While close to 200 delegates gathered this week at the fourth National Aboriginal Women’s Summit in Nova Scotia, the Canadian Public Health Association on Monday joined a growing chorus of calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
In addition, the Association, which calls itself the independent voice for public health in Canada, called on the federal government to:
- Conduct an evaluation of the actions taken as a result of the previous inquiries, reports, and investigations on missing and murdered Aboriginal women;
- Develop and implement, as recommended by the World Health Organization, an integrated action plan for violence prevention that addresses its root causes. The initiative should be led by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis partners and engage all levels of government and civil society.
Hosted jointly by the Province of Nova Scotia and the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the National Aboriginal Women's Summit (NAWS) is focused this year on promoting equity, empowerment, and leadership for Aboriginal women, who studies have shown are largely disenfranchised.
Aboriginal women represent just 4.3 percent of the country's population, but are three times more likely to experience violent victimization than non-Aboriginal women, according to a report released earlier this year by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
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First Nations activists have for years called for a National Public Commission of Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women; the deaths this summer of two young women brought that call back into the spotlight. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper outright dismissed those pleas in August.
The Globe and Mail reported Monday that native leaders and provincial and territorial officials are meeting on the sidelines of this week’s NAWS conference to discuss plans for a national roundtable on the topic. "Aboriginal groups have been working behind the scenes to iron out the details for a roundtable," the paper said, indicating that "provinces, territories and aboriginal organizations remain dedicated to pressing ahead with a national forum" in lieu of action from the Conservative government.
But even without support at the federal level, the Native Women's Association of Canada is buoyed by increased public awareness about the issue and believes they must forge ahead.
"We believe very strongly that we need to have some concrete plans," vice president Dawn Harvard told the Truro Daily News. "We need to start moving forward and looking at a solutions-based approach so we're not just constantly focusing on the problem but looking at how do we start making a difference. We're looking at, ultimately, a long-term socio-economic action plan for indigenous women to make sure that we can have safe lives and have that empowerment for women and ultimately for the children."