The United Nations is calling on the Canadian government to investigate why hundreds of deaths and disappearances of aboriginal women remain unsolved.

It's asking Ottawa to report back in a year on the status of more than 500 cases that "have neither been fully investigated nor attracted priority attention, with the perpetrators remaining unpunished."

The UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against women wants Canada to "urgently carry out thorough investigations" to trace how and why the justice system failed.

"It also urges the state party to carry out an analysis of those cases in order to determine whether there is a racialized pattern to the disappearances and take measures to address the problem if that is the case," says one of more than 40 recommendations.

One aboriginal activist who has worked for years with families of missing native women says Canada doesn't need another study, and that racism is the all-too-common thread.

"Absolutely," said Sharon McIvor. "I'm an aboriginal woman that's grown up in this country. I know it's racism."

A federally funded $5-million study by the Native Women's Association of Canada concludes that 510 aboriginal girls and women have gone missing or been murdered since 1980. It calls for an emergency strategy.

Federal and provincial justice ministers said last September that they're improving how missing-person cases are handled, especially those involving native women.

Special task forces have been formed in Vancouver and Edmonton since dozens of women working in the sex trade in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside went missing over several years with little police or media response. Many were aboriginal.

Investigators finally banded together under pressure from distraught families and a series by the Vancouver Sun to zero in on now-convicted serial killer Robert Pickton.

McIvor said aboriginal girls and women from all walks of life are still being targeted, their disappearances treated with uneven and too often muted reaction.

She cited the unsolved case of Daleen Kay Bosse, who vanished after a night out with friends in Saskatoon on May 18, 2004. There was no hint that the aspiring teacher and photographer, just 26 years old, would simply abandon her life.   

Her heartbroken mother, Pauline Muskego, spoke publicly a year later about the comparative lack of media interest.  

"My daughter's face has never been shown nationally," she said.   

McIvor said the general public mistakenly thinks such victims are living high-risk lifestyles.

"And that's not true. Her risk is, she's an aboriginal woman."

No comment from federal officials was immediately available.   

The UN also raised alarms about lack of shelters for battered women and about Conservative government cuts that wiped out the court challenges program — funding that helped advance minority rights in the legal system.