A national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women was among the actions urged during the first day of an Assembly of First Nations justice forum in Vancouver today (February 21).
“Part of this exercise here is to plan and organize a national inquiry, a Royal Commission of Inquiry,"Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told hundreds of delegates at the event.
Phillip also targeted senior levels of government in his comments, and reiterated his criticism of the province’s decision not to fund legal representation for grassroots organizations to participate in the B.C. missing women inquiry.
“As far as those governments are concerned, the status quo is acceptable,” he claimed. “But all of these pictures on this table bear witness to the fact that the status quo is absolutely killing our people. It’s killing our women – it’s killing our daughters and our granddaughters.”
As Phillip, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo, and other aboriginal leaders spoke to delegates, a long table lined with candles displayed photos of women that have gone missing or been murdered. A ceremony to honour the women was held as part of the first day of the forum.
Atleo noted a national public inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered women has long been an objective of the AFN.
“First Nations will continue to press for this to be a nationally-recognized issue,” he told the Straight.
Today’s forum also included the announcement of a new awareness campaign and website, www.missingkids.ca, aimed at helping families in their search for missing children, and preventing further disappearances.
“Too many of our children and youth were reported missing at a very young age, and we cannot and we will not lose another generation,” Atleo said during remarks about the initiative. “It is our time to step up and together ensure that our children are supported in ways that they can be safe and confident to lead the way for this and future generations.”
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson also addressed the forum, noting the force signed an agreement with the AFN in December with the goal of addressing the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal persons. Paulson said the RCMP committed to providing a list of members in each province and territory who can “promptly be contacted and engaged” when a situation involving a missing aboriginal person arises.
The calls for a national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered women coincided with an announcement from the B.C. missing women inquiry today that the commission will begin hearing from panels of witnesses starting next week.
Commission Counsel Art Vertlieb said Commissioner Wally Oppal will invite input from panels of witnesses representing different groups, including the families of murdered women, the Downtown Eastside community, aboriginal women, civic interests, and police forces.
The Assembly of First Nations national justice forum will continue until Thursday. The event is designed to gather input on the development of a national justice strategy, and an action plan to end violence against indigenous women and girls.