02/10/2015 02:21 EST | Updated 04/12/2015 05:59 EDT

Murdered, Missing Aboriginal Women: AFN Chief Has High Hopes For Meeting

OTTAWA - It may not be the full-blown inquiry he would like, but the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says he still has high hopes for what is sure to be an emotionally wrought meeting later this month on murdered and missing aboriginal women.

Among the items on Perry Bellegarde's wish list: more federal and provincial money for housing, safe shelters, day care and wellness centres, more programs to prevent violence and greater co-ordination among the country's various police forces when it comes to investigating cases that involve aboriginal women.

Above all, Bellegarde hopes the two Conservative ministers in attendance — Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt — will share what they hear at the Feb. 27 event with their cabinet colleagues.

"We welcome their support. We welcome their attendance. We had hoped that they would take things back to their cabinet colleagues, that the dialogue and the discussions and recommendations from around the table for the ongoing support for this inquiry, or for an action plan," Bellegarde said in a wide-ranging interview with The Canadian Press.

"That's what we're all trying to address: a co-ordinated strategy, a co-ordinated approach, an implementation plan to deal with this. The feds are there; the provinces are there; indigenous peoples are there; families are there. Let's map this out."

Originally, Bellegarde had hoped three more Conservatives would attend: Justice Minister Peter MacKay, Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.

But he said only two members from each delegation have been invited to the table.

Calls for a national inquiry have been growing louder since RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson revealed last year that nearly 1,200 aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada in the last 30 years — hundreds more than previously thought.

Yet the Conservative government has refused to heed those calls, saying now is the time to take action, not study the issue further.

The government's last budget included a five-year, $25-million renewal of money aimed at stopping violence against aboriginal women and girls.

Ottawa is also spending additional money on shelters and activities to prevent family violence, a DNA-based missing persons database and continuing support for police investigations through the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains and special RCMP project teams.

Still, Bellegarde said he'll keep putting pressure on the government to hold an inquiry.

"It's something that we're going to keep pushing for, because there's that element of opening everybody's eyes to the issue," he said.

"Because it seems like indigenous women and girls' lives don't seem to matter to people. And that's what we've got to change around, because their lives do matter and their lives are valued."

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