The inaugural National Day of Action to address missing and murdered Manitoba women was not without ceremony -- or controversy.
Just before the start of a series of forums and public-awareness initiatives across Winnipeg on Thursday, organized by the newly established Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, three major aboriginal organizations in Manitoba denounced an upcoming national summit on the issue as "exclusive."
Representatives of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the Southern Chiefs Organization said the National Aboriginal Women's Summit III (NAWS), to be held in Winnipeg Nov. 1-2, threatens to be too academically and agency focused to deal with a street-level issue that requires grassroots solutions.
Further, while murdered and missing aboriginal women are a nationwide dilemma, statistics from the Native Women's Association of Canada paint an even starker situation in Manitoba, where 81 per cent of murder cases involve First Nations or other indigenous women and girls versus 61 per cent nationally. Almost half the unsolved murder cases in Manitoba (45 per cent) involve First Nations or other indigenous women compared to 39 per cent nationally.
Sixty-four per cent of those murder cases occurred in Winnipeg, also higher than the urban average of 58 per cent, according to NWAC statistics.
"This issue is happening on the ground, in the streets of Winnipeg," AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said in an interview Thursday. "It's like they're (provincial summit organizers) sitting at the boardroom at 30,000 feet and trying to parachute solutions in. We believe that the solutions exist in the communities, not from closed boardrooms."
Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson could not be reached for comment Thursday, but a spokesman for the province said the NAWS event follows a long-standing format for national meetings that include federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal representation.
"It was the province's understanding that as the host provincial aboriginal organization, AMC would be part of the AFN (Assembly of First Nations) delegation," the spokesman said. "If the AMC and AFN wish to have separate delegations, the province will ensure AMC still has the opportunity to participate in the summit."
The National Day of Action, along with similar events across Canada on Thursday, included a sunrise ceremony at The Forks, a postcard initiative to demand the federal government launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered women, and several forums ranging from gang violence to the long-term effects of flooding First Nations land. Each of the subjects has ties to the systemic issues at the root of the missing-women scandal, said Kathy Harper, the AMC's community liaison and researcher.
"It's really the start of a movement," Harper said. "I truly believe that."