Canada

Missing aboriginal women a priority

A pledge in Wednesday's throne speech to take action on the "disturbing number of unsolved cases" involving missing and slain aboriginal women is promising, aboriginal advocates say.

Throne speech promises action on unsolved cases

Photographs of missing or slain women are displayed at an October 2009 Sisters in Spirit vigil in Vancouver.

A pledge in Wednesday's throne speech to take action on the "disturbing number of unsolved cases" involving missing and slain aboriginal women is promising, aboriginal advocates say.

In the speech, the Harper government called the unsolved cases a "pressing criminal justice priority."

Bernadette Smith has been waiting for news about her half-sister, Claudette Osborne, for 19 months. The mother of four disappeared from the streets of Winnipeg in July 2008.

"The not knowing, that’s the hardest part," said Smith, who wakes up every day wondering if her phone will ring with news about Osborne. "We’ve gone searching, she’s not laid to rest."

Smith said she was encouraged to hear the throne speech acknowledge the issue of missing aboriginal women.

The throne speech briefly praised Sisters in Spirit, an advocacy group that addresses violence against native women, for drawing attention to scores of unsolved cases involving aboriginal women.

The group has documented more than 520 cases of missing and slain aboriginal women across Canada.

Shawn Atleo, the head of the Assembly of First Nations, said he wants to see funding for the project in Thursday’s federal budget.

"Of course, we're advocating that areas like education and support for the missing and murdered women issue … that those areas are also met with resources to support the work that's required," Atleo said.

Raven Thundersky, one of the founders of the Winnipeg chapter of Sisters in Spirit, thinks federal funding could be put to better use if it was put towards a national task forced charged with investigating the cases.

"Put people in place to look into these files," Thundersky said, "because a lot of families out there know in their hearts that they'll never be able to touch, kiss, hug their loved one. They need some kind of closure."

Thundersky said she'd also like to see money for prevention, safe houses and more police officers.

In the throne speech, the government also pledged to work on improving water treatment on reserves and to work on gender equality issues in the Indian Act.

With files from Karen Pauls

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