Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has slammed the door on an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. But even so, the public outcry surrounding the murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine last month is shaming the nation into action.
Several welcome new initiatives have surfaced to ease the cycle of violence, poverty and isolation that plagues the lives of aboriginals.
The teen’s body was found in Winnipeg’s Red River. Since then national attention has focused not only on the high levels of violence —domestic and otherwise — that aboriginal women endure, but also on inequities on First Nations reserves in general.
Canada’s premiers and five aboriginal leaders agreed just last week to try to convene a round table that will shine a spotlight on the tragic issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women, in the absence of a federal inquiry. While aboriginal women make up 2.1 per cent of the population, they account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women. And now that the premiers have seized the initiative, Ottawa seems disposed to tag along.
This week Justice Minister Peter MacKay left the door open, saying “the progress that is under way must continue. That includes meetings and consultations for certain and could include a roundtable of sorts.” Clearly, Ottawa doesn’t want to find itself outside the tent with a federal election looming.
Additionally, Premier Kathleen Wynne, the other premiers and aboriginal leaders have agreed to work on a socio-economic plan for native women that will look at education, jobs, poverty and housing. “Whether it’s economic development, whether it’s in education, whether it is in living conditions, I think there are things that we as provinces can agree need to happen in the immediate term,” Wynne said. She’s right. That could begin to take shape next month at the 4th National Aboriginal Women’s Summit.
And then there was the welcome launch Thursday of Canadians for a New Partnership. The group’s goal is to get Canadians pulling together to achieve better living conditions, education, and economic opportunities for aboriginal groups. It has the active backing of former Liberal prime minster Paul Martin, former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark, and high-profile figures such as Ovide Mercredi, Mary Simon, Tony Belcourt, Yvon Dumont, Miles Richardson, Frank Iacobucci and Sheila Fraser.
Small steps, perhaps. But steps that bring Canadians together, down a better path.