By Terrence Mceachern, The Leader-Post
Months after a public forum between police and First Nations leaders in Regina to discuss violence in the community, both sides are feeling optimistic about improved relations and changes that have taken place. "There have been linkages made that weren't there before," said Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Vice-Chief Kimberly Jonathan. "There has been a clear communication gap that's been resolved."
On Nov. 6, Jonathan and Regina Police Chief Troy Hagen were part of a public forum at Regina Treaty Status Indian Services Inc. to discuss three recent homicides as well as violence against aboriginal women.
Weeks later, Hagen participated in a public march in downtown Regina with First Nations leaders to raise awareness about the issues.
"The people needed to see that his heart is obviously with this file," said Jonathan.
"The important part is (Hagen) is not coming in and saying 'I know everything and I know what's best for you families (and) First Nations communities.' He has his ears open (and) he has the best interests at heart."
Jonathan saw the positive results of improved relations when she received a phone call on Dec. 31 from police informing her that an arrest had been made in the Sept. 25 homicide of Kelly Goforth. The call helped Jonathan prepare support and have resources in place to help Goforth's family.
Jonathan also noted improved relations with the Prince Albert Police Service and the Saskatchewan RC MP.
"They're so enthusiastic. They want to listen, they want to learn (and) they want to help. They want to ensure we create safe communities in "F" Division through Saskatchewan," she said.
Jonathan said that educating young women about how to stay safe needs to continue.
"Staying together when they are going to be out and about, whether it's to a bar or to the park, wherever - that they keep together and that they watch their beverages (and) that they make smart decisions to be able to keep themselves safe," said Jonathan.
"And if they are going to be gone away, that they ensure there is communication to family members and friends."
Despite the improved relations with police, Jonathan is still calling for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women to give families a voice and find answers. She said it is upsetting to hear arguments relating all missing aboriginal women to prostitution or abuse of drugs or alcohol.
On Friday, Bob Morin, deputy police chief, noted that there are too many longterm missing persons cases in Canada and, although he doesn't oppose a public inquiry, the decision to invoke one is not in his control.
He added that cases involving unsolved missing and murdered aboriginal women can be a source of frustration for investigators and families.
"I mean, people disappear off the face of the earth. And we continue to look at those investigations but I think more importantly it's frustrating for the families and loved ones of those folks who are really left to wonder where their loved ones are," said Morin.
Since 2005, there have been three missing and two unsolved murdered aboriginal women cases in Regina. "We have put a lot of time and effort in those files and we continue to investigate them, and it's frustrating when we continue to see long-term missing people knowing the impact it may have on those families."