APTN National News
EDMONTON — An invitation only meeting was held Friday by grassroots organizers who are planning a strategy to tackle the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The round-table discussion was spearheaded by Treaty 6 Grand Chief Bernice Martial who made headlines last month when she called out Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.
In March, Valcourt said during a private meeting in Calgary that unreleased RCMP data shows Indigenous men were responsible for 70 per cent of murdered Indigenous women cases, according to two chiefs who were at the meeting.
Soon after chiefs from northern Alberta called for Valcourt’s resignation.
First Nations leaders felt the government was shifting the blame of the issue and skirting around taking action.
An RCMP project aimed at tallying the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women uncovered nearly 1,200 cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women.
But despite the startling numbers, the Harper government has rejected calls for a national inquiry to delve into the issue. In one report, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that it wasn’t on the government’s radar.
Martial decided to take it to the next level- to organize action from a grassroots perspective.
“The way I’m thinking right now is that I have to have a different approach,” said Martial following the meeting today. “By empowering our people and empowering our communities to talk more about this. I’m so thankful that we’re here today. I know for sure we’re going to go forward and create a better tomorrow.”
Several Indigenous leaders attended the meeting including Pam Palmater, professor at Ryerson University, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, the former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada Beverly Jacobs and Treaty 8 Grand Chief Steve Courtorielle who was also present at the Calgary meeting with Valcourt.
Other community leaders and organizations also contributed to the discussion on how to address the crisis.
Palmater said the government is showing no intentions of taking action on the matter which leaves people no choice but to act.
“As sovereign people, as the ones most responsible for our women and girls, we’re going to take action,” said Palmater. “We’re done with Canada’s neglect, we’re done with Canada’s racism and we’re really going to take matters into our own hands- work collectively with other countries, the United Nations and our other allies to end this violence against our women and girls.”
Nepinak views Treaty 6 as a leader in advancing the discussions of murdered and missing Indigenous women on a national level. And he too believes the answers lie within the Aboriginal community.
“We can’t be knocking on the doors of the federal government asking them to listen to us right now,” said Nepinak. “We recognize we’re working with a government that is turning a blind eye to the tragedy’s that are unfolding,”
Martial said that AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde gave his blessing to the meeting but was unable to attend.
Right now they are at the beginning stages of forming an action plan and Martial said it’s about building relationships with those involved.
Another meeting is scheduled to happen sometime within the next six months.
Going forward Martial said she will continue to push for solutions to be found because she said the cries of the motherless children left behind motivates her to keep fighting for justice.
And so that the generations to come won’t have to carry this burden.“I don’t think about myself I think about the future generations to come- that they will have a good life,” said Martial.