Delaney Windigo Column

On the eve of International Women’s Day, the Special Parliamentary Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women released its report. Many had hoped the report would call for a public inquiry for missing and murdered Aboriginal women. However, the report ignored those calls and those hopes were quickly quashed.

The Conservative government has made it clear they are not interested in a public inquiry. Instead, one of the main recommendations was “the creation of a public awareness and prevention campaign created by the federal government in conjunction with the provinces, territories and municipalities.”

The final report faced tough criticism from both Liberal and NDP Members of Parliament who sat on the committee. They wanted swift action and real commitment from the Conservatives to address the issue.

The Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo expressed his disappointment. “The report of the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women disappoints victims and families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and does not go far enough to address the issue,” said Atleo.

The report was a watered down version of what those who participated as witnesses for the parliamentary committee had expected. The National Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) participated as one of the 61 witnesses.

“It truly is unfortunate that this opportunity has been lost; on paper it looks like we are the special advisor and expert witness, but what we received was tokenism and no real engagement,” said NWAC’s president Michéle Audette. While the report had a few “nuggets” of hope, it lacked the “commitment to substantial change.”

Substantial change is exactly what families want. John Fox is one of those parents calling for stronger action from the federal government and the police. His daughter Cheyenne Fox, died in the spring of 2013, after falling from a high-rise apartment in Toronto. Within hours of her death, police quickly wrote her death off as suicide. John Fox disagrees, calling the police investigation inadequate, believing something more sinister happened to his daughter.

Another example is the case of Loretta Saunders that recently made national headlines. Saunders is the Indigenous woman from Halifax, who went missing. Saunders’ body was subsequently found. Her two roommates have been charged with first- degree murder. The sad irony is that Saunders’ was all too familiar with the issue. She was in the middle of writing her thesis on missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

It’s clear that these stories are not going away. Numbers for missing and murdered Aboriginal women continue to grow. NWAC’s last tally put the number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women at 600, but estimates point that it could be 800.

According to NWAC, Aboriginal women are 3.5 times more likely to experience violence, than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Their murders are also more likely to go unsolved. Despite this widespread knowledge, little is done on a political level to address the problem.

There are some grassroots advocates who are now deciding to take matters into their own hands. As part of their quest for justice, some groups have taken to blockading railways to bring attention to the issue. Three protestors were charged after blocking CN Rail tracks near the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, which is located two hours east of Toronto.

Supporters in Toronto set up another blockade in the heart of the city. They are calling for others to do the same thing across the country. Also promising they will not stop until the federal government holds a public inquiry into the deaths of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

As the numbers steadily grow, one thing is obvious, Aboriginal women continue to experience disproportionate levels of violence and murder.

It is distressing to conclude that the value the government places on the lives of Aboriginal women is dismal. The Conservative government has made it blatantly clear that they will not call a public inquiry. By doing so, the federal government is ignoring repeated calls from families, First Nations leaders, premiers and advocacy groups. But most of all the federal government is ignoring the Aboriginal women who have gone missing or have been murdered. This is a national tragedy that needs to be confronted.

Delaney Windigo is a member of Muskowekwan First Nation. She is an APTN reporter based out of Toronto and can be followed on Twitter: @delaneywindigo

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