A new strategy to prevent human trafficking of women and children on Manitoba's First Nations was unveiled on Friday.

Our Circle to Protect Sacred Lives aims to reduce the number of aboriginal women and girls being lured into the sex trade after moving to urban areas.

The initiative will develop strategies based on the cultural and individual strengths of First Nations communities, Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said.

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A campaign, which will be called Our Circle To Protect Sacred Lives, aims to reduce the number of First Nations women and girls being lured into the sex trade after moving to cities.

Strategies under the initiative will include:

  • Creation of a Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Act.
  • Designation of two specialized Crown attorneys to co-ordinate and prosecute sexual exploitation cases.
  • Criminal property forfeiture legislation.
  • An expanded victims' bill of rights.
  • Regional teams that have also been established in 12 Manitoba cities and towns to raise awareness and counter local sexual exploitation.

The Manitoba government and the Canadian Women's Foundation are jointly funding the $100,000 project, which has been created in partnership with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) and builds on Tracia's Trust, Manitoba's current sexual exploitation strategy, launched in 2008.

The strategy will help reach out to some 60 First Nations communities across Manitoba on the issue of sexual exploitation.

Giving voice to women, girls

AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said Our Circle to Protect Sacred Lives will give a voice to First Nations women, youth and girls, and to their communities, which will help towards empowerment and healing.

"Through this empowerment we can stand strong, united and stand honoured to prevent human trafficking and stop the sexual exploitation of First Nations people," he said.

Much of the campaign's focus is on young girls and women, said Diane Redsky, project director for the Canadian Women's Foundation task force on human trafficking of women and girls in Canada.

"It's targeted, and it starts young mainly because it's driven by the demand for the purchase of sex with minors," she said.

While some applauded the new program, some say a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women would really highlight the problem.

Nepinak said the federal Conservative government's refusal to call an inquiry is contributing to what he calls a crisis.

"We have to … recognize that we're running into a brick wall with the federal government that seemingly doesn't want to pay attention to the needs," he said.

"I think that if a government is complicit in the issue, then they're part of the problem."