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MMIW inquiry said to be making progress

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CALGARY—Canada's minister of Indigenous Affairs says she understands some families of missing and murdered aboriginal women still are frustrated about the pace of a national inquiry.

But Carolyn Bennett promises the government won't let them down.

“We need to keep going—the families are counting on us,” the minister told reporters Friday as she attended the opening of the Calgary Stampede Indian Village.

“I think we're all impatient,” Bennett added.

“A lot of these people have been fighting for a decade or more for there to be some understanding of the issues from the child welfare system to racism and sexism and policing— things that the families were telling everybody about and nothing happened,” she noted.

“Canada's never done anything like this . . . this is huge.”

The inquiry chaired by Marion Buller, the first female First Nations' judge in B.C., was launched in September and is expected to take two years and cost $53.8 million.

It will hold nine community hearings across Canada this fall, amid controversy over the resignation of its executive director and complaints from families about delays and poor communication.

Earlier this week, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson called for Buller to step down and the inquiry to restart.

She said it's nothing personal against Buller, but she is not someone the families are putting a lot of hope and faith in.

North Wilson added she would like to see a chief commissioner who is better known among grassroots organizations and families.

Buller responded that she had no intention of resigning from the position, saying a national inquiry takes time.

“We started on Sept. 1, four commissioners and myself and a piece of paper, our terms of reference,” she noted.

"In eight months, we hired staff, we opened offices, we put life to our terms of reference and we held our first hearing.

“In my view, that's lightning speed.”

Bennett expects two expert roundtables—one on Indigenous law and the other on human rights—will help develop the inquiry framework moving forward.

She said the announcement about public meetings this fall, and meetings with family members concerned about the delay, should help alleviate some concerns.

The community hearings will begin Sept. 10 in Thunder Bay, Ont. before moving on to Smithers, B.C., Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Halifax, Edmonton, Yellowknife, and Maliotenam, Que.

They will close in early December in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.

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