We need to act for Aboriginal women and girls

Shawn Atleo

National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo told a rally on Parliament Hill last Friday that Canada is facing a “grave” human rights perspective.  Canadians have been rallying for the past eight years on October 4th to bring awareness to the over 600 aboriginal women and girls that have gone missing or that have been murdered since 2005.  Atleo has asked the federal government to “shine a light into the deepest, darkest corners of this country’s consciousness and the actions that are happening to this very day.”

The Native Women’s Association of Canada research has found that colonization and state policies such as residential schools and the child welfare state are the underlying factors in the violence experienced by Aboriginal women and girls.  The NWAC and Chief Shawn Atleo have asked the federal government for a public inquiry into the violence and disappearance of Aboriginal women.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt stated that, “the Government of Canada is deeply concerned about the high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, and we are taking firm action to achieve lasting change.  This includes the 2010 introduction by our government of a seven-point strategy that improves the response of the law enforcement and justice systems to better meet the needs of aboriginal women, girls and their families.”

Prime Minister Harper has indicated previously that he does not believe there is a need for a public inquiry.  In June, 2013 Atleo raised the issue of a public inquiry with the Prime Minister and according to Atleo, “he repeated that he doesn’t support the call for an inquiry and feels strongly on moving on action based on existing reports… it is clear we don’t agree, but I pressed for it again and stated we would continue to do so.”  A special parliamentary committee was created to study the issue.

At the rally on Parliament Hill, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar spoke.  Dewar said “we will do everything we can to tell our colleagues that the only thing that will bring justice to you, to your families, to the memory of your loved ones is to do what you have asked every year… and that is to have any inquiry.”

Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Dr. Carolyn Bennett also spoke at the rally.  Dr. Bennett said that “with Aboriginal women and girls still vastly over-represented as victims of violence, homicide and persons who go missing, ensuring the safety and well being of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada is an urgent issue.  We must work together to put an end to this epidemic of violence and it is clear that only a national public inquiry would have the scope and resources necessary to identify the root causes of this ongoing tragedy, provide justice for the victims and true healing for their loved ones.”

Speaking with Loonie Politics on the weekend, Dr. Bennett stated, “over 216 vigils took place on Friday to honour the missing and murdered indigenous women and their families.  The government needs an Action Plan to deal with this now.”  Dr. Bennett spoke with Loonie Politics in an interview last month about issues facing the First Nation communities.  The interview can be found at the following link:

www.looniepolitics.com/spotlights/question-period-honourable-dr-carolyn-bennett-part-1/

The NWAC made the request for a public inquiry one year ago, which has subsequently been supported by the provincial Premiers.  We agree.   The disappearance and violence towards Aboriginal women and girls is a national tragedy that needs to be addressed in a forum larger than a parliamentary committee.  We lend our voice to the call for a public inquiry.

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