WORKING TOGETHER – Elaine Taylor, Doris Bill, Adeline Webber, Doris Anderson and Krista Reid are seen left to right at this morning’s news conference. Photo by Vince Fedoroff
By Pierre Chauvin | Whitehorse Star
The Yukon will hold a regional roundtable on missing and murdered aboriginal women next February.
The announcement came this morning at a joint press conference involving the Yukon government, representatives from First Nations and aboriginal women’s groups.
Hosting the event was a recommendation from this year’s roundtable in Ottawa.
The Yukon had sent a delegation.
A family gathering will also be hosted on Dec. 12 in Whitehorse for First Nations families who have lost relatives to share their stories.
“The families deserve answers, concrete solutions and preventable measures,” Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill told the press conference.
Action at the national level is also needed, she added.
“That action will be limited if the federal government does not get on board.”
Many noted at the press conferences that the change in federal government brings hopes that an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women will be called.
“Given our recent federal election, I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing from our prime minister-designate (Justin Trudeau),” said Bill.
“With the change of government on Monday evening, we welcome the opportunity to engage with Canada on the matter of a national inquiry and how we can and must work collectively to address this national tragedy,” said Elaine Taylor, the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate.
The Yukon Legislative Assembly unanimously approved a motion calling for a national inquiry in 2013, she added.
Despite repeated calls, Prime Minister Stephen Harper consistently refused to take action on an inquiry during his 2006-15 terms in office.
In 2014, he said the issue shouldn’t be viewed as “sociological phenomenon” but simply as crimes.
But on Tuesday, Trudeau said his government would be moving forward “quickly” when asked about calling a national inquiry.
Representatives from the Yukon government, the territory’s 14 First Nations, Yukon aboriginal women’s groups, the communities and even the RCMP will be at the roundtable.
“Our hope is that families of missing and murdered indigenous women are acknowledged and honoured and their voices are meaningfully reflected at the Yukon roundtable and integrated with the current and future actions,” said Taylor.
The invitation has also been extended to First Nations in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, Taylor said.
The latest statistics from the RCMP show more than 1,181 murdered and missing aboriginal women between 1980 and 2012.
“In Yukon, as in many areas in the country, we know sadly first-hand the tragic scope of this issue,” Taylor said.
There are 39 known cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in the territory, statistics Bill called “absolutely unacceptable.
“At a national level, the facts remain, there has been little accomplished,” she said.
The gathering and the roundtables are about putting the families and the victims first, said Doris Anderson, the president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council.
“These indigenous women and girls who have brought us together, have become leaders of a cause they gave their lives for,” she said.
“Let these events acknowledge that their stories are important and we will remain committed until their call for justice is answered.”
Those two events are not only about raising awareness but also providing healing, said Krista Reid, president of the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women’s Circle.
She is organizing the family gathering.
“Every family member who has lost a loved one, we’re encouraging you to join us at the family gathering,” she said.
“We need to understand what you’re going through. We need to be aware of what it was you needed from the community in your time of grief.”
An emotional Reid added that being a mother herself, she couldn’t imagine the grief families endured after losing relatives, in particular, daughters.
Reid reminded the audience these two events are part of a historic context – the movement supporting the missing and murdered indigenous women started more than than 30 years ago in Vancouver.
“Now we’re just catching up,” she said.
Families who want to attend the gathering can contact event co-ordinator, Katie Johnson, at 332-5283.
While observers won’t be allowed, professional counsellors and elders will be available during the gathering.