Moon Setting on Sisters in Spirit?

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News

The Conservative government is opposing the use of the name Sisters
and Spirit and any work on a groundbreaking database on murdered and
missing Aboriginal women cases if the Native Women’s Association of
Canada expects to receive any funding for new projects on the issue,
sources say.

The Conservative government has been slowly “smothering” the Sisters
in Spirit project which is responsible for bringing to national
attention the hundreds of “shocking” cases of murdered and missing
Aboriginal women, sources familiar with the file say.

During discussions around a new Native Women’s Association of Canada
(NWAC) project on mudered and missing women, department officials have
said rules around the funding’s source program prevented the use of
government money from research and policy work. They have asked that
funding proposals not include the name Sisters in Spirit or any plans
to use the money for the database, sources say.

A spokeswoman for Status of Women said they were still awaiting the
proposal. Nanci Jean-Waugh, however, said she could not immediately
answer questions on whether the department had imposed conditions on
new funding.

Politically, it appears the Conservatives have now turned the page on
Sisters in Spirit.

“That project was finished. Don’t mix apples and oranges,” said
Conservative MP Shelly Glover, parliamentary secretary for Indian
Affairs. “That project was finished, now we’re working with them to
pursue other projects.”

Only last Friday, Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose singled out
Sisters in Spirit during the government’s long-awaited $10 million
announcement on a national strategy to deal with murdered and missing
women cases.

“The journey truly began with an initiative called Sisters in Spirit
that was led by the Native Women’s Association of Canada,” said
Ambrose, during the announcement in Vancouver. “The association has
undertaken an incredible amount of research…and they have brought to
light the shocking extent of these horrendous acts of violence.”

The Oct. 29 announcement highlighted the creation of a new police
support centre for missing persons, along with promised amendments to
the Criminal Code to allow police to wiretap without warrants in
emergencies and obtain multiple warrants on a single application. It
also promised funding for community-based projects on violence against
Aboriginal women and enhancing the cultural sensitivity of victim’s

It was criticized by some front-line workers, victims’ families,
academics and opposition politicians over its lack of focus on
Aboriginal women and its emphasis on giving more money and power to

NWAC, however, publicly endorsed the strategy and the Conservatives
have since invoked the 35-year-old organization’s name as a shield
against criticism of the announcement.

Yet, over several months, the government had been quietly squeezing
Sisters in Spirit, which was created under NWAC’s umbrella by the
previous Liberal government in 2005. The Liberals committed $5 million
over five years to the project.

The project was the catalyst that thrust the issue of missing and
murdered Aboriginal women into the public consciousness. Its
meticulous research into now nearly 600 cases broke new ground in a
realm that had been previously ignored. Its national database became
the first of its kind in Canada in its scope and detail.

Sisters in Spirit has received recognition from human rights
organizations like Amnesty International. Police agencies and
provincial governments have approached the project’s staff to share

Sisters in Spirit was also recently approached by police in British
Colombia and government officials to become involved in the recently
announced inquiry into police work around serial killer Robert
Pickton’s case and a parallel process to culminate in a summit
focusing on violence faced by Aboriginal women.

The “slow smothering” of Sisters in Spirit began last December when
former status of women minister Helena Guergis, after “fighting tooth
and nail,” failed to convince the rest of the Stephen Harper cabinet
to renew funding for the project, according to sources.

The future of Sisters in Spirit was put in limbo.

The government committed $10 million over two years in its 2010
federal budget “to address the disturbingly high number of missing and
murdered Aboriginal women.”

The money, however, would not go to Sisters in Spirit.

With its funding running out at the end of March, the Status of Women
department stepped in to provide $500,000 in funding to keep the
project’s work going.

Sisters in Spirit then released a report that confirmed 582 cases of
missing and murdered Aboriginal women up to March 31 and a second
project was put into the works called “Sisters in Spirit, evidence to

Department officials eventually said new money had been found but it
would come from an existing program that restricted funds from being
used for research and policy work, sources say.

New money would be contingent on taking the name Sisters in Spirit out
of the proposal. They also said that none of the money could be spent
on the database.

Losing the name would be a serious blow to NWAC. Sisters in Spirit,
intertwined with its Grandmother Moon logo, has grown to represent the
memories and stories of the missing and the dead

Sisters in Spirit vigils are held every year to commemorate murdered
and missing Aboriginal women and the Grandmother Moon logo is often
prominently displayed at these national events.

If the database of the hundreds of murdered and missing women cases
turns stangnant, it remains unclear what could take its place. Before
the database came into being, it was up to individuals posting on
scattered websites to keep the search for missing Aboriginal women

The recently announced national police support centre for missing
persons and unidentified remains won’t be up and running until at
least 2013, according to the RCMP.

The centre received $4 million of the $10 million set aside in the
budget to deal with murdered and missing Aboriginal women.

The centre has also received an additional $6 million for a total of
$10 million over five years, the RCMP said.

The centre will become the third branch of the Canadian Police Centre
for Missing and Exploited Children, but it will not have a separate
section dedicated for Aboriginal women.

The new centre will rely on missing persons reports filed with local
police forces. It will provide linkages to other cases if they exist.

The Sisters in Spirit database includes some historical cases that
were not accepted by police. It also includes cases where police have
closed the book on a woman’s death, despite lingering questions from
family members.

After the release of its spring report, Sisters in Spirit was in the
process of analysing 20 new cases.