POLITICS

AFN chief leaves premiers' meeting without support for murdered women inquiry

07/25/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 09/23/2012 05:12 EDT
LUNENBURG, N.S. - National Chief Shawn Atleo left a meeting Wednesday with Canada's premiers without their full support for a public inquiry into violence against aboriginal women and girls.

The chief of the Assembly of First Nations met with the premiers and other native leaders in Lunenburg, N.S., where they discussed aboriginal education, housing, health care and ways to ensure natives have a seat at the table when it comes to sharing resource-based revenues.

He urged the premiers and the federal government to support his calls for a national inquiry into missing and slain aboriginal women, who are five times more likely to experience violence than any other group in Canada.

"This is a moment of reckoning. This is a defining moment in this country," Atleo said.

"We're calling on these premiers to take what we see as being absolutely necessary and take a significant leadership role."

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, who hosted the meeting, said the matter was discussed and a consensus was reached to "watch what was happening" in other provinces.

But he wouldn't offer unequivocal support for Atleo's call for an inquiry, adding that another meeting on violence against aboriginal women is to be held in November in Manitoba.

"The gravity of the situation is not to be diminished and we understand very much the desire to get to the bottom of these things," Dexter said.

"But what I'm saying is there are other things that are already underway."

British Columbia is holding its own inquiry into the death and disappearance of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and how the police handled the investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton.

Betty Ann Lavallee, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said that while the premiers didn't fully back a national inquiry, they did promise to support measures to combat violence against women and girls.

"I think in their own way, they are saying they endorse it," she said after the meeting. "Where we're at today on this issue from where we started a couple of years ago is tremendous."

Ottawa has also resisted calls for an inquiry despite persistent pleas from aboriginal leaders to initiate some type of probe into the issue that has beset native communities across the country.

First Nations researchers have estimated that there are more than 600 aboriginal women who have gone missing over the past two decades, and that problems of violence against aboriginal women are profound, on reserve and off.

The issue has been debated in aboriginal circles for years, but has taken on significant momentum since the arrest last month of Shawn Cameron Lamb, accused in a string of killings involving aboriginal women in Winnipeg.

It also became a rallying point for candidates competing last week for the post of national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. The chiefs passed an emergency resolution urging all levels of government to take action.

The premiers signed a personal pledge to live violence-free and promote safety and security among Aboriginal Peoples, joining more than 1,300 aboriginal leaders and delegates who signed it at the AFN meeting.