Provincial cabinet ministers and aboriginal leaders begin a two-day meeting today on missing and slain aboriginal women, but there is no sign the two sides are close to an agreement on calls for a national inquiry.
"What's a national inquiry going to produce? It's going to cost a lot of money for one thing," Eric Robinson, Manitoba's minister for aboriginal and northern affairs, said Wednesday.
"I'm not saying I'm opposed to that. I've got to hear from the other provinces... as to what they feel about that. A national task force -- would that make more sense? ... Is that more feasible?"
Robinson is co-chairman of the Winnipeg meeting, which will include aboriginal affairs or status of women ministers from every province and territory. It's the third aboriginal women's summit to be held in Canada since 2007 and the first to focus on missing and slain women.
The meeting comes amid increasing pressure from the Assembly of First Nations and other groups for an inquiry into the estimated 600 aboriginal women who have disappeared or been killed over the past two decades.
Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has said an inquiry is needed to examine how police have investigated reports of missing aboriginal women, as well as the social and economic circumstances that make aboriginal women more prone to violence than non-natives.
Atleo will be in Winnipeg but he's scheduled to attend a shadow conference hosted by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in protest over the national summit organized by the province.
The shadow conference, which focuses on grassroots strategies to protect women, begins today at the Aboriginal Centre. The centre is across the street from the Thunderbird House where the provincial summit opens. The next day, both conferences move to different venues. Manitoba chiefs aren't happy with the format of the main summit and they feel left out of it, AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said.
"I'm not taking anything away from Eric Robinson, He's shown commendable leadership and it's a difficult balancing act between provincial and national levels, but his planners dropped the ball when they decided regional organizations don't have a role to play in this issue," Nepinak said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the federal government has rejected an inquiry in favour of funding new initiatives such as a database that allows police forces to share information on cases.
Three federal cabinet ministers were invited to the Winnipeg meeting, Robinson said, but are sending bureaucrats instead.
The provinces have appeared lukewarm to the idea as well. The premiers did not endorse an inquiry at their annual meeting in June, which included a meeting with Atleo. The provinces have said there are already initiatives underway in different parts of the country, including the B.C. inquiry into the deaths of women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Leading advocates said there's a sense of frustration from families over the politics on the issue. "I see a lot of political bulls going on and it really irritates me. It's not about politics. It's about the women, it's about the community," said Shannon Buck of the Red Road to Healing program.
"The bickering back and forth isn't helping find solutions. They just need to sit down and let the egos rest and something that actually helps the families," said Faron Girouard, brother of Amber Guiboche, who went missing two years ago at age 19.
-- The Canadian Press, with files from Alexandra Paul and Randy Turner