1,017. That’s the number of indigenous women and girls the RCMP found had disappeared or been murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012.
It’s an epidemic that fueled massive pressure on the federal government to shine a light into how so many lives could simply vanish.
And today, Ottawa announced a national inquiry into the nation’s missing and murdered indigenous women.
Ernie Crey is the elected chief of the Cheam first nation, and has been personally touched by the tragedy. His sister Dawn went missing 15 years ago Friday.
He says it was a long road, filled with painstaking research, data collection, and political pressure to get to this point – and that the charge was led by women in the community.
“First nations from coast to coast to coast stood behind indigenous women, they led the charge really to get this inquiry under way. They’re the ones that did the hard hard work, that did the studies on missing women over the last couple of decades.”
Crey says he didn’t think it would take as long as it did to get the government to act, but that the outgoing Conservatives were steadfastly opposed to the idea. He says he’s pleased the Liberals were so quick to follow through on their promise to launch an inquiry.
“I didn’t think it would take the 15 years, it was hard slogging.”
Mental illness played a big role in the lives of Canada’s missing women. It did in the case of my sister, Dawn. Let’s have an inquiry ASAP.
— Ernie Crey (@Cheyom1) November 22, 2014
He adds despite the delay in getting here, he expects the process to be long and drawn out, something he calls a good thing. He says when BC held it’s own inquiry, it failed to consult with families and affected communities first.
“The manner in which the government announced it and carried it forward alienated a lot of aboriginal people as an organization. The government we have in Ottawa now they’re taking it step by step.”
Kids in care
Crey says as anticipated as it was, the inquiry itself won’t solve any problems. He says the key is what recommendations it makes, and whether they’re adopted by health, social assistance, and policing agencies.
And he says there’s one sensitive issue that will have to be tackled head on: Aboriginal children in government care.
“Because it is from the ranks of children in government care that many of the missing and murdered women initially came from. They first were in the hands of government, not in the hands of their own communities and families, they left their foster homes and headed out to the streets, took up a lifestyle that exposed them to predators.”