A commitment was reached after a roundtable discussion in Ottawa Friday that many hope will lead to a national inquiry into Canada’s murdered and missing indigenous women.
“You can’t accomplish everything in one day … but the dialogue has started,” said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, who attended the meeting. “We think it’s a good foundation for the future.”
“I think the roundtable was historic because it brought voices and participation of families together with national aboriginal organizations, the provinces and territories and federal government,” said Selinger.
Winnipeg activist Cheryl James said the first thing that needs to be done is to re-instate funding that has been cut to advocacy groups. The second move, according to James, is to start a national inquiry that would seek to understand an resolve the root causes of the issue.
"Two things that need to be done: immediate action and all of the families voices need to be heard," said James.
'Hurt is still there,' says family member
Carla Bruyere wished she could've been in Ottawa Friday. Two of her relatives are on Canada's list of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
"It's hurtful even just talking about it, the hurt is still there," Bruyere said.
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The hurt first goes back to 1994. That's when her niece, Roxanne Thiara, was found dead along the Highway of Tears in British Columbia. She was 15 years old and her case remains unsolved.
"Roxanne had been missing for over a month before we were even notified that she was missing," said Bruyere. "I wasn't notified until they actually found her [body]."
Her second loss happened in 2007. The body of her cousin, Fonassa Bruyere, was found in a field northwest of Winnipeg. Her case is unsolved and is being investigated by the RCMP's and the Winnipeg Police Service's Project Devote.
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Bruyere says she would have liked to have shared her story at the Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Ottawa.
Each province was allowed to send 10 delegates. Manitoba sent three family members and seven representatives from the province and aboriginal organizations.
"Most definitely the families should have been first and foremost. It's happening directly to the families; the people who have experienced and lived it, went through that grief," said Bruyere.
The delegates from Manitoba are:
- Bernadette Smith — sister of Claudette Osborne.
- Barb Houle — mother of Cherisse Houle.
- Darlene Osborne — grandmother of Felicia Solomon.
- Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.
- Minister of Justice James Allum.
- Chief Francine Meeches of Swan Lake First Nation.
- Shauna Fontaine — Southern Chiefs' Organization.
- Joy Cramer — deputy minister of family services.
- Nahanni Fontaine — government special adviser on aboriginal women's issues.
- Lezlee Dunn — director, federal-provincial relations.
Leah Gazan, founder of the #WeCare campaign, is disappointed so few families were invited to participate.
"I think it is important to honour families who do want the roundtable," said Gazan.
Gazan said past roundtables with the indigenous community haven't yielded results. She hopes the government will listen to these families and act on the recommendations they make.
She added that while it's important to discuss the issue, immediate action is needed, such as restoring funding that was cut to advocacy groups for missing and murdered women.
"I think all of the cutbacks on all of our women's organizations is an attack on indigenous women in Canada and it's an attack on our safety," said Gazan.
The government agreed to engage in the roundtable discussion, despite its resistance to call a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women.
The roundtable was a closed meeting of families of the missing and murdered women, indigenous organizations and provincial and federal politicians.