EDMONTON — Alberta has established a team of four social workers to help families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The three women and one man are to assist relatives in getting information about their loved ones from police, courts, the government and fatality inquiries.
Don Langford, executive director of the Metis Child and Family Services Society, said the social workers will be welcomed by indigenous people who believe their pain and concerns are being ignored.
"There is a great need in this community for someone to step up and listen to our people — to understand what they are feeling and to understand their frustration," he said at the government announcement Friday.
"You can't go day after day and ask question after question without getting some sort of illogical response from somebody. At times our people feel that just nobody gives a damn."
The social workers are indigenous and their job will include travel throughout the province, including to remote communities.
Such units are funded by the federal government as part of the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women that is to begin in Yukon later this month. Other community meetings elsewhere in Canada won't take place until at least the fall.
Richard Feehan, the province's indigenous relations minister, said the workers can also help connect families with elders and counsellors.
"This unit will work as a single point of contact for victims' families where they may get the information and the emotional support they need."
There are 48 First Nations in Alberta and nine Metis Settlements.
A government website says there were 206 aboriginal women murdered in Alberta between 1980 and 2012 — about 28 per cent of all female homicides during that time. Statistics Canada says aboriginal females make up about six per cent of Alberta's population.
Janice Randhile is one of the four social workers. She said she wanted to get involved after taking part in numerous walks to raise awareness about the violence.
"I looked at the job description and again realized that this is my opportunity to do more than just attend walks, as important as they are," she said.
"I felt it was my opportunity to make a direct, positive difference to help support the families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls."
Langford said it is too easy for society to blame or judge victims.
He called on families to teach their children that violence is not the answer to problems and for men to value women.
"Be the warrior that you are and protect your mother, protect your sisters, protect your wife, protect your cousins," he said.
"And respect the grandmothers."
John Cotter, The Canadian Press