No one in Chilliwack has been more of a champion for an independent inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women than First Nations leader Ernie Crey.
That inquiry into MMIW is becoming reality at the national level.
“We lobbied hard to make that happen,” he said.
But Crey said he’s now convinced the once-in-lifetime inquiry needs to be broadened to consider the many cases of missing and murdered men and boys — in addition to women and girls.
Growing numbers of First Nations family members of those killed or never heard from in a variety of circumstances have contacted or messaged him to ask, “what about our men and boys?”
Crey, who is Chief of Cheam First Nation, advisor to Sto:lo Tribal Council and an advocate for aboriginal children and families, is also the brother of the Dawn Crey, one of the missing and murdered women of the downtown eastside of Vancouver.
He’s basing a call for an expanded mandate on some alarming statistics, collected by a UBC Okanagan poli-sci researcher who found that more than 70 per cent of missing and murdered aboriginal people in Canada were young men and boys, between 1982 and 2011.
He recently took part in a Expand the Inquiry event, with Dr. Adam Jones, on Oct. 8 hosted by the SFU Advocacy for Men & Boys group at Simon Fraser University.
It’s true that the focus of MMIW has so far been on women, looking specifically at the roots of misogyny, violence against aboriginal women and racism. The inquiry will hear testimony from the people most impacted by the disappearances.
“The focus has been on missing and murdered women, and that’s a good thing,” said Crey. “But in our efforts to see justice with this inquiry, everyone, from police, to aboriginal leaders, to academics and government officials, may have all overlooked this issue of missing and murdered boys and men.”
Some of these probably homicide cases have received little to no attention, he posits. It’s not really on the radar of most aboriginal leaders, or policing representatives, and that’s why in part the inquiry should be expanded men and boys, he said.
Crey says he’s received 10 or 12 comments or private messages about missing loved ones from across Canada in the past couple of years, asking what can be done, and can he help them. He’s aware of at least five missing or murder cases from the Cheam community alone that are still painful mysteries.
“I just can’t block these out,” he said. “And when you put all those together, in the past year, upon reflection, I think we have ignored the disappearance of men and boys who are aboriginal.”
Folks have told him it’s not rare in some areas for aboriginal people to simply vanish in a mysterious missing case, with little or no attention focused on it by investigative police agencies.
“I think there needs to be more research,” he said. “I’m arguing that the inquiry into MMIW may be the last inquiry of its nature for another generation or more, if ever again.”
An inquiry of this scope, budgeted to cost $40 million over two years, could also “examine men and boys, without detracting from the focus on indigenous women and girls.”
Getting the focus changed is not a given, and he’s calling for others to stand up for this.
“It’s daunting,” Crey said. “I can’t do it alone. All I can do is advocate for them. I can’t make the government change its ways on this. There has to be a groundswell of support to make it happen.”