Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett was in Iqaluit Friday, meeting with families of missing and murdered indigenous women to enlist their input on the upcoming inquiry.

"A lot of people felt they've been handling this on their own for a long time and now they're no longer alone," Bennett told reporters.

Approximately 50 people from Nunavut and across the Territories of Northern Québec, Northern British Columbia, Northern New Brunswick, and Ottawa participated in the Iqaluit session.

"From Nunavik, to Pond, to Iqaluit there's a community now of people who have shared this and know they're no longer alone," Bennett said.

The minister met privately with families throughout the day. She said the meetings confirmed that the situation for Inuit in the North is unique.

Carolyn Bennett and James Eetoolook

'The families involved, some of them waited for a long time for closure and court cases take long sometimes,” said James Eetoolook, the Vice-President of Nunavut Tunngavik. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"We learned that a lot of them really had felt very much alone before this," Bennett said.

"Here, more than other places, people feel very grateful for this first opportunity to tell their stories and to share their pain and their grief." 

Bennett said what works in the south may not be ideal for addressing the North's issues with violence against women.

"When we come here we know a pan-Canadian, pan-aboriginal approach is not going to work," said Bennett.

When designing the process for the inquiry, Bennett said she will take into account local wisdom and traditional knowledge to ensure that Inuit women's needs are addressed.

Root causes of violence

While Bennett acknowledged the call from organizations like Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada for social programs such as housing as a means of addressing violence against women, she also stressed the importance of the inquiry.

"We have to do both, we have to get these immediate things in place, in terms of housing and shelters and the things that Nunavummiut need," she said, adding it was also important to examine violence and the root causes of violence.

The families were given orientation session throughout yesterday in preparation for meetings with the minister.  

"The families involved, some of them waited for a long time for closure and court cases take long sometimes," said Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. vice president James Eetoolook.

Eetoolook also stressed the need for counselling and services to assist families throughout this process.

For the pre-inquiry, 16 counselors were on site to assist the families, 13 of which spoke various dialects of Inuktitut.

A date has not been set for the next phase of the inquiry, however Bennett says she hopes that it will take place as soon as possible.