HALIFAX – Calls for a public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women were renewed Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations, with one native leader accusing the federal government of ignoring their plight.
Cheryl Maloney of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association said she is not optimistic that the Conservatives will change tack and launch such an inquiry, but she added she wasn’t deterred from continuing to push for such a review.
“I don’t hold out much hope for the Harper government,” Maloney said in an interview following a presentation to the assembly in Halifax. “We have a lot of commitment from Canadians and from parliamentarians, just not the right ones.”
Maloney said aboriginal leaders will be reaching out to the opposition ahead of next year’s election and are gathering a team of experts to look at possible legal action against Ottawa, including international remedies at the International Court of Justice.
“We’ve done pretty much everything we can do as a country and it seems apparent that this Canadian government is indifferent to the fact that our streets are not safe.”
She urged chiefs to continue pushing the government for answers on the more than 1,100 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
The president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada went further, imploring people not to vote for the Conservatives in the October 2015 election.
“It doesn’t matter who you believe in, which colour, which political party — make sure there is no Harper government, because they don’t want a national public inquiry,” said Michele Audette.
Three resolutions were passed, directing the Assembly of First Nations to create a roundtable to kick-start a national dialogue on the issue. The assembly also vowed to lobby for national legislation protecting indigenous women involved in the sex trade.
Their calls for an inquiry have been repeatedly rejected by Ottawa. But Kellie Leitch, the minister of the status of women, has said the federal government is concerned about the high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Andrew McGrath, a spokesman for Leitch, said the minister has met with several families of victims and has been told repeatedly that “now is the time for action.”
“We’re interested in taking what we’ve learned and implementing immediate and concrete measures that will reduce violent crimes against aboriginal women and girls,” said McGrath in an email, citing as one example a five-year, $8 million commitment towards a national DNA-based missing person’s index.
The second day of the assembly’s three-day meeting also saw survivors of the former Indian residential schools discuss the emotional toll of the settlement process, which for some unearthed memories they said they’ve spent a lifetime trying to forget. The survivors sought compensation for sexual, physical and psychological abuse.
About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their families and forced to attend the government schools over much of the last century to “take the Indian out of the child.” The last school closed outside Regina in 1996.
Ghislain Picard, regional chief for Quebec and Labrador, was also chosen as interim national chief on Wednesday.
Picard, who has served as the assembly’s spokesman since Shawn Atleo unexpectedly stepped down in May, said this week he was considering running for the position on a full-time basis, although he has not made a final decision.
The new leader will be chosen at a special chiefs assembly in December in Winnipeg.
© The Canadian Press, 2014