TORONTO — First Nations Chiefs in Ontario launched a fundraising campaign Wednesday to help pay for their own public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Ontario regional Chief Isadore Day said the chiefs don’t want to wait any longer for the federal government to agree to a public inquiry, and noted the online campaign will help focus on the need for a national probe.
The Assembly of First Nations, the United Nations and several provinces have all called for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered women, but nothing is being done, added Day.
“We’re not prepared or willing any further to wait for the federal government or wait for a national organization to begin this process,” he said. “We have support across the country, but somebody had to step forward and do it.”
The RCMP reported there were more than 1,200 First Nations’ women across Canada who were murdered or disappeared between 1980 and 2014, with many victims being killed by men they lived with or knew.
Aboriginal leaders know they must act now to protect women in their communities, who can no longer be treated as “disposable” and be “tossed away” by society, said Deputy Grand Chief Denise Stonefish.
“First Nations families cannot wait for Ottawa to stop indigenous women and girls from disappearing,” said Stonefish. “So First Nations leadership knows it must take action to address the violence, and the most effective way of stemming this systemic issue is to engage in a First Nations-driven inquiry process.”
Canadians will want to address the issue once they learn the facts about the missing and murdered women, said Day.
“If we can get the information about via the ‘Who Is She’ campaign, people are going to be compelled emotionally to say ‘what can I do’ because, I as a Canadian, do not want to say…I did nothing.”
There is no dollar figure set for the fundraising campaign, and Day acknowledged that public inquiries can be very expensive, but said that wasn’t the Chiefs’ main concern at this point.
“The urgency of this matter is one that has prompted us to not look at the total cost of an inquiry,” he said. “We’re going to do whatever we can, within our might, with the goodwill of our partners, to establish the beginning phases of that inquiry.”
The process started by the Ontario Chiefs will help the families of the missing and murdered aboriginal women prepare for a national inquiry, said Day.
“It really is about mobilizing the people, getting the message out there and creating the dialogue,” he said. “We’ve got a meagre start to the beginning of this inquiry process (but) we’re going to keep going.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne applauded the Ontario Chiefs for starting the “Who Is She” campaign, which will feature photos of missing aboriginal women and messages from their families, along with an online donation mechanism.
“I will continue to raise my voice in the call for a national inquiry,” she said.
In a speech prepared for the official launch of the campaign, Wynne said “what has been done to indigenous populations across Canada is not normal, but shameful,” and called it “a dark chapter” in our shared history.
“Canada has failed indigenous communities,” she said. “Canada is not safe for aboriginal women.”
The Conservative government has consistently refused to call a public inquiry into the missing and murdered women, saying more study isn’t needed because over 80 per cent of the killings are solved by police. Both the Liberals and New Democrats have promised to call a public inquiry if they win the Oct. 19 election.
“It’s a wonderful time to get the message out there, don’t you think,” Day said of the federal election.
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Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press