09/10/2015 09:14 EDT | Updated 09/09/2016 05:12 EDT

Ontario First Nations To Hold Inquiry Into Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women

Ontario First Nations will launch their own inquiry into missing and murdered women and girls, saying the issue is too important to wait for the outcome of the upcoming federal election.

To pay for the inquiry, Chiefs of Ontario — a group representing 163 communities — has launched a website called Who Is She where the public can make donations. The site also features photographs of the missing and murdered, as well as messages from their families. 

"Every indigenous woman and girl should feel safe in this country," said Denise Stonefish, deputy grand chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, which is aligned with Chiefs of Ontario.

"First Nations families cannot wait for Ottawa to stop indigenous women and girls from disappearing."

Both the federal Liberals and New Democrats have vowed to launch a public inquiry if elected, something the Conservative government has refused to do.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne applauded the Ontario Chiefs for starting the "Who Is She" campaign.

"I think that it is laudable that they are going to be doing a campaign here in Ontario," Wynne said. "I will continue to raise my voice in the call for a national inquiry."

The head of Chiefs of Ontario said their inquiry would not replace a national public inquiry commissioned by the federal government.

"Canada must be held accountable for its inaction on this issue," said Isadore Day, regional chief for Ontario.

"It's a wonderful time to get the message out there, don't you think," Day said of the federal election. "If we were to wait until the election campaign was over we would be remiss — we would have missed a good opportunity."

World attention

The staggeringly high numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women has drawn world attention.

A 2015 United Nations report found that young aboriginal women are five times more likely to die under violent circumstances, as compared with their non-aboriginal counterparts.

Last year, the RCMP released a report that said there were 1,181 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women between 1980 and 2012. Earlier this year, the force updated those numbers and said an additional 32 aboriginal women have been slain and 11 more have disappeared since 2013.

There is no dollar figure set for the fundraising campaign, and Day acknowledged that public inquiries can be very expensive, but said that wasn't the chiefs' main concern.

"The urgency of this matter is one that has prompted us to not look at the total cost of an inquiry," he said. "What we're proposing here is we're going to do whatever we can, within our might, with the goodwill of our partners, to establish the beginning phases of that inquiry."

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Canada's Missing Aboriginal Women