Sitting in the living room of her mother’s house in Alert Bay, B.C., Roxana Wilson says her anxiety is growing.
The room has a yellow accent wall covered with framed family photos, including photos of Wilson’s daughter, Adriana Cecil Wadhams, who was brutally murdered in 1989.
“A six-year-old who was so loving, so full of energy and so boisterous,” Wilson recalls.
Wilson is one of dozens of people scheduled to testify Wednesday, in Richmond, B.C., at the final public hearing of the national inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“I’ve been having my moments. You can never prepare for something like this,” she said.
“I can’t believe the date is finally here to be able to share my story and share her story and give her a voice.
“Everything has been so surreal.”
Family members are poised to share stories of violence, anguish, tragedy and resilience. Some are apprehensive about the commission, which has been fraught with controversy almost since it launched.
But regardless of bumps in the road, families say their lives depend on this.
‘This is all we’ve got right now’
For almost a decade, Lorelei Williams fought for this commission.
She is seeking justice for her cousin, Tanya Holyk, whose DNA was found on the farm of serial killer Robert Pickton, and for her aunt, Belinda, who has been missing for 40 years.
But hearing about the inquiry’s numerous firings and resignations, she’s afraid it won’t uncover what it set out to do.
“I lost all confidence,” said Lorelei Williams. “I was on the fence but then I started to teeter toward maybe this inquiry isn’t good.”
Still, she says for those who have yet to share their stories — some of unimaginable violence — this is imperative.
“This is all we’ve got right now, so many Indigenous women’s lives depend on this,” Williams said.
Commission’s work ‘very challenging’
Chief Commissioner Marion Buller has faced criticism from family members like Williams, who say the inquiry has been plagued with communication issues and internal struggles.
“I can understand that people would be frustrated and had other expectations, but this is a national inquiry with a strict timeline handling horrible, horrible subject matter,” Buller said.
The commission had to “design the car, build the car and drive the car all at the same time,” she said, as the process was developed and put into practice at the same time.
“It was very challenging,” Buller added.
Once the public hearings are done, there are still more community hearings and institution hearings. The final report must also be translated into several Indigenous languages and be completed by the end of the year.
Buller has asked the federal government for an extension beyond the commission’s two-year mandate, but has yet to hear back.
Lawyer Kasari Govender, the executive director of West Coast Legal Education & Action Fund, is concerned that the inquiry goes down the same road as the Pickton inquiry, which alienated family members.
“That’s the exact disconnect we need to address that continually fails indigenous people, especially Indigenous women and girls,” she said.
To the commission’s credit, Govender says, its process far surpasses the Pickton Inquiry, which cross-examined women on the stand.
She says these commissioners take cues from families and makes efforts to Indigenize the process.
For some family members, the inquiry is about justice but also about healing.
“For some families this might be their first time and this might start their healing journey,” Williams said.
“I’ve had the ability to tell my story over and over again, but this might be their only chance.”