Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo has repeated his call for a federal investigation into the unsolved cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women.
“A call for a national public inquiry, that request has yet to be heeded by the federal government,” Atleo told an Aboriginal crowd of mostly women, who attended the Sisters in Spirit rally at Edmonton City Hall on Oct. 6.
He also reiterated his call for the establishment of a National Integrated RCMP and Police Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The AFN passed a resolution in July calling for the task force, but received no support from the federal government to that end.
Atleo pointed out that the United Nations has set the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women as a priority.
Linda Duncan, New Democrat MP for Edmonton Strathcona, and former Aboriginal Affairs critic for her party, said she has lobbied Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose to invite the United Nations to Canada to talk to Elders, chiefs and First Nations about the issue.
Duncan said her party took Atleo’s call for action “very seriously. The time to act is long past.”
The rally unveiled a petition from the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), which has been endorsed by Amnesty International, and “support(s) holding a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.” The petition also calls for Aboriginal women to be consulted in the “design, decision-making, process and implementation of this inquiry.”
Latest NWAC figures indicate that more than 600 Aboriginal women have been murdered or are missing, with British Columbia and Alberta having the highest numbers.
The AFN’s July resolution also directed the AFN to convene a national forum and Special Chiefs Assembly on Justice and Community Safety no later than spring 2013 and to collaborate with NWAC to include a focus on murdered and missing women and girls. At that time, as well, First Nations leaders, premiers and territorial leaders made the pledge to live violence-free.
“To be violence free in our houses, in our homes, it begins there,”Atleo said.
Muriel Stanley Venne, president of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, based in Edmonton, said the plight of Aboriginal women has gone from one of “indifference” by the Canadian public and officials to one of “caring” as witnessed by turnouts at such events as Sisters in Spirit rallies and Stolen Sisters Awareness Walks. But the battle is far from finished, she said, as the change in attitude has taken decades in a country that is “hostile to (the) very existence” of Aboriginal women. She believes that statistics prove the hostility toward Aboriginal women and she also contends that the numbers of murdered and missing Aboriginal women is in the thousands.
“I welcome with open arms the inquiry that would tell us this,” Stanley Venne said. “We need to re-think the approach we take to all women, but in particular the Indigenous women in this country.”
She said she hoped the campaign for a national inquiry will hit home.
“The deaths of Aboriginal women will not be ignored … and we must go forward with hope and the blessings of all Canadians,” Stanley Venne said.