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Action urged on missing, murdered women

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Dear Editor:

The RCMP's report on missing and murdered aboriginal women has prompted more discussion about whether the government should call a national public inquiry into this matter.

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Public inquiries can bring to light important information, promote healing and allow otherwise silent voices to be heard.

In the last phase of the recently held Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Phoenix Sinclair, commissioner Ted Hughes turned his focus to examining the underlying reasons children and families come into contact with the child-welfare system and in particular, why there is such a disproportionate number of aboriginal families who become so vulnerable as to require contact with that system.

In doing so, the commissioner heard from many voices starting with a group of kookum (grandmother) elders and continuing on to hear from community workers and academics about the issues that make people vulnerable -- issues relating to poverty, homelessness, addictions, lack of adequate child care and lack of education and employment opportunities.

In the report he issued in December 2013 upon completion of his hearings, Hughes set out a number of recommendations specifically aimed at addressing those very issues.

The conditions that make children and families vulnerable are not unique to people who come in contact with the child-welfare system. They are also present in the lives of the vulnerable women who go missing or are found murdered.

We know what needs to be done to build capacity in our community on a local and national level. It is time to close the gap between what we know and what we do.

We must act now to reduce the vulnerability of so many members of our community -- to make them visible and capable of living strong, independent lives.

One of the recommendations made by Hughes was directed to Premier Greg Selinger -- suggesting he ask the next meeting of the Council of the Federation (the premiers of Canada's 10 provinces and three territories) to place on the agenda a discussion of the disproportionate number of aboriginal children taken into care by child-welfare authorities, the consequences for the country if this is allowed to continue and an exploration of how to fix this situation.

Extending this recommendation to address what we know so far about the disproportionate number of aboriginal women who are missing or murdered would seem to be at least one important response to the RCMP's recently issued report. We don't need to wait for further study in order to take action.

Sherri Walsh

Commission counsel to the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2014 A11

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