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Canada AFN chiefs pass resolution calling for changes to missing, murdered Indigenous women inquiry

National Chief Perry Bellegarde listens to concerns about the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls during the Assembly of First Nations' 38th annual general meeting in Regina, Sask., on July 27, 2017.

Mark Taylor/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Assembly of First Nations chiefs have rejected a call for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to replace the commissioners on the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

However, the chiefs, who were gathered for a meeting in Regina on Thursday, did pass a resolution calling for changes to the inquiry, asking the federal government to reset and alter its mandate and process.

That pleased Carson Poitras, whose stepdaughter Happy Charles has been missing in Saskatchewan since early April. Poitras wanted the commissioners to stay on.

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"If we do a hard reset of the inquiry ... we may or may not even get the inquiry again because it'll take a couple of years for that to happen. We don't need that," said Poitras.

"And also for the families who have already done some their testimony, we don't need that redone either. It's tough when the families have to relive that every time. It's not just once that they have to tell their story, it's numerous times they have to tell their story."

Poitras said he would also like to see some new commissioners join the inquiry, suggesting it could help restore faith in the process.

The 90-minute debate on the two resolutions brought forward arguments from both sides.

Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan, said Aboriginal people can't afford another delay and risk more lives.

"Things are flawed, but we can fix it. We can do it together," Cameron said.

Chief Matthew Todd Peigan from the Pasqua First Nation told the assembly that by calling to remove the commissioners "you kill the inquiry."

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"This inquiry, ladies and gentlemen, chiefs, took years in the making. If we kill it, you may not get it back," said Peigan.

Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, made the proposal for the commissioners to be replaced, arguing the current inquiry has not put families first and fails to respect their voices.

"Everyone's aware that the status quo isn't going to work and regardless of who the commissioners will be, they will have had to take notice and see that there is becoming a stronger undercurrent of opposition to the lack of tangible results," Dumas said after his resolution was defeated.

Two of the commissioners spoke to the AFN meeting Wednesday night, where they tried to explain the testimony process.

But several families said the inquiry had already failed because they don't trust the process, commissioners hadn't communicated well and the inquiry doesn't hold police to account.

Dumas questioned whether faith could be restored in the current commissioners.

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"The onus is on them to produce and the onus is on them to show tangible results," he said.

The inquiry's chief commissioner, Marion Buller, said she was carefully following the results of the AFN votes "and will have internal discussions about what we have heard."

"Our commitment to listening and acting on the advice from families, advisors and communities across this nation is firm," she said in a statement. "We will keep moving forward in a good way, with respect for the spirits of the women, girls and LGBTQ2S who are no longer with us, and with respect for survivors."

The two-year, $53.8-million study is designed to examine the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

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