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2nd roundtable on MMIW slated for early 2016 in Manitoba

07/17/2015 02:29 EDT | Updated 07/17/2016 05:59 EDT
A second roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women is slated for early 2016  in Manitoba. But not everyone is singing the praises of the roundtable, confirmed at a meeting of premiers and indigenous leaders in Happy Valley Goose Bay. NL,  on Wednesday.

Earlier this year the first national roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women was held in Ottawa. The invite-only meeting faced heavy criticism from family members and politicians.

The federal government's financial commitment to the roundtable was questioned. As well, the government gave a very last-minute confirmation that they would send representatives to attend at all.

"The federal government needs to step up, we haven't seen a solid commitment from them yet," said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger from the conference of premiers in St. Johns.

Families who took part in the first roundtable in February say the meeting was just a token and lacked meaningful dialogue. Some also said they felt re-traumatized by the limiting process.

"Only four family members out of the 100 that were invited were allowed to speak at the roundtable," said Lorelei Williams. Her aunt Belinda Williams went missing in 1978 and cousin Tanya Holyk's remains were found on the farm of convicted serial killer Robert Pickton. She's been a staunch advocate since 2011.

Those chosen to speak at the roundtable were each allowed just four minutes to talk, and only on specific topics set on an agenda — which didn't include stories of the families.

Each province was allowed to choose one of three themes: prevention and awareness, community safety, or policing measures and justice responses.

"Everyone wanted to speak, we were all fighting for our voices to be heard. I was shocked. I left crying, others left crying, it was really awful," said Williams.

But Williams says despite what seemed like a divide and conquer tactic, connecting with the other family members on day one was important. That gives her hope for a second roundtable.

"We talked with family members and loved ones, it was sad to heard the stories but it gave us strength and healing."

Melina Laboucan-Massimo was not invited to the first roundtable. Her sister Bella Laboucan-McLean, 25, fell 31 stories to her death from a downtown Toronto condo building in 2013. The investigation of her suspicious death remains open.

"Families need to be included in this roundtable from the start in a meaningful way. We need to understand how these decisions are being made. Its ultimately our families that go through this every day, this is a daily reality for us."

Today Laboucan-Massimo is on her way home to Little Buffalo, Alberta. Two years ago she buried her little sister in a neighbouring community in Sturgeon Lake. Now she is returning for Bella's memorial. For Melina it's a reminder of the other indigenous women missing or murdered in Canada, and the struggle to be heard.

Laboucan-Massimo says now that Canadians know there is a problem, solutions need to be sought.

"We can't continue the victim blaming, as if violence only exists in our communities, we know this is a cross country issue that has systemic roots."

She says indigenous women want to know how the RCMP came up with its recent numbers surrounding violence against missing and murdered Indigenous women; what the impunity rate is for those who murder indigenous women; and what the rate for unsolved cases is.

Premier Selinger says he wants family members to be properly represented at the next roundtable. In the meantime he says Manitoba will host a justice summit prior to the roundtable to look at preventing people from going missing and murdered.

As for Williams, she has hope the next roundtable will work harder to listen to indigenous family members, and give them more than just four minutes of time to tell their stories. 

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