Sisters In Spirit: The Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Forgotten Missing (feat. Status of Women Canada & $10 million)

Sisters in Spirit gathering in 2011 (One year after funding was cut)

Sisters in Spirit gathering in 2011 (One year after funding was cut)

Back in 2005, under Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberal government, an agency called Status of Women Canada gave a $10 million grant to the Native Women’s Association of Canada. The money was earmarked for the NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit Initiative with the intention of building a national database of missing indigenous women & girls.

The project was very successful at raising awareness- right to the point where their rallying cry of 600 missing and murdered women was announced on the floor of parliament. Unfortunately, it appears there are significant questions about the integrity of their database- arguably the most important part of the project.

Earlier this month the RCMP made a statement about the Sisters In Spirit initiative that caught a lot of people’s attention. First, they said that the NWAC only provided them with 118 names our of the 582 they claimed to have in their database- no explanation has been provided for the remaining 464 cases. When RCMP staff searched the 118 names released they were only able to confirm 54 cases listed in police databases.

The NWAC responded with a scathing press release pointing towards the RCMP. The release made a very valid point that the government has yet to have come up with a solution for tracking missing indigenous women- this is a problem that needs to be fixed. But, rather than addressing their non-disclosure of 464 names, the NWAC deflects by saying the RCMP have adopted “aggressive bully tactics” by asking them to account for the discrepancy.

In the first sentence of their response the NWAC states: “it is incredible that the RCMP is publicly doubting the number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls that has been documented in the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Database!”. Despite their confidence, the NWAC have made significant mistakes- three of the six people on the Sisters In Spirit website’s Missing Alerts page are no longer missing.

Two of the women were sadly found to have been murdered. The third case (which happened before Sisters in Spirit was launched) was of a girl who disappeared for only 26 hours- arriving home safely two hours after an alert was sent out through the Ontario Provincial Police. According to the mother of the missing girl “it was a typical teenage thing”, and she was shocked to see her daughter listed on the Sisters In Spirit webpage.

She also explained to me how she’s been trying to contact the NWAC to get her daughter’s name off the list for several months. Three independent sources have commented that it’s incredibly difficult to get in-contact with the NWAC- phones are only answered by their automated directory, and messages are rarely (if at all) returned.

When asked for comment on these inaccuracies, the spokesperson for the Minister of Status of Women Canada quickly pointed-out that the grant was made under the previous government. When asked whether the government issued any conditions or requirements for Sisters In Spirit to check for the quality of data they responded saying “Terms and Conditions specific to this grant were signed in 2005. The Government has updated and improved the government wide Policy on Transfer Payments and the Terms and Conditions of the Women’s Program”.

The NWAC itself appears to admit that not all of their data has been verified- stating that “in many instances” information came from and was corroborated by the police and explaining how they’ve spoken directly with “many” families of the missing. This is the closest they’ve come to explaining their data quality procedures.

On Tuesday the NWAC came out with a new press release calling for a national inquiry into the 582 occurrences they claimed to have collected. That’s a fair request, many people agree that an inquiry is due- but, as a starting point, they need to get their own house together. They need to release the 464 undisclosed names to the RCMP immediately, they need to take the inaccurate list of missing people from their website.

Note: Status of Women Canada was reluctant to immediately take responsibility for helping to remove the inaccurate information from the Sisters In Spirit website . But, after applying some pressure, they agreed to help fix the problem. A member of the ministerial staff was assigned to the problem on Friday, as of today, the issue is still open.

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