Accurate tally of deaths essential to national inquiry on missing, murdered Indigenous women, chief says
'It's disturbing we don't have some sort of database,' Anna Betty Achneepineskum says
The success of the national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women hinges on whether all of the families who have suffered tragic losses of mothers, daughters and sisters are heard, says a First Nations leader in northern Ontario.
The federal government announced details of the national inquiry on Wednesday. Five commissioners will examine the factors driving a systemic, high rate of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and the role of various institutions, including police forces, governments and coroners' offices.
The inquiry will begin Sept. 1 and run until Dec. 31, 2018, at an estimated cost of $53.8 million.
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"There are many families who are not still not included" on any list of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, said Anna Betty Achneepineskum, deputy grand chief with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.
"It's very disturbing that we don't have some sort of database and network," she said.
The RCMP have said their research points to approximately 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, but the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said the number is "way, way higher."
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Some estimates put the number of cases as high as 4,000.
"The [RCMP] list is, I suppose, a starting point in terms of known cases," said federal Minister of Status of Women Patty Hajdu. "But there are cases every day that are developing.
"In fact we heard from many, many families during the pre-inquiry phase that were not included on the list and felt their loved one was not counted on that list and we anticipate that won't be any different for the commission," she said.
CBC News investigated 34 cases across Canada which involve the death or disappearance of Indigenous women, but which authorities say were not due to foul play.
Hajdu said inquiry commissioners will work with communities to determine how to reach families that "have experienced a murder or loss of a loved one."
For her part, Achneepineskum said she tries to be a voice for some families who have been so traumatized by their loss that they're unable to advocate for themselves and their inclusion in the national discussions.
The Nishnawbe Aski Nation is beginning work to create a regional database of all of the women from area First Nations who "were killed, or died from some sort of systemic neglect," Achneepineskum said.