Unequal economic and social conditions for indigenous women in Canada will be the focus of a national conference to be held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, from November 1–2.
The province's Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister, Eric Robinson, said the third National Aboriginal Women’s Summit will focus on key areas laid out in the previous two summits: Native girls' and women's empowerment, equality, wellness, health and safety.
"We view this to be a national problem because of the high number of women and girls who are missing and murdered," he told Indian Country Today Media Network. "Per capita, next to Saskatchewan, we probably have the highest degree of missing and murdered women and girls... I think that in Manitoba this is an opportunity. It is gut-wrenching. My own sister is a grandmother to one of the girls who was killed. Only her body parts were found. The closure for the family has never been there. We need to keep working with families and victims."
After a four-year hiatus, the summit—following previous meetings in 2007 in Newfoundland, and 2008 in the Northwest Territories—aims to make concrete recommendations toward stopping the women's exploitation and tackling the disproportionate levels of violence experienced by aboriginal women.
The conference comes at a time of unprecedented international scrutiny on the situation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Not only did the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on food security scold Canada over conditions in aboriginal communities in the spring—an issue that carries a disproportionate impact on women and their families—but the UN's Committee on Ending Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) also have both scrutinized the country's failure to resolve the issue of the more than 600 aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered.
But while Manitoba's premier, Greg Selinger, used the announcement of the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit to call for the creation of a national task force on missing women, other advocacy groups are demanding a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the issue.
“Clearly Canada has not engaged the way they need to, because it keeps coming back [in international forums],” said Craig Scott, Amnesty International Canada's indigenous campaigner. “The deeper question is about the factors that put Indigenous women—marginalized women—at risk of violence, and what are the structural changes needed. Canada needs a national plan of action—a comprehensive plan—to address violence against aboriginal women.”
The summit will be held soon after the planned release of B.C.'s final report from its Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, and amid calls for an investigation into Manitoba's own high number of missing women and the recent arrest of a suspected serial killer there.
National Aboriginal organizations come together with decision-making officials from governments at the provincial, territorial and federal levels for the gatherings, started after a call from Beverley Jacobs, former President of the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), at the First Ministers’ Meeting in Kelowna, B.C. in 2007. Beverley insisted such a regular high-profile meeting was needed to tackle “inequities, inequalities and overall injustices faced by Aboriginal women,” according to NWAC's website.
The last conference attracted hundreds of Indigenous women, NWAC reported, including representatives of at least eight other Métis, Inuit and First Nations organizations.