Provincial and territorial cabinet ministers say they are prepared to take action to reduce the number of aboriginal women who fall victim to violence every year.

But it appears action is still a meeting or two away from reality.

"Obviously, we couldn't figure everything out in two days," said Eric Robinson, Manitoba's aboriginal affairs minister, who co-chaired the meeting in Winnipeg.

'Obviously, we couldn't figure everthing ouf in two days.'—Eric Robinson, Manitoba's aboriginal affairs minister

"There's got to be a road map. There's got to be a bit of a plan of action developed, and we've committed to doing that in the next six months."

The National Aboriginal Women's Summit included ministers responsible for justice, aboriginal affairs or the status of women from every province and territory. It also included officials from national aboriginal groups such as the Assembly of First Nations who were noticeably absent from the closing news conference.

Aboriginal groups have called for a national inquiry into the estimated 600 aboriginal women who have disappeared or been killed in the last two decades. They say an inquiry could examine how police investigated missing persons cases and what effect poverty and other socio-economic factors have on aboriginal women.

The provincial and territorial ministers did not commit to push the federal government for such an inquiry.

"Some jurisdictions have to go back and discuss it within their province or territory to be sure that they have a very clear mandate," said Bob McLeod, premier of the Northwest Territories. McLeod is also the territory's aboriginal affairs minister.

"Not all of the provinces and territories felt that they had that."

Inquiry could be expensive

Robinson said earlier in the week that an inquiry could be expensive and may not achieve much.

In the end, the ministers agreed on a series of steps that primarily involve more discussion. A joint communique released at the end of the meeting called for:

  • A meeting of aboriginal affairs and justice ministers in the spring of 2013, which will work toward a "national framework of action".
  • Further debate at the spring meeting about a possible national inquiry.
  • An examination of changes to further strengthen protection for aboriginal women and girls.
  • Better inter-provincial co-operation on criminal investigations.
  • A summit, similar to this week's meeting, to be held in Nova Scotia in 2014.

Some aboriginal groups were displeased with the summit from the outset. The Assembly of First Nations sent a delegation to the meeting, but national chief Shawn Atleo attended a separate meeting across town of regional aboriginal groups who said they had been excluded from the summit.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples applauded the provinces and territories for taking part in the summit, but criticized the federal government for sending only bureaucrats instead of cabinet ministers.

"I don't understand the logic (as to) why senior federal officials did not attend," CAP National Chief Betty Ann Lavallee said in a written statement. 

"No one can pretend that this ongoing tragedy does not exist, so we all need to be there to solve this."