Perry Bellegarde, the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has high hopes for an upcoming meeting on murdered and missing aboriginal women.
Among the priorities noted by Bellegarde are:
- More federal and provincial money for housing, safe shelters, day care and wellness centres.
- More programs to prevent violence.
- Greater co-ordination among the country's various police forces when it comes to investigating cases that involve aboriginal women.
Above all, Bellegarde said he hopes the two Conservative ministers in attendance — Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt — will share what they hear at the Feb. 27 event with their cabinet colleagues.
"We welcome their support. We welcome their attendance," Bellegarde said, expressing hope the ministers will act on what they hear at the meeting.
"That's what we're all trying to address: a co-ordinated strategy, a co-ordinated approach, an implementation plan to deal
with this," he said. "The feds are there; the provinces are there; indigenous peoples are there; families are there. Let's map this out."
Originally, Bellegarde had hoped three more Conservatives would attend: Justice Minister Peter MacKay, Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.
But he said only two members from each delegation have been invited to the table.
Calls for a national inquiry have been growing since RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson revealed last year that nearly 1,200 aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada in the last 30 years — hundreds more than previously thought.
The Conservative government says now is the time to take action, not study the issue further.
The government's last budget included a five-year, $25-million renewal of money aimed at stopping violence against aboriginal women and girls.
Ottawa is also spending additional money on shelters and activities to prevent family violence, a DNA-based missing persons database and continuing support for police investigations through the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains and special RCMP project teams.
Still, Bellegarde said he'll keep putting pressure on the government to hold an inquiry.
"It's something that we're going to keep pushing for, because there's that element of opening everybody's eyes to the issue," he said. "Because it seems like indigenous women and girls' lives don't seem to matter to people. And that's what we've got to change around, because their lives do matter and their lives are valued."