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Thursday, December 11, 2014
Families of missing, murdered Indigenous women must be part of roundtable: AFN
Clarification – After publishing this story representative from the AFN wrote to APTN to clarify their position.
They said they understand the resolution to be a step toward a public inquiry and noted the following: “AFN resolutions 02-2011, 01-2012 and 04-2013 specifically call for a national inquiry and it is a focus of the AFN’s National Action Plan to End Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls. Further, the resolution that mandated to work towards the roundtable (04-2014) specifically states it is a step towards an inquiry. These resolutions and the Action Plan are all publicly available and on the AFN website as are many public statements calling for a national inquiry. The AFN has been and will continue to be very vocal in its calls and action towards a national public commission of inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as reiterated in the AFN’s Opening Remarks at this Special Chiefs Assembly.”
APTN National News
WINNIPEG - Rinelle Harper stood on the podium before the chiefs pleading to them to call for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women on the first day of the Assembly of First Nations special assembly earlier this week.
It was one of the first public statements by the 16-year-old since she was sexually assaulted, viciously beaten and left for dead by a Winnipeg river last month.
“I ask that everyone here remembers a few simple words - love, kindness, respect and forgiveness,” Rinelle told the crowd as her parents and older sister stood by her. “As a survivor, I respectfully challenge you all to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.”
Chiefs from across Canada backed a round table voting unanimously in favour of two resolutions aimed at including women and families in the debate.
One called for the inclusion of relatives of missing and murdered Indigenous women while the other wants the federal government to formally announce its participation in the round table and provide resources for Native women’s councils to take part.
Chief Cathy Merrick of Manitoba’s Cross Lake First Nation burst into tears when her resolution on families of missing and murdered Indigenous women was passed Thursday. There are no resources to support mourning families or help them participate in the round table expected in February, she said.
“Families should be given that support. When they go out looking for their loved ones, they have no support,” she said. “It’s 2014. We should be able to support them. We have to do something.”
An RCMP report released earlier this year put the total of missing and murdered women at 1,181. Indigenous women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but they account for 16 per cent of female homicides.
Although the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women has been a key focus of the three-day assembly meeting, no one moved a formal resolution demanding the federal government call a national inquiry. Instead, the focus was aimed at empowering and including those on the front lines of the issue.
Ghislain Picard, the assembly’s interim leader who lost his bid to become national chief Wednesday, raised the possibility of First Nations holding their own inquiry given Ottawa’s steadfast refusal to call one.
“Every other day, there is a case being reported … about a missing person in this country,” Picard told the chiefs. “We need to act on it quickly rather than having a government remaining indifferent on the issue.”
Chief Fawn Wapioke, of Iskatewizaagegan First Nation in Ontario, said an inquiry isn’t the only way to explore the issue. Wapioke brought forward the resolution calling for adequate support allowing women’s councils to drive the discussion at the roundtable.
Women need to lead the discussion into missing and murdered Indigenous women, she said. That conversation can happen at a gathering of neighbours or a national roundtable meeting, Wapioke said.
“We can’t have that paternalistic approach where somebody else tells us what’s good to us,” Wapioke said. “It needs to be facilitated and led by the women.
“We’re all impacted. We’re all affected by what has happened and what’s been happening. That’s our future.”
The Conservative government has repeatedly rejected calls for an inquiry, while the NDP and Liberals have promised to call one if either forms government after the next election.
Perry Bellegarde, who was elected national chief, said Tuesday he would continue to fight for a national inquiry to examine all the factors that contribute to missing and murdered Indigneous women.
“It’s homelessness. It’s poverty. It’s all those things we need to address,” he told delegates. “I’m going to push hard for that.”
It’s not immediately clear if he was one of the chiefs who voted for a roundtable.
Grand Chief David Harper, who represents Manitoba northern First Nations and is related to Rinelle, said Tuesday the teen is coming to grips with what she now represents to so many. At first, Harper said, the teen was reluctant to speak, but “now she is starting to understand why she has to speak out.”
Elders have told Rinelle that she has been given “a gift,” he said.
“A gift for those who cannot speak for themselves, those who have passed on,” Harper said. “You’re the voice for them.
“This is why she is doing what she has to do now. Even though she didn’t want it, it is given to her.”