Sisters in Spirit is fighting for its life.
In its Ottawa office this week, the Native Women’s Association of Canada challenged the Harper government to continue funding its Sisters in Spirit initiative.
The national movement has established the most comprehensive database of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada, says Amanda Mudry, the northern youth director for the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the youth representative for the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council.
The national association is worried that without continued funding, it will not be able to work with police, governments, First Nation communities and the families of lost and murdered women.
In March, the government announced $10 million to support advocacy for missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
But it wasn’t until October that it finally announced how that money is being spent.
It will fund a new national police centre, a website for missing persons, amendments to the Criminal Code to allow more police power in the search for missing persons, more culturally appropriate victims’ services and new community and school programs and safety plans.
The funding announcement was supported by the National Aboriginal Women’s Association.
But not enough of that money will reach nongovernmental organizations and aboriginal communities, says Mudry.
Specifically organizations and communities in the Yukon, or anywhere else outside of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, she says.
The aboriginal women’s association is also criticizing the lack of focus on aboriginal women and murdered aboriginal women, specifically.
The $10 million in funding is being squandered on work that was already done by Sisters in Spirit, according to the association.
And the money is funding community groups in the western provinces without specific aboriginal- or women-based mandates, it says.
And it is not addressing the jurisdiction of the RCMP, said the association.
Information from the Sisters in Spirit database can still be used, but no more information can be added to it, nor is it clear if other organizations, like the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, will be able to add to it, says Mudry.
Funding for the Yukon’s work on the issue is secured from other sources, she says.
So it seems that work can continue, for now.
And even if Ottawa refuses to fund Sisters in Spirit and any further research and work on its database, Mudry is confident the movement will continue.
“The National Aboriginal Women’s Council is currently looking for other funding partners and are very hopeful that they will find them,” she says. “But even still, this has grown into so much more. It is now a national movement and it will continue to exist so long as we continue to have missing and murdered aboriginal women in our communities and so long as violence against women is still an issue.”
The $5 million for five years that the previous Liberal government gave to Sisters in Spirit expired in March. The Harper government gave Sisters in Spirit bridge funding from April 1 to September 30.
Negotiations over a new program with the national association called “evidence to action” are still ongoing, says Mudry.
This program is not allowed to continue research or work on the Sisters in Spirit database, nor would it be able to refer to that name.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at