Sisters in Spirit funding stalled

OTTAWA - During a recent question period in the Canadian House of Commons,
Bernard Cleary, Innu author, long-time indigenous rights advocate and the
first Native representative from Quebec, asked why Prime Minister Paul
Martin's government had held up its announcement of a promised $5 million
over five years for the Sisters in Spirit campaign of the Native Women's
Association of Canada. The group had designed the campaign to combat
violence against indigenous women.

Earlier, NWAC's president, attorney Beverley Jacobs, Mohawk, had expressed
dismay at the delay. Dr. Ailsa M. Watkinson, president of the Canadian
Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, which advocates for women and girls
in the justice system, had called cancellation of the announcement "an
added injustice."

NWAC had planned to use the money for public education programs, a national
registry of missing women, a hotline for families involved, and development
of law and policy reforms.

The issue was the subject of a scathing October 2004 Amnesty International
report, "Stolen Sisters," which found that over the last three decades
approximately 500 Native women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada
without adequate police response.

The Canadian government has acknowledged the presence of this human-rights
issue within its borders. Speaking before a committee of the United Nations
General Assembly in November 2004, the country's deputy ambassador to the
international body referred to it; and in a meeting with Amnesty
International, Andy Scott, minister of Northern and Indian Affairs, voiced
personal concern. The federal government then promised the Native Women's
Association of Canada funding for Sisters in Spirit, only to delay the
money without explanation.

During the House of Commons question period, Liza Frulla, minister of
Status of Women Canada, answered Cleary's query, saying the government
recognizes the need for the program and will make an announcement "as soon
as possible." She added: "We have committed ourselves to the Sisters in
Spirit campaign."

"The question period is very important," said Cleary, a member of the Bloc
Quebecois party. "It's an opportunity to get a minister to commit himself
or herself before the electorate."

Asked whether he thought the federal government would eventually fulfill
its promise, Cleary answered, "I'll make sure they do!"