Ghislain Picard, the interim national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says he is frustrated by the lack of input from the federal government with his organization on the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.
"We are representing over 600 communities across the country, and certainly one of our mandates is to find a way to engage the government, whatever government we have in Ottawa, and that’s what we’ve been attempting to do. If we can’t do that on an issue such as this, of course it's frustrating," said Picard.
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Picard was responding to the plan tabled by the Conservative government in Parliament on Monday.
The government has budgeted $25 million over five years to deliver the plan, which would include:
- $8.6 million over five years to support aboriginal communities in developing community safety plans.
- $2.5 million over five years to help aboriginal people create projects and raise awareness "to break intergenerational cycles of violence and abuse."
- $5 million over five years to work with aboriginal communities and stakeholders, as well as aboriginal men and boys, to denounce and prevent violence against aboriginal women.
- $7.5 million over five years to help victims and their families through the Victims Fund and the Policy Centre for Victim Issues.
The plan flows from the 16 recommendations MPs sitting on the special committee on violence against indigenous women made last March.
Picard said the AFN submitted a number of proposals to the special parliamentary committee, including a call for a national inquiry into the issue.
"I feel kind of saddened that all of the proposals and suggestions that we made were just tossed aside and Canada has decided to go on its own. This is almost a repeat of the kind of relationship we’ve had over time, and it’s sad, but now that the action plan is out, and intentions seem to be clear, hopefully we will be part of the process as First Nations."
Plan blames aboriginal communities: advocate
Audrey Huntley is a co-founder of No More Silence, an organization that raises awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women. She says the plan doesn't go far enough.
"It feels to me like it’s really laying the blame on the aboriginal community and completely ignoring stranger violence. Yes, there is violence going on in our communities and on reserves, but also many of the women who are killed or who go missing, go missing in big cities."
She said systemic change is needed to get to the root issues.
"We need to engage Canadian society in why aboriginal women aren’t valued. That’s really what it comes down to. They’re not valued when it comes to the police investigating their cases, they’re not valued by that child welfare system and they’re not valued by their foster families, so really it’s a very deep systemic problem."
While the government continues to reject calls for a national public inquiry, Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, who is also the minister for the status of women, defended the government's action plan, saying the initiatives reflect what she heard from victims' families.
"I met with dozens of victims’ family members throughout the development of this action plan. I heard directly from them. Time and time again I was told that they wanted action and that they wanted action quickly. That’s what this plan delivers," she said in a statement to CBC News.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which advocates on behalf of urban aboriginal people, applauded the government's response.
“This is a strong document that delivers real action, at the community level, for on- and off-reserve aboriginal women and girls so that we can help keep them safe,” said National Chief Betty Ann Lavallée in a statement.
Leitch said the action plan has also received the support of Manitoba's Norway House Cree Nation Chief Ron Evans and Treaty Commissioner James Wilson, as well as the Ottawa-based National Association of Friendship Centres — a national organization that provides a range of services to aboriginal people who live off-reserve.
In addition to the $25 million over five years, the government plan includes funding for shelters and family violence prevention activities, supporting the creation of a DNA-based missing persons index and continuing to support police investigations through the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains.