The families of missing First Nations women in Alberta say they are pleased a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women is going ahead.

"I'm very, very pleased — certainly the call for this inquiry has been 20 years in the making, and it just feels like validation," said Josie Nepinak, whose aunt and cousin were both murdered.

Nepinak, the executive director of the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society — a women's shelter in Calgary, says it's an emotional time for her.

"It feels like finally we get to participate in a process that will not only promote healing,… but also to bring forward the many issues that continue to plague aboriginal women," said Nepinak.

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Josie Nepinak, to the left of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, says she feels 'pleased but emotional' that a national inquiry is being held into the deaths of 1,200 indigenous women who went missing or were murdered between 1980 and 2012. (Submitted by Josie Nepinak)

It's a sentiment echoed by Lowa Beebe from Piikani Nation in southern Alberta who has lost at least three members of her family — all unsolved murders.

"A lot of the frustration is that the families don't get updates," said Beebe, who sits on the Sisters in Spirit committee with Nepinak.

'Confident in this government'

Beebe says she is "very happy" that Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has worked closely with the communities for many years, and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is indigenous herself.

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Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the first steps for her government's promised inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women Tuesday afternoon in Ottawa. (CBC News)

"I feel safer [and] a lot more confident in this government," Beebe said, but added that the progress was "not something that was willingly given, something we had to fight for."

The first phase of the inquiry will involve the families of missing and murdered indigenous women meeting with the government.

The RCMP identified nearly 1,200 indigenous women last year who had gone missing or were murdered between 1980 and 2012.

But Nepinak says the number is much higher. For instance, her aunt and cousin aren't included in the database.

She wants funding restored for the Sisters in Spirit database, as well as concrete action plans that bring all Canadians together.

"We need to get to some concrete action planning so that families don't have to continue to suffer and … we make the lives of indigenous women safer,… and that we create a national dialogue," said Nepinak.

'Harsh realities'

The province has also welcomed the federal government's announcement.

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Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says she is pleased the federal government is moving quickly to take first steps on the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Marta Iwanek/Canadian Press)

"Formally adding Alberta's voice to the call for such an inquiry was one of our government's first actions," Premier Rachel Notley said in a statement Tuesday.

"These families need to be heard and they need to heal."

But reconciliation can't stop at the inquiry, she said.

"We must openly and honestly acknowledge and address the root causes that place indigenous females at the highest risk — harsh realities like poverty, racism, and inadequate housing."