The head of the Assembly of First Nations says politicians must be ready to pay for initiatives to stop violence against aboriginal women when they meet with native leaders and victims' families this week.
Perry Bellegarde, AFN national chief, says the round table Friday – at which premiers, federal cabinet ministers and indigenous people will discuss strategies for ending the murders and disappearances – is no substitute for a national inquiry sought by his group and others.
But Mr. Bellgarde says he does expect concrete action to result from the closed-door discussions.
"Ending the violence in our communities is the bottom line," he said Wednesday. Indigenous women "have a right to live free in an environment that is healthy, loving and caring."
Ottawa has been under pressure to act since an RCMP report was released in May that said 1,181 indigenous women were murdered or went missing in Canada between 1980 and 2012. The report found native women are much more likely to die or disappear than other women in this country.
Mr. Bellegarde said he wants the Friday meeting to end with a "co-ordinated action plan" to increase awareness of the issue, to elevate safety in indigenous communities and to improve the response of the police and the justice system when aboriginal women and girls fall victim to violence.
Ultimately, he said, that means the discussions must lead to specific investments in programs and infrastructure that will address the root causes of the problem, "whether it be in housing, or safe shelters, or daycares, or wellness centres or even simple things like transportation out of communities."
It has long been recommended, for instance, that better transportation be provided between the remote First Nations communities in northern British Columbia where at least 19 native women have been murdered or gone missing on Highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears, and two other roads.
"Those are things that can get done," Mr. Bellegarde said, "so we are going to keep pushing for that."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been firm in his refusal to call a national inquiry despite the demands of the AFN, other indigenous groups, the premiers and human-rights organizations.
But Kellie Leitch, the federal Minister for the Status of Women, and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt have accepted an invitation to attend the Friday round table.
The decision of Ms. Leitch and Mr. Valcourt to participate "is a start," the AFN national chief said. But the federal promise of $5-million a year for five years as part of an action plan "is really not sufficient resources," to address issues of violence against indigenous women and girls, he said.
Sylvia Maracle, the executive director of Ontario Indigenous Friendship Centres, who will attend the Friday meeting, said she is hoping for "small wins" to result from the discussions about the missing and murdered aboriginal women.
"I will be happy if there is increased stated support, not just in terms of words, but financing by provincial and territorial governments," said Ms. Maracle. Provinces and territories "can all plead they have no money," she said, "but the fact of the matter is there is no money because we don't want to make this a priority."
Ms. Maracle said she would also like to see the dialogue expanded to talk about family-centred strategies for helping aboriginal men deal with their own demons.
"What I am afraid of is, on Friday, we could end up with the status quo, that it will prevail and we will not have moved in any areas significant to addressing" the violence, said Ms. Maracle. "I want to go in believing there will be some movement."