurable.

Because we have done our homework.

And the days of aspirational documents, and processes to create a plan, have come and gone. It is time to put the Calls for Justice into effect.

This plan we are making public today is just the start. It will be constantly updated and revised to take account of new realities and understandings of the violence that is being perpetrated against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. It will be evergreen.

At its core is the new Resiliency Lodge we have built in Chelsea, Quebec, as well as the Resiliency Lodge that we are in the process of building in New Brunswick, and the other Resiliency Lodges that we hope will be built in communities across Canada.

This is the most important part of our action plan.

The Resiliency Lodges are places of healing. They are both prevention and intervention centres that will provide counselling, navigation and support services to Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.

They are places where health and wellness and spiritual programs will be delivered and culture and language can be preserved. They are the safe spaces that will help to bring justice to families who have had their most precious  loved ones stolen from them.

And they promote economic resiliency and empowerment.

The National Inquiry said social and economic marginalization is one of the four pathways for maintaining the violence that targets Indigenous women.

At the Resiliency Lodges we are blocking that pathway. We are running programs that are aimed at providing First Nations, Métis and Inuit women with knowledge they need to find employment or start their own businesses and to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

We have already virtually facilitated more than 200 workshops, most of them based in Indigenous art expression, that provide healing and fellowship even as they teach the skills that can become sources of income.

And, although the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed our abilities to put the Resiliency Lodge into full effect in person, more than 5,000 Indigenous women have already taken part in these workshops which we are holding online and hundreds of others have benefitted from the Elder-led online services and supports.

That’s why the Lodges, which are based in part on a successful Indigenous model that has been established in Mexico, are central to our NWAC Action Plan and must be replicated across Canada.

However, you can see by looking at the plan, that they are not the only measure to address some of the 231 Calls for Justice that we have taken, or that we will take in the near future.

The plan shows the wide range of initiatives related to the missing and murdered women that we have on our agenda. For instance we are engaged in commemorative work, and promoting the art of young Indigenous women with the help of TikTok.

And you can see that we intend to run additional programs out of the new Social and Economic and Innovation Centre that NWAC will launch shortly in Gatineau, Quebec at 120 Promenade du Portage. It is located right across the street from the buildings that currently house the federal Department of Crown Relations and Indigenous Services. We hope the people who work in that department will visit our artisan boutique featuring arts and crafts made by Indigenous women from across Canada and the Americas and our café during their lunchbreaks. All proceeds from our social innovation model will be used to empower Indigenous women.

We do want to maintain the good relationships that we have had with government over nearly five decades. We will need partners to do this work. But we also need our independence and we want to take the lead to develop programs by Indigenous women for Indigenous women.  We want to take steps towards self-determination as set out in UNDRIP and away from chronic dependency. We want and need transformative change and decolonization.

Our plan is costed out at $29 million per year. You can see that just $1 million is currently being funded.

We will be asking the federal government for some of that money. We will also be asking for funds from other levels of government, from non-governmental agencies, and from foundations and private donors.

These funds are necessary to get this work done.

This work will be done in partnership with families of victims, and also with our grassroots members and the provincial and territorial member associations of NWAC across the country.

This, as I said previously, is a plan that has been developed by Indigenous women for Indigenous women and will be actioned by Indigenous women.

It is not meant to supplant whatever the federal government, or other parties, intend to do. It is meant to complement their work, and to be complemented by their work.

We need everyone, every level of government, every Canadian, working with us and the Indigenous women of this country to end this violence.

And that work begins today because the cost doing nothing for even another day is just too great. We must protect the lives of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.

That is our legal and moral responsibility as Canadians.

We must end the genocide. Thank you.