(Conservative candidate Peter Penashue at a news conference in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Photo: Trina Roache/APTN)
APTN National News
HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY — Conservative candidate Peter Penashue says the work on issues around missing and murdered Indigenous women needs to happen at the community level, not through a national inquiry.
“Do I think that an inquiry would be helpful?” asked Penashue in an interview with APTN National News. “I think it’s misplaced. I think we’ve done that round, let’s do the round in our communities. Let’s not be afraid of it.”
Penahue was a Conservative MP from 2011 to 2013 and his stance on missing and murdered Indigenous women falls pretty much along party lines.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused calls for a national inquiry telling one media outlet that the issue isn’t on his radar.
The former Innu Grand Chief from Sheshatshiu, about 40 minutes north east of Happy Valley-Goose Bay by car, said he knows the problems facing indigenous communities firsthand.
“I come from a community that has a lot of social problems. Suicide, alcoholism, drugs, all kinds of problems,” said Penashue. “Shouldn’t we be having inquiries of some sort in our communities… to deal with our own pain? That is where we would most be effective.”
“We already know what Conservatives feel about it,” said Cheryl Maloney, President of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association. “We already know the action they think needs to be done, which is none. It’s frustrating trying to have that conversation amidst an election.”
Maloney’s message – get out and vote.
“We have to be optimistic. I’ve met some really good candidates in the election, and I find that they’re knowledgeable,” said Maloney. “People, five, ten years ago, weren’t as knowledgeable. And I think the knowledge that our members of the Liberals, NDP and Green parties have is based on building that relationship with communities. So I‘m hopeful, but it is government, right?”
For more than two years, calls for a national inquiry have come from the grassroots, First Nations’ leaders, families of missing and murdered women and the international community including the United Nations.
Since the writ dropped, Indigenous people have pushed to make missing and murdered Indigenous women an election issue on social media.
Last month, the Chiefs of Ontario announced they wouldn’t wait for the federal government and would begin their own investigation.
The Liberals, NDP and Green Party have all committed to a national inquiry to examine the root causes of why Indigenous women are vulnerable.
Penashue insists an inquiry isn’t the way to go.
He likens it to the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, intended to change the relationship between Indigenous communities and the Canadian Government. Penashue said the 4,000 page report is gathering dust.
“There tends to be fear within our own communities in terms of dealing with real issues,” said Penashue. “People tend to want to say, oh let’s have an inquiry because it’s going to be away from my community, this is going to be dealt with just by the leadership, by the lawyers, by the academics, the people that are distant from what’s happening in our communities.”
“I find that’s a weak argument,” said Maloney. “We’ve seen in this country over and over again aboriginal people come out in rallies and protests for Idle No More. We’ve seen them organize and mobilize the vote in this country; we’ve seen then with vigils across the country. There’s care and compassion. If there’s more that we can do, we will do it.”
Maloney hopes that work can begin with a new government come October 20th.
“We need partners,” said Maloney. “And we have Canadian allies, we just don’t have a Canadian government on our side. So I think that’s been the missing link here.”