Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Chiefs applaud arrest, but call for inquiry into missing and slain women

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The arrest of a suspect in connection with the disappearance and deaths of three women does not go nearly far enough to put an end to threats on aboriginal women's lives in Manitoba, First Nations chiefs said Monday.

The chiefs, flanked by elders and relatives of alleged victims, announced a vigil at the legislature Tuesday and called on the province to open an inquiry into missing and murdered women in Manitoba.

Winnipeg police announced Monday that Shawn Lamb, 52, has been charged in the homicides of Tanya Nepinak, 31, Carolyn Sinclair, 25 and Lorna Blacksmith, 18.

At a press conference called within an hour of news of the arrest, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said one of the victims in the case was his cousin, so he is seeing first-hand what families go through in these disappearances as he tries to console his own grieving relatives.

A woman identified as Blacksmith’s mother broken down and wept openly as Nepinak expressed the devastation sweeping through Manitoba's First Nations. The mother and other women identified as related to Tanya Nepinak were then quietly ushered out of the media throng.

Lamb's arrest fails to explain the disappearances and deaths of other aboriginal women or the root causes behind the violence, the chiefs said. More than 70 aboriginal women are missing or killed in Manitoba, some of an estimated 600 across Canada.

"There is too much hatred," Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper said. "Out there are people who are hating (aboriginal people). Who is going to take that into consideration? There are three woman dead here. That has to stop."

As for the allegations of a serial killer at work on Winnipeg streets, Nepinak said the idea has been a topic of family fears expressed in living rooms and kitchens for years.

"It has been raised that there may be a serial killer who is going after our women out there," Nepinak said.

Nepinak and other chiefs thanked the Winnipeg police for the work in tracking down a suspect and arresting him. But the issue can’t end there because women aren’t necessarily any safer now than they were before the arrest, he said.

"I think this has all taken too long. For generations, we’ve been seeing our men come to an urban environment for opportunities that haven’t been there. Our people are living like refugees in our own cities,"

"The continued murders and disappearances of our First Nations women have their roots in systemic discrimination," the Grand Chief said.

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