12/11/2014 01:13 EST | Updated 02/10/2015 05:59 EST

AFN: Families Of Missing, Murdered Women Must Be Part Of Roundtable

WINNIPEG - Chiefs from across Canada say the voices of families mourning missing and murdered aboriginal women have been drowned out and they must be part of an upcoming national roundtable on the issue.

Chiefs gathering on the last day of an Assembly of First Nations meeting Thursday voted unanimously in favour of two resolutions aimed at including women and families in the debate.

One called for the inclusion of relatives of missing and murdered aboriginal women while the other wants the federal government to formally announce its participation in the roundtable and provide resources for native women's councils to take part.

Chief Cathy Merrick of Manitoba's Cross Lake First Nation burst into tears when her resolution on families of missing and murdered aboriginal women was passed Thursday. There are no resources to support mourning families or help them participate in the roundtable expected in February, she said.

"Families should be given that support. When they go out looking for their loved ones, they have no support," she said. "It's 2014. We should be able to support them. We have to do something."

The issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women dominated the first day of the gathering when Rinelle Harper spoke to several hundred chiefs and asked them to call for a national inquiry into the issue. It was one of the first public statements by the 16-year-old since she was sexually assaulted, viciously beaten and left for dead by a Winnipeg river last month.

An RCMP report released earlier this year put the total of missing and murdered women at 1,181. Aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but they account for 16 per cent of female homicides.

Although the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women has been a key focus of the three-day assembly meeting, no one moved a formal resolution demanding the federal government call a national inquiry. Instead, the focus was aimed at empowering and including those on the front lines of the issue.

Ghislain Picard, the assembly's interim leader who lost his bid to become national chief Wednesday, raised the possibility of First Nations holding their own inquiry given Ottawa's steadfast refusal to call one.

"Every other day, there is a case being reported ... about a missing person in this country," Picard told the chiefs. "We need to act on it quickly rather than having a government remaining indifferent on the issue."

Chief Fawn Wapioke, of Iskatewizaagegan First Nation in Ontario, said an inquiry isn't the only way to explore the issue. Wapioke brought forward the resolution calling for adequate support allowing women's councils to drive the discussion at the roundtable.

Women need to lead the discussion into missing and murdered aboriginal women, she said. That conversation can happen at a gathering of neighbours or a national roundtable meeting, Wapioke said.

"We can't have that paternalistic approach where somebody else tells us what's good to us," Wapioke said. "It needs to be facilitated and led by the women.

"We're all impacted. We're all affected by what has happened and what's been happening. That's our future."

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