Thunder Bay

5 things an inquiry into missing, murdered indigenous women could achieve

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde is laying out his vision of a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in advance of a Feb. 27 meeting with premiers and 2 federal cabinet ministers.

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde lays out his pitch for inquiry ahead of Ottawa roundtable

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde says a roundtable with premiers later this month in Ottawa is an "interim step" towards getting a national, public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde has laid out his vision of a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in advance of a meeting later this month with premiers and two federal cabinet ministers.

Bellegarde was in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Wednesday meeting with chiefs in that province who say they're tired of waiting for a national inquiry and are instead launching their own First Nations-led process.

But Bellegarde said he remains optimistic that the roundtable in Ottawa on Feb. 27 is an 'interim step" towards a much-needed national, public inquiry examining what he sees as the root causes of violence against indigenous women.

"I lift up and applaud the premiers for supporting this," Bellegarde said. "The whole intention of the [roundtable] is not to replace the call for a national inquiry but to start developing the coordinated action plan, the implementation strategy to deal with some of these things that are plaguing our communities."

Here are five issues the national chief said an inquiry could address:

1. Improving social services in First Nations communities

"We've got to deal with the issue of overcrowded housing. We've got to deal with the issue of lack of supportive services in the communities, women's safe shelters, day care, wellness centres to treat the whole family as a whole, men included," Bellegarde said.

2. Better coordination with the justice system

The Assembly of First Nations' report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2013 said that "First Nations people are in some ways under-policed in terms of situations where the police choose not to act even where there is evidence that crimes have been committed against First Nation people."

3. Ensuring family members of missing and murdered women are heard

"We want to make sure the family members are involved," Bellegarde said. "They have to be leading the way on a lot of fronts... so their voices are not left out, their voices are not left silent."

4. Exposing the colonial roots of violence against indigenous women

Bellegarde said the lingering impacts of the "cultural genocide" of the residential school system and the imposition of the Indian Act on First Nations communities continue to "really hurt indigenous peoples in Canada".

5. Fulfilling a promise from his election campaign

"It's something I campaigned on for sure and we wanted to make it's not only a national, but an international issue because it's something more than just a legal matter," Bellegarde said. He was elected national chief in December.

An RCMP report released last year said there were 1,181 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada between 1980 and 2012.

When asked about the likelihood of a national inquiry in December, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said "it isn't really high on our radar."