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Aboriginal roundtable rerouted to Ottawa
Missing and murdered meeting planned for Yellowknife will now be hosted in nation's capital

Elaine Anselmi
Northern News Services
Published Friday, January 30, 2015

On hearing a roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women was coming to Yellowknife, Lila Erasmus e-mailed the premier's office right away in hopes of being involved.

NNSL photo/graphic

Walking with our Sisters co-organizer Lila Erasmus says with the exhibit wrapping up at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre last weekend, a roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women in Yellowknife would have been well-timed. - Elaine Anselmi/NNSL photo

But three weeks ago she received the news that due to logistical challenges, the meeting had been moved to Ottawa.

"I'm disappointed for sure. We all are," said Erasmus, a co-organizer of Walking with our Sisters, an exhibition combining art, workshops and events commemorating missing and murdered indigenous women.

"Considering the magnitude of what's happening to indigenous women and the amount of women that have gone missing, I think that it's an important issue, especially for us in the Northwest Territories. We have a 50 per cent indigenous population, give or take. It's super important, so I'm very disappointed that it's not going to be here."

The meeting was announced by Premier Bob McLeod, who is also the minister responsible for women, in October. This follows a working group he attended in Nova Scotia made up of territorial and provincial aboriginal affairs ministers, as well as five national aboriginal organization leaders.

Missing and murdered aboriginal women is one of the files McLeod has been mandated to take the lead on, and he told Yellowknifer in October that the roundtable was one of his priorities. Aside from logistics, Megan Holsapple, McLeod's media liaison, said there were no further details on the decision to move the roundtable to Ottawa.

As well as supporting the call for a national inquiry, McLeod said he and the other premiers saw the need for a national roundtable on the issue and hoped to discuss the root of violence against aboriginal women, in particular. He said the roundtable would work toward very specific outcomes and in no way preclude the call for a national inquiry.

"Our expectation is that we'll have all of the provincial and territorial ministers, also we would have national aboriginal leadership, also federal ministers with responsibilities for aboriginal people," McLeod said.

The Ottawa roundtable is planned for Feb. 27, according to Holsapple, who said national aboriginal organizations lead the planning, and the government is facilitating it.

With the Walking with our Sisters exhibit wrapping up at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre on Jan. 24, Erasmus said it would have been the perfect opportunity for the roundtable to follow shortly after in Yellowknife, as there was increased local interest in the issue.

"There's so much talk about bringing the community together to help to make change and uniting our community in that way -- indigenous and non-indigenous," said Erasmus.

"I think that it really would have contributed in a big way, given that we just finished the Walking with our Sisters exhibit.

"It would have been perfect timing to get people involved again in the roundtable forum."

For the roundtable in Ottawa, Erasmus said she would still love to be involved in some capacity as it is such an important subject.

"The issue for us as indigenous women, and then the reactions from our prime minster that it wasn't high on his radar, it's just beyond disappointing, it's appalling," she said.

"We would all like to see a national inquiry, not just indigenous people. There was a whole lot of the community coming out and supporting Walking with our Sisters and I think that was one of the greatest things about the whole exhibit coming to Yellowknife, is creating awareness in our community. And, if the roundtable was here, it would have been so much more effective."

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