Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Missing aboriginal women a tragedy

Pair of summits focuses on finding solutions

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It has been more than two years since Lynda Neckoway last saw her sister, Mildred Flett.

Neckoway says she doesn't know whether the mother of five is dead, abducted or being coerced to hide from her family.

"I start to think maybe something did happen to her," Neckoway said on Thursday.

"We're not sure if she left on her own of her own free will. She wouldn't do this unless she's under someone's control or held hostage.

"She's the kind of person who would phone."

But while Neckoway doesn't know where her sister is, she does know what government and police can do for her and other families traumatized by a missing loved one.

"I'd like to see them develop a critical trauma team to help," she said.

"They really need it to be immediate and urgent and it has to be an ongoing program and a fully supported program."

Neckoway was participating in the two-day, third National Aboriginal Women's Summit, held at Thunderbird House and organized by the provincial government.

The summit's special focus is missing and slain aboriginal women.

Family members of missing aboriginal women from across Canada, representatives of the federal and provincial governments, members of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Native Women's Association of Canada are taking part.

Another aboriginal conference, organized by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and dealing with much the same topic, is being held across the street in the Aboriginal Centre, the former Canadian Pacific passenger station, but it isn't affiliated with the province's summit.

Both the meetings are being held while the AFN is pushing the federal government to hold an inquiry into the estimated 600 aboriginal women who have gone missing or been slain during the past 20 years, a move the government has so far rejected.

Eric Robinson, Manitoba's aboriginal and northern affairs minister, said he's glad families of missing and slain women had a chance to get together on the first day of the summit. Today, the summit will feature panels with politicians, government officials and representatives of aboriginal groups.

"Too often they are the ones forgotten," Robinson said.

"This is their chance to say what's in their hearts. And also to tell us what we can do."

Robinson said he is hoping the summit has a tangible result.

"We have to nail down a framework or a road map whether it's an inquiry, a task force, or have the federal government change some laws," he said.

"We have to get a sense of how to proceed."

Michele Audette, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada and the summit's co-chairwoman, said she is pleased the summit has brought the families of missing women together.

"They can share their stories and learn from other families what happened to their family members," Audette said.

"My hope is this can also contribute to their healing process."

Audette said she hopes the summit contributes to changes that will help aboriginal women in the future.

"Yes, we need people who know the laws or government statutes, but we need families to design the national public inquiry and how to fight against poverty.

"If we do this without the families it won't be a success, it will be a failure."

Flett was last seen on June 8, 2010, and is described as 5-10, about 140 pounds, with medium wavy black hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information is asked to call Winnipeg police at 204-986-6250.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 B2

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