Elder marches for inquiry
by Derek Cornet
After reading media reports that included a photo of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine of Winnipeg – whose body was found wrapped in a bag in the Red River Aug. 17 – Emil Bell of Canoe Lake Cree Nation couldn’t keep silent any longer.
“We’re trying to get Prime Minister Stephen Harper to hold a national inquiry on murdered and missing First Nations women and girls,” Bell said prior to departing Aug. 26 for an approximately 450 kilometre awareness campaign between the Northern Village of Beauval and Saskatoon.
Bell’s journey – which will include up to 12 hours of walking per day – rested near the Keewatin Junction Station in Green Lake on his first night. From there, he left for Big River where his daughter lives and moved on for Prince Albert Aug. 28. Bell planned to march into Saskatoon Aug. 30 and chose to do so to coincide with the Labour Day holiday traffic.
Bell said the federal government’s continued refusal to hold a national inquiry on the issue undermines the apology Harper made to First Nations people in 2008 for the crimes committed in residential schools. Bell doesn’t believe Harper was true to his word, which is another reason for his walk.
“He’s coming up with all sorts of excuses and he’s backing down on his word,” Bell said.
On Aug. 21, Harper told reporters during a trip to the Yukon Territory cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls should be viewed as crimes rather than sociological problems. He again rejected calls for an inquiry.
Following the announcement, Canada’s premiers and aboriginal leaders met on Prince Edward Island Aug. 27 where the premiers re-endorsed their support for an inquiry. However, if permission for an inquiry isn’t granted, the premiers were also in favour of a national roundtable discussion with federal ministers regarding the issue.
Earlier the same day, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair threw his support behind a national inquiry and promised to launch one within 100 days if elected into power in 2015.
Debbie Mihalicz of Beauval has been assisting with organizing the trip for Bell and said a petition for an inquiry would also be going along with the awareness march and could be found at several locations along the route.
“He’s (Bell) a role model for people,” she said. “He inspires people to do something instead of just doing nothing about it.”
Bell was assisted by several people during his journey. The only concern the 73-year-old had was how others would view his efforts as he got closer to Saskatoon.
“There’s nothing you can do but keep walking,” Bell said. “Maybe it will change their minds.”