First Nations chiefs in Alberta are calling on Premier Jim Prentice to support calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal men and women.
The RCMP recently confirmed there are 1,186 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada.
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The shocking numbers prompted Rose Loubacon, Chief of the Driftpile Cree Nation in northern Alberta, to draft a resolution that was supported unanimously by all 48 Alberta chiefs at an Assembly of Treaty Chiefs meeting held in Edmonton on Wednesday.
The resolution recognizes “the direct impact that the murdered and missing indigenous men and women have on the family system and the large proportion of children in care,” which it says “reflects the sociological and systemic issues adversely facing First Nations people in Canada.”
The resolution also calls for funding to plan a national gathering to address poverty reduction, youth at risk, racism and access to culturally appropriate services, policing, health and healing strategies and a legal review of First Nations child welfare policies.
“At the end of the day, the inquiry is going to tell us the root of the problem, which is what we need to know in order to address it," said Laboucan.
Now, the chiefs hope to meet with Alberta Premier Jim Prentice to gain his support as they call on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to commission an inquiry.
'The only way forward'
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has so far rejected calls for an inquiry, saying recently, “We should not view this as sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime."
"The RCMP has said itself in its study, the vast majority of these cases are addressed, and they're solved through police investigations," Harper said in August. "We'll leave it in their hands."
Prentice served as Indian and Northern Affairs minister under Harper. In announcing his new cabinet, Prentice named himself as Alberta’s new Minister of Aboriginal Relations. He said Tuesday he is not opposed to the inquiry, but would prefer to focus his efforts on the well-known problems aboriginal women face – such as poverty.
“I'm not convinced that an inquiry is what we need to do at this point in time,” he during his first official news conference as premier on Tuesday. “I prefer that we get on with solutions rather than studies at this point.”
But Laboucan said an inquiry is the only way to deal with the issue in northern Alberta.
“What is it that is so feared about a national inquiry into the murdered and missing women? And what is it that people fear is going to be found?” she asked. “We need to show that this is real, this is happening to our women today.”
“I'm totally disappointed in Premier Prentice's position,” Laboucan said.
However, Treaty 6 Grand Chief Craig Makinaw said he hopes to meet with the premier to change his mind.
“I know there's discussions about round tables, but that might just stop there – and I think it would be better if they did a national inquiry, so then they'll get down to the root of the matter and they'll have recommendations to move ahead and how to deal with these issues.”
“What we're hoping to do is for the chiefs to sit down with Premier Prentice to go through these issues – especially the missing and murdered aboriginal women.”
Makinaw's thinks getting Prentice on side would help put pressure on the prime minister to take action.
Meanwhile, a social media campaign called “Am I Next” has been gaining steam.The campaign encourages aboriginal women to post photos of themselves holding signs asking "Am I next?" on Twitter and Facebook, then to ask others to do the same within 24 hours.