GATINEAU, Quebec — Indigenous people from across Canada cheered, and raised fists and eagle feathers, as the leader of a national inquiry into widespread violence against Indigenous women and girls announced on Monday the inquiry’s finding, equating that violence with genocide and holding Canada itself responsible.
“This is genocide,” said Marion Buller, the chief commissioner of the inquiry and a retired Indigenous judge, at a ceremony for the official release of the inquiry’s findings.
She added, “An absolute paradigm shift is required to dismantle colonialism in Canadian society.”
That powerful rebuke of violence against one of the country’s most vulnerable minorities, as well as of Canadian society, comes after a nearly three-year inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, during which more than 1,500 families of victims and survivors testified at hearings across the country.
Also speaking at the ceremony, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said, “To the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of Canada, to their families, and to survivors — we have failed you.”
He promised to “conduct a thorough review of this report,” including a “National Action Plan” to address the violence, “with Indigenous partners to determine next steps.”
The ceremony was held in Gatineau, Quebec, at the Canadian Museum of History directly across the Ottawa River from Parliament. Most of the audience were in traditional Indigenous dress and held red flowers in remembrance of the women.
Some in the crowd were relatives of the disappeared and dead, and were so overcome by emotion that they had to be led away in tears by health care workers. Even Ms. Buller, a Cree, choked up at times during her speech.
The report said the violence against women and girls amounts “to a race-based genocide of Indigenous peoples, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.”
“This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures,” the report added.
It cited, among other events, Canada’s onetime practice of forcibly sending thousands of Indigenous children to government-sponsored residential schools, where they were abused over decades. In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called that practice a “cultural genocide.”
The report said the police and the criminal justice system have historically failed Indigenous women by ignoring their concerns and viewing them “through a lens of pervasive racist and sexist stereotypes.”
That, in turn, has created mistrust of the authorities among Indigenous women and girls, the report said.
Police “apathy often takes the form of stereotyping and victim-blaming, such as when police describe missing loved ones as ‘drunks,’ ‘runaways out partying’ or ‘prostitutes unworthy of follow-up,’ ” the report said.
Survivors and their families told the inquiry they often found the “court process inadequate, unjust and retraumatizing.”
To help improve law enforcement and prevent violence against women, the report called for expanding Indigenous women’s shelters and improving policing in Indigenous communities, in particular in remote areas; increasing the number of Indigenous people on police forces; and empowering more Indigenous women to serve on civilian boards that oversee the police.
It also called for changing the criminal code to classify some killings of Indigenous women — whether premeditated or not — as first-degree murder.
Saying that cultural discrimination has marginalized Indigenous people, it also called for the federal and provincial governments to give Indigenous languages the same status as Canada’s official languages, English and French.
[“Canada and the system failed Tina at every step.” The death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was one of an increasing number of deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls that spurred a national inquiry.]
The report offered a damning indictment not just of the killers but of a country that has too often allowed them to act with impunity.
“Yes, genocide is exactly what’s happening, and Canada is still in denial about this,” said Lorelei Williams, a leading Indigenous advocate in Vancouver whose aunt went missing four decades ago and whose cousin was murdered by the serial killer Robert Pickton.
Indigenous women and girls make up about 4 percent of Canada’s females but 16 percent of the females killed, according to government statistics.
Some 1,181 Indigenous women were killed or disappeared across the country from 1980 to 2012, according to a 2014 report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Indigenous advocates, and the report, say the number is likely far higher since so many deaths have gone unreported.
Some have criticized the inquiry, saying it was not transparent and did not communicate well with victims’ families.
Speaking before the report was released, Cindy Blackstock, a professor of social work at McGill University, who is director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, said she feared the government had not allocated sufficient money to put in place the inquiry’s recommendations.
“We have seen the same recommendations time and time again, and they aren’t implemented,” she said. “Without oversight or legally binding laws, these are just lofty words while indigenous women and girls continue to die.”
The national inquiry into the killings was convened after the body of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation, was found in the Red River in 2014, wrapped in a duvet weighed down with 25 pounds of rocks.
Her death and the subsequent acquittal of the main suspect in it spawned outrage and protests across Canada, as well as calls for an investigation into why so many Indigenous girls and women were dying.
The case attracted particular opprobrium because Ms. Fontaine had been in contact with provincial social workers, the police and health care professionals in the 24 hours before her death.
Speaking on behalf of Ms. Fontaine’s great-aunt Thelma Favel, who stood at his side, Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called for shelters to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for Indigenous women and girls. He said Tina Fontaine being denied shelter had hastened her death.
Mr. Trudeau’s government has made a priority of addressing the country’s troubled colonial past. More than two years ago, he told the United Nations General Assembly that he was committed to righting historical wrongs.
“For First Nations, Métis Nation and Inuit peoples in Canada, those early colonial relationships were not about strength through diversity, or a celebration of differences,” he said. “For Indigenous peoples in Canada, the experience was mostly one of humiliation, neglect and abuse.”
[For more Canada coverage in your inbox, sign up for the Canada Letter newsletter.]
Paul Tuccaro, a member the Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta, said he hoped the report would hold accountable any police officers who failed the women.
Mr. Tuccaro’s younger sister Amber, 20, disappeared in August 2010, he said. The mother of a 14-month-old son, she vanished after hitching a ride. Her remains were found in a farmer’s field, and a killer has never been found.
Mr. Tuccaro said it was accurate to call the killings a genocide.
“Whoever is doing what they’re doing, they think they can kill all these women, and nothing will come of it because they’re just ‘Indians,’” he said.