By: Alexandra Paul
Winnipeg Free Press
When Gail Nepinak finally made it to Ottawa to press the Harper government for justice, it was her sister she talked about.
Nepinak told television cameras at a news conference in the nation's capital, "I came all the way to Ottawa to fight for my sister, Tanya."
The Winnipegger was among the aboriginal women who presented a petition with 23,000 signatures for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Canadian aboriginal women in the House of Commons Thursday.
Her sister, Tanya Nepinak, 31, vanished in September 2011 in Winnipeg. Her body has never been recovered despite an operation mounted a year later by police in an attempt to recover her remains, believed to be at the Brady Landfill.
Immediately after her comments Thursday in Ottawa, she boarded a flight back to Winnipeg and could not be reached for comment.
In Ottawa Thursday, Michele Audette, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said an inquiry is "a must and it's a need," The Canadian Press reported.
She promised to make missing and murdered aboriginal women an issue in next year's federal election campaign.
"The next federal election, I'll make sure everywhere I go, I will ask the women to stand up and vote," Audette said. "This isn't right. We will be voting either for change or a strong commitment."
It is estimated there are hundreds of cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women dating back to the 1960s.
A United Nations human rights investigator called that statistic disturbing last year during a fact-finding visit to Canada in which he also urged the Conservative government to hold an inquiry.
James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said a national inquiry would ensure a co-ordinated response to the problem and allow the families of victims to be heard.
While the Conservatives renewed funding to combat violence against aboriginal women and girls in their recent budget, they have so far resisted calls for a formal inquiry, including a call from provincial governments, led by Manitoba.
The event in Ottawa was held on the eve of a national day of marches to draw attention to pleas for justice. Today in Winnipeg, on Valentine's Day, relatives and supporters are expected to gather at the University of Winnipeg's Convocation Hall at 6 p.m.
Across the country similar marches are organized at the same time.
It's the seventh annual year for the Women's Memorial March.
Organizers for the march in Manitoba released statistics to show the latest updates on missing and murdered women now stands at 824, with 115 victims in Manitoba, mostly from Winnipeg.
-- with files from The Canadian Press