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Dawn Lavell-Havard, Native Women's Association of Canada president, says an inquiry will aid understanding of the issue.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

The need for an inquiry into why so many aboriginal women are dying violently is not diminished because RCMP statistics show that 70 per cent of indigenous female homicide victims are killed by members of their own race, native leaders say.

Chiefs and others lashed out Friday at the messages that have been coming from the federal government in the face of the tragedy in which, according to the Mounties, at least 1,017 aboriginal women in Canada were killed between 1980 and 2012, and another 164 are missing.

The fact that many aboriginal women were killed by someone who shares their ethnicity is something that holds true for most victims of homicide, regardless of their ethnic origin, said Dawn Lavell-Harvard, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada.

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"So I don't think it's a way that we can therefore write off this issue [by saying] it is aboriginal men killing aboriginal women and therefore not a [federal] responsibility or there is not a need for an inquiry or any of these kinds of excuses that seems to be inferred," said Dr. Lavell-Harvard.

While homicide rates of Canadian women have decreased over the past 30 years, the rate of murders of indigenous women have increased, she said.

"We don't understand the complexities of how this is happening, the kinds of ways that the system is failing our women," said Dr. Lavell-Harvard. "And without an inquiry where you can have that judicial power of subpoena, where you can find out where things went wrong, then we're never going to have a clear understanding."

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and other members of the Conservative government have rebuffed calls for an inquiry, saying there have been enough studies and now is the time for action.

Mr. Valcourt has said it is up to native leaders on reserves to get a handle on the problem. And, at a closed door meeting in March, he angered chiefs by saying "up to 70 per cent of the murdered and missing indigenous women stems for their own communities," attributing the statistic to information collected by the RCMP but withheld from a report last year on the missing and murdered women.

Doubtful of that figure, several chiefs, including Bernice Martial, the Grand Chief of Treaty Six in central Saskatchewan and Alberta, demanded that the RCMP make public all of the numbers they have compiled.

In a letter to Ms. Martial this week, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said the RCMP does not usually discuss the ethnicity of perpetrators because doing so could perpetuate biases.

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But he confirmed that the statistics show that 70 per cent of people found guilty of killing an aboriginal woman were also aboriginal.

Ms. Martial reminded reporters on Friday that the 70-per-cent figure cannot pertain to unsolved murders or cases in which women and girls have gone missing.

"How can the RCMP release this new information without giving a complete report?" she asked. "We demand an independent investigator to collect all information and data of missing and murdered indigenous women held by Statistics Canada and the RCMP."

Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has sent a letter to the RCMP formally requesting that all of the data the force has gathered about violence against indigenous women be shared with First Nations.

"That the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs is withholding important information and, worse, is using it against First Nations defies logic and the department's fiduciary duty," Mr. Bellegarde said in a statement. "Blaming the victim is no longer an option."

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