A volunteer group that deals with the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women had the attention of Thunder Bay city council last night.

The Walking With Our Sisters group wants violence prevention to be a priority in council's strategic plan — and there was a lot of support at the council table.

"The reality is is that our community is unsafe, people aren't feeling safe," said Leanna Marshall, co-chair of Walking With Our Sisters Thunder Bay.

Leanna Marshall

Leanna Marshall of Walking With Our Sisters in Thunder Bay addresses city council at a meeting Monday night. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

She said she wants to see a community-driven effort aimed at violence prevention, and council's ongoing deliberations on its strategic plan need to address the issue.

"Today, I come here as a woman and as a mother and as a social worker and as a representative of a committee, and this is one perspective that we're offering and I think there is a whole slew of different ways that we can work together on issues with violence," Marshall said.

The group's list of recommendations ranges from education campaigns to having more First Nations involvement in program development and delivery.

Coun. Aldo Ruberto said violence impacts every aspect of a community.

"I'm glad you're asking us to put it in our strategic plan, because a lot of people cannot connect the dots," he said.

Ruberto noted people don't always realize the far-ranging affects violence against indigenous women has. It impacts services like police, education, and the costs of delivering some services, he said.

Coun. Paul Pugh wanted to know how the city can better network and work with First Nations organizations to accomplish the goal.

"We have, I believe, a developing relationship with many indigenous organizations, but it's crucial that this - we all work in the same direction," he said.

Group to be added to consultation list

Walking with our Sisters Thunder Bay notes that the city is a "hot spot" of violence against indigenous women and girls, and reiterates that, nationally, more than 1,100 native women and girls have been reported missing or have murdered in the last 30 years.

The Ontario Native Women's Association research shows about 80 per cent of indigenous women and girls will experience violence in their lifetime.

Kezia Picard, director of Policy and Research with ONWA, said violence against First Nations women is a big issue in northwestern Ontario, given the high First Nations population in the area.

A draft version of the the strategic plan is due in May.

City manager Tim Commisso said it's up to councillors, at their meetings, to set goals and offer solutions.
As part of council's strategic plan development, the city will meet with various community groups and organizations for consultation, and Commisso said the Walking With Our Sisters group can be added to that list.