10/18/2012 11:15 EDT | Updated 12/18/2012 05:12 EST

Manitoba chiefs say there is a closed door on missing, murdered women summit

WINNIPEG - Manitoba aboriginal leaders say they face a closed door at an upcoming conference on missing and murdered women that includes provincial governments and national First Nations leaders.

"They seem to be planning a high-level event, bringing guests in from national aboriginal organizations, and being content in excluding regional and local perspectives," Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said Thursday.

"I think that for far too long, people have observed these boardroom tables at 35,000 feet, parachuting solutions into our communities. And, unfortunately, I don't think that's the answer. The answer comes from ... community-based organizations."

Nepinak said the Manitoba government, which is host to the National Aboriginal Women's Summit Nov. 1-2 in Winnipeg, has told him there is no room for regional or local groups at the meeting.

The summit, the third of its kind in the last seven years, includes provincial and territorial ministers responsible for aboriginal affairs or the status of women, as well as national groups such as the Assembly of First Nations. Previous meetings have focused primarily on social conditions faced by aboriginal women.

Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said the summit is aimed at national groups, but appeared willing to compromise for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

"The ... summit is being set up under a long-established format for national meetings that include federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal representation. Under this format, interested regional aboriginal organizations attend meetings as delegates with their corresponding national organization," Robinson said in an email issued by his press secretary.

"It was the province’s understanding that as the host provincial aboriginal organization, AMC would be part of the AFN delegation. If the AMC and AFN wish to have separate delegations, the province will ensure AMC still has the opportunity to participate in the summit."

The Winnipeg meeting is to deal mostly with the hundreds of aboriginal women who have been killed or reported missing across Canada. Aboriginal groups have been pushing the federal government to call a public inquiry.

The call in Manitoba has grown louder since the arrest earlier this year of Shawn Lamb, a drifter accused of second-degree murder in the deaths of three aboriginal women between September 2011 and June. Two of the women's bodies were found wrapped in plastic near garbage bins. The body of the third alleged victim has never been recovered. Police unsuccessfully searched a city landfill for her body earlier this month.

Because they are being excluded from the summit, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Southern Chiefs Organization and other First Nations groups in the province are planning their own meeting at the same time.

"We believe that the solutions exist in the communities, not from closed boardrooms," Nepinak said.