06/29/2012 12:05 EDT | Updated 08/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba chiefs, federal NDP want inquiry on missing, murdered aboriginal women

WINNIPEG - Manitoba chiefs and the federal New Democrats are calling for a national inquiry into the growing number of aboriginal women across the country who have fallen victim to violent crime.

"We are facing an epidemic of murdered and missing aboriginal women," Niki Ashton, the NDP's status of women critic, said Friday.

"Aboriginal women in Canada are at risk and ... our response as Canadians is woefully inadequate."

Ashton pointed to the arrest this week of Shawn Cameron Lamb in the deaths of three aboriginal women in Winnipeg. Two of them were found in plastic near garbage bins. City police are working with other agencies to determine whether Lamb, 52, is connected to unsolved killings in other jurisdictions.

David Harper, head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said he and other leaders have sent a letter to the prime minister that asks him to commit to an inquiry by July 10. The inquiry is needed to find out why aboriginal women are disproportionately victimized and to root out underlying social issues, Harper said.

"Why are so many women being sent to urban centres? Is it due to lack of housing and social impacts (on reserves)?" Harper asked.

"Those are the things we need the inquiry to look into."

The federal government has already rejected similar calls for an inquiry.

Rona Ambrose, minister for the status of women, has said governments at all levels are already doing a lot. She points to a $10-million, five-year strategy to deal with aboriginal women who have disappeared or were murdered.

The money is partly for a database that allows law enforcement agencies to share information.

The Manitoba government has turned aside calls for a provincial inquiry, saying it doesn't want to interfere with criminal proceedings against Lamb.

Harper said the chiefs assembly will continue to push for an inquiry. The group will ask candidates currently running for grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations to make the issue a priority.