Published in Indian Country Today in February 2005.
Ottawa, Canada — During a recent question period in the Canadian House of Commons, Bernard Cleary (Innu), an author, a long-time indigenous rights advocate, and the first Native representative from Québec, 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.
Earlier, NWAC’s president, Beverley Jacobs, an attorney, had expressed dismay at the delay. Dr. Ailsa M. Watkinson, president of Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, which advocates for women and girls in the justice system, called cancellation of the announcement “an added injustice.”
NWAC was planning to use the money to combat violence against indigenous women through 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 an October 2004 Amnesty International report, “Stolen Sisters,” which found over the last three decades approximately 500 Native women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada without adequate police response.
In November 2004, Canada’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations admitted the existence of the human-rights, and Andy Scott, minister of Northern and Indian Affairs, voiced. Then funding for the Sisters in Spirit was promised, only to be delayed. During the House of Commons question period, Liza Frulla, minister of Status of Women Canada, replied to Cleary that 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 Québecois 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!”
c. Stephanie Woodard.