A longtime advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women told her own story of abuse on the last scheduled day of public hearings for the national inquiry Sunday.
Bernie Williams, who has fought for women on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for 30 years, said her abuse began at age three and continued through foster homes and a marriage, involving broken bones and brutal rapes.
One foster family forced the kids to eat from bowls on their hands and knees, like dogs, she said.
“At the age of 11 to 12 years old, six of us girls were sold into the sex trade work,” said Williams, who is now 60.
“As many of you know, I don’t wear shorts very often, because I have cigarette burns all through my legs right up to my back. … This is what we endured, we were just kids.”
Williams, who says she lost three sisters and her mother to murder, says she’s tired of seeing elders at food banks and unanswered calls for things like health, healing and wellness centres.
“Why has it taken over 4,000 women and girls’ names to secure and still keep asking the same questions,” she said.
She said it’s time to stem a tide of lateral violence — in which people in need fight amongst one another instead of against systemic problems.
Metro Vancouver’s hearings on Sunday were the last that were scheduled for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, though others will continue to testify in private.
The inquiry was established by the federal government in 2015 to investigate the disproportionately high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and to give family members a chance to have their stories heard.
Chief Commissioner Marion Buller, who has said the inquiry needs more time, is expected to make closing remarks this afternoon.
Buller told the Canadian Press that the inquiry has enough material to produce a report, but it will only scratch the surface of the issues without more time.
Commissioners asked the federal government last month for a two-year extension, but Buller says it remains unclear if that request will be granted.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press