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Brutal attack on native woman spurs renewed calls for inquiry

First Nations homeless woman Marlene Bird was brutally assaulted in Prince Albert, Sask.

Marlene Bird is alive, but barely.

The 47-year-old member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation is in the burn unit of the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton after being found June 1 in a parking lot in Prince Albert, Sask.

Half of her face had been cut off and she was so severely burned from the waist down that her bones were visible. Doctors have had to amputate both of her legs.

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Police are still looking for the assailant or assailants. And the staff at the Prince Albert YWCA are raising money to assist with her future care.

The assault of Ms. Bird was exceptionally brutal. But it could easily have gone unnoticed and unreported.

That is why First Nations leaders are calling for a national public inquiry into the large numbers of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada. They say stories like those of Marlene Bird need to be told.

"Do we need another life to say it's an emergency, to say that an inquiry is a must here in Canada?" Michèle Audette, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, asked Friday.

The RCMP said last month it has compiled nearly 1,200 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada over the past 30 years – a number that is three to four times higher than their average representation in the country.

Ms. Audette and deputy grand chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Northern Ontario visited Justice Minister Peter MacKay in Ottawa this week to make another plea for the inquiry. The Conservative government, so far, has refused, saying it is already enacting a wide range of anti-crime measures to target the problem.

"If it had been a middle-classed woman in Toronto, this would have received national attention," Donna Brooks, the executive director of the YWCA in Prince Albert, said of the attack on Ms. Bird. "The condition she was found in was horrific."

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Ms. Bird grew up in a small community in northern Saskatchewan called Molanosa and left, at an early age, to attend residential school. She returned home in her teens and lived for a couple years by trapping and fishing with her grandmother. But, by the time she was in her early 20s, she was lost to the streets.

"She fell into a dysfunctional system and she was transient most of her life after that," said her aunt, Lorna Thiessen.

Relatives offered to take her in but she didn't want them to burden them with her alcoholism.

Then, last week, someone very nearly killed her.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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