02/26/2015 12:29 EST | Updated 04/28/2015 05:59 EDT

Missing and murdered indigenous women roundtable to include families

Lorelei Williams is in Ottawa to attend the first national roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, a two-day event that kicked off today.

The event was organized by several indigenous groups, including the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations.

Today there is a closed meeting for families of the missing and murdered. They are there by invitation and will help guide the content of a presentation that will be made to a meeting of government officials and representatives from indigenous organizations that takes place on Friday.

Williams, from the St'at'imc and Sts'ailes Nations, said she welcomes the opportunity to participate, but she isn't sure what will be achieved.

"I feel at least there's something happening," said Williams. "I think any approach is good right now considering we have nothing right now."

In 1977, her aunt Belinda Williams disappeared without a trace. Two decades later, her cousin Tanya Holyk also went missing. In 2002, investigators in British Columbia found Holyk's DNA on convicted killer Robert Pickton's farm.

Pickton was charged with murdering 26 women. In 2007, he was sentenced for the second-degree murders of six women. Most of his victims were from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

At today's  closed meeting, it will be up the families to decide which four delegates among them will participate at Friday's roundtable.  

Friday's roundtable

The roundtable is a closed meeting of families of the missing and murdered, indigenous organizations, premiers from 13 provinces and territories and federal ministers.

The Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the roundtable is meant to develop a co-ordinated action plan to combat violence against indigenous women and girls. Prevention and awareness, community safety, policing and justice will be on the agenda.

Last week, Bellegarde said he remains optimistic that the roundtable in Ottawa on Feb. 27 is an "interim step" towards a much-needed national, public inquiry examining what he sees as the root causes of violence against indigenous women.

Each invited organization, province and territory was allowed to bring 10 participants and were encouraged to make family members part of their delegation.

Of those 10 delegates, only two are allowed to participate in the roundtable meeting at any time (delegates can rotate). The other eight are there strictly as observers and cannot take part in discussions or ask questions. The federal delegates are Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch.

After the meeting concludes, a short document will be produced that will outline the outcomes and next steps to be taken.

Williams hopes for action

"I'm hoping there will be more support for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls," says Williams.  

"I am definitely going to voice that if I can."

She said she was discouraged after sitting through the B.C. missing women's inquiry last year.

Williams would also like to see more action and commitment from both levels of governments.

She works as an outreach co-ordinator at the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre where many of her clients are related to missing and murdered women. She said funding cutbacks are proof that the issue isn't being taken seriously.

"When the women have support, they will use it," she said.

As she pushes for action, Williams hangs on to the memories she has of her cousin Tanya.

"We used to always go the park, the baseball field. My aunts and uncles would play baseball and we would always get together."

Growing up, she was often told she looked like her aunt Belinda. Family members struggled over the loss of their loved one, she said.

"Every time I talked about my auntie their voices would shake," Williams said.

"Whatever I can do to help. I don't want this to happen to any other family, seeing how it affected my family."

There will also be a public event on Friday called The Peoples' Gathering. Participants will discuss solutions and make recommendations to end violence against women and girls. Speakers will include elders, leaders, health support workers, and families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Video of the event will be streamed on the web.