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Hold an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women: actor Tom Jackson

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Canadian actor Tom Jackson is pictured on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 8, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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Canadian actor Tom Jackson is pictured on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 8, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - A noted Canadian entertainer is adding his voice to calls for an inquest into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.

Metis actor and singer Tom Jackson, who starred in the television shows North of 60 and Shining Time Station, says the federal government "absolutely" must hold a national inquiry.

"If we don't protect the people who live around us, what does that say about us as a society?" he said Thursday.

"What does that say about you and your sister? Or you and your mom? Or you and your child, your daughter? What does that say about that?"

The governing Conservatives have so far resisted calls for an inquiry, saying the issue has been studied enough and now is the time for action.

Calls for an inquiry intensified recently after RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson revealed that close to 1,200 aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada in the last 30 years.

Of that, Paulson says, there are 1,026 murder cases and 160 missing-persons cases, hundreds more than previously thought.

Jackson, who was on Parliament Hill for a reception honouring him and the other recipients of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards, also offered his thoughts on another hot topic, First Nations education.

He said he doesn't think the Conservative government should have put its proposed changes to First Nations education on hold until the Assembly of First Nations "clarifies its position" following the sudden resignation last week of its national chief.

"I don't think that necessarily putting a halt is proper," Jackson said. "I think there's an opportunity to move on parallel fronts."

The Conservative bill on First Nations education has splintered the aboriginal community, with some saying it would strip away their rights and give the federal government too much control over the education of their children.

But Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has defended the bill, saying it meets the five conditions outlined by the AFN and chiefs during a meeting in December and received the support of the assembly.

Some First Nations groups criticized the assembly's former national chief, Shawn Atleo, for supporting the bill.

On Friday, Atleo called a snap news conference and abruptly quit, saying he wanted to avoid being a distraction in the continuing debate over the proposed changes to First Nations education.

Proper consultation with First Nations is needed before any changes can be made, said Jackson.

"Liberty cannot be dictated. If we are to protect our children, if we are to be successful as a nation, then we must take the same concern with our own family, friends, citizens, as we do when we are protecting the liberty of others in the world," he said.

"We must protect the liberty and the voice of our children. If we do that, the rewards are unimaginable. That's how significant this process is, and why we must be determined and confident that we will get it right. But it won't happen without proper consultation."

Follow @steve_rennie on Twitter

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