Aboriginal groups across Canada held demonstrations and erected road blockades this weekend, pushing the Harper government for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
The Hamilton area saw two roads blocked and at least three candlelight vigils meant to honour the memories of the missing women and make it clear that this is an issue that won't disappear quietly.
"Enough's enough," said He Carries the Strength of Two Buffalo Dale, a leader in the Men's Healing Circle blockade of a section of Main Street East this weekend. "It's not just about our people. Everyone in Canada is being bullied by the government."
With police co-operation, the group — which counted about 25 people around 4 p.m. each day — shut down James and John streets from 7 a.m. to after 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dale said the public is likely to see future disruptions if their demands aren't taken seriously.
Protesters also closed stretches of two highways in Ontario for most of the weekend. Demonstrators blocked part of Highway 6 between Caledonia and Hagersville, while others shut down a bridge connecting traffic between Tyendinaga Territory and Prince Edward County. Six Nations Men's Fire organized the Highway 6 closure.
At an event held on the Hamilton Mountain on Saturday, more than 100 people — mostly women — gathered for a water ceremony, a candlelight vigil and a meal.
"The federal government refuses to see that this is a crisis for our women," said Linda Ense, the executive director of the Native Women's Centre.
The event was held at Honouring the Circle, an aboriginal women's shelter near Upper James and the Mountain Brow. More than 100 such vigils were held across the country, said Ense, including one at Burlington's Notre Dame Secondary School on Saturday and another at Six Nations Veterans Park on Sunday.
Citing a RCMP report issued in the spring, Ense read some grim statistics to the diverse group assembled in Hamilton.
"There have been 1,181 missing and murdered women (in the past three decades). They make up 16 per cent of murder victims in Canada … Demand that national inquiry!"
The pressure to hold an inquiry into the elevated risk of violence and murder faced by aboriginal women appears to be swelling. It has been endorsed by provincial premiers across Canada, and is also supported by the federal Liberals and NDP. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has so far brushed off the issue as a law enforcement matter.
McMaster University political scientist Peter Graefe says that's not a particularly strong argument.
"If you're going to say we don't need an inquiry, I think you need to present an alternative or a clear explanation of why it's not needed," Graefe said Sunday.
He said it's a particularly interesting tactic since there is an election coming up next year, and the results of an inquiry wouldn't likely be ready until well into the next government's mandate. Going forward with it would give the Conservatives a chance to placate those demands without having to act on any results until after the election.
Interestingly, notes Graefe, the governing party has long tried to position itself as tough on crime.
"This (prime minister) has been about … coming down hard on criminals through punishment as opposed to seeing crime as the result of social processes like inequality or racism," he said. "At the end of the day, you'd think he'd want to put this to bed with an inquiry so he could go on talking about free trade agreements."