by Hilary Beaumont
On the heels of the brutal assault of Cree woman Marlene Bird in Prince Albert, and as Halifax prepares for the preliminary inquiry into the murder of Inuk woman Loretta Saunders next week, First Nations people are again calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
“Hey Harper, wake up! We need a national inquiry,” president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada Michelle Audette told the Assembly of First Nations Wednesday.
Between 1980 and 2012, there were 1,181 aboriginal women who either vanished or were killed. Earlier this year, the prime minister said enough research had been done on the matter and a national inquiry wasn’t needed.
The AFN passed a resolution Wednesday to support an access to information request by the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association asking for the background information on the government’s inquiry rejection.
At the Halifax conference, hundreds held hands while two women sang the Mi’kmaq honour song. The song was followed by a blanket ceremony for Bird. As the procession circled the room, they raised $4,508 toward her recovery. After she was violently assaulted, burned from the waist down and left for dead, her legs had to be amputated.
In recent years, the proportion homicide victims who are aboriginal women has increased, RCMP superintendent Tyler Bates said as he presented national statistics on the issue. A First Nations woman is most likely to be killed by someone known to her, he continued. Often, her spouse. Of the known perpetrators, 89 percent were male. “So it’s men killing women,” he said.
Only 12 percent of aboriginal female murder victims were involved in the sex trade, yet this stereotype about them persists, Bates said. The AFN also passed a resolution Wednesday to advocate for greater protection of aboriginal women involved in the sex trade.
The RCMP, in partnership with the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the AFN, released a new poster campaign at the conference to raise awareness about missing women. “Haven’t heard from her?” one poster asks. “Don’t wait to act. Report a missing person immediately.”
Cheryl Maloney, president of the NS Native Women’s Association, said her organization is strategizing with a group of lawyers across the country on women who are vanishing and being killed, and the access to information request will help them. Today’s resolution will show the Canadian government that First Nations people are united on the issue, she said.
However, she is certain they will not get an inquiry under the current Conservative government.
“What’s our next step? It may not be one more rally or one more letter to the prime minister to call for an inquiry—we may have to do other things to get the same results as an inquiry,” she told the Halifax Examiner.
There are so many—nearly 1,200—women who have been lost that the issue is finally getting through to Canadians, Maloney said.
Loretta Saunders’ body was found along the Trans Canada Highway in New Brunswick. She was three months pregnant. Her former roommates are accused of her murder. The preliminary inquiry into her death begins July 21.
“Cases like Loretta and Marlene, there are so many of them that they’re breaking into Canadians’ hearts and consciousness,” Maloney said. “They’re not breaking into Harper’s yet, but they are breaking into Canadian’s [hearts].”