Five years after the project to find out whatever happened to the 520 missing and/or murdered Aboriginal women in this country started, the women who got the ball rolling may lose their funding.

The Sisters In Spirit (SIS) initiative at the Native Women’s Association of Canada is currently waiting on a reply from the federal government through the Status of Women Canada (SWC) to find out if their funding will be renewed after their initial five-year mandate runs out on March 31, 2010.

The initiative was first started back in 2005 by the NWAC to address violence against Aboriginal women, particularly radicalized and/or sexualized violence, that is, violence perpetrated against Aboriginal women because of their gender and Aboriginal identity.

Kate Rexe, director of the SIS, said she is hopeful because the Canadian government is under a great deal of pressure internationally to address this particular issue, but recognizes that in tough economic times, nobody is safe.

“What the difficulty is here is that this is new funding that has to be approved and it has to be approved at a time of economic uncertainty during a recession. Basically you could argue that every minister in every department is fighting to get funding,” said Rexe.

Since the initiative began, SIS has extensively researched why so many Aboriginal women in Canada have dropped off of the map without a trace. Prior to 2005, the number of missing and/or murdered Aboriginal women was not even known.

In their five years of existence, SIS has not only come up with actual numbers, they have also collected data on how the situation has been perpetuated by Canadian society, reached out to the families of these women and told their stories.

Since September, SIS has submitted all of their briefing notes and requirements for funding to the SWC but it might still be a number of weeks before the initiative knows whether their project might end in 2010.

Despite the pressure that the government might be under, what concerns Rexe is that the funding they are looking for is new as there are programs within the SWC that many different groups can apply for funding through. Because SIS has already received funding in the past, the money they are applying for does not fall under other monies already allocated to the SWC.

If SIS does not receive approval for new funding at the end of their mandate it would mean essentially closing up shop, ending their research and the fight for justice for the 520 women who have gone unaccounted for.

“Essentially all of the knowledge and the expertise addressing violence and missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada would no longer be available. We have really talented and educated staff on this issue and to not have one group that has all of this knowledge and awareness that can actually contribute to real change would be a huge failing for this issue,” said Rexe.

Many of the families of these missing women have worked with SIS to raise awareness about their situations and though the initiative does not offer any counseling services, they still do help coordinate families when it comes to getting the services they need. Prior to SIS, there was no movement or service available to even do that and many families were left struggling to find their missing family members on their own.

Rexe said that at the moment SIS has been working intensively with the SWC through the Ministry of State and that they are being reassured that they will receive some news within the next few weeks.

In the meantime, Rexe has had her staff start to write down everything they have been working on so that this precious knowledge is not lost as SIS is in certain respects the only agency that has it. If they lose their funding, she does not want it to disappear so that it can remain available to those that need it.

Should they get their funding renewed, Rexe said that they are not even certain as to how much money they might get. Though they have applied to get the same amount they were granted in 2005, this funding would not account for cost of living changes since that time.

“A million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but it isn’t when you’re looking at a research initiative that is exploring an area that has never been examined before. We hold information that has not been collected by the RCMP and other police forces, Statistics Canada, and that is not reported by anyone,” said Rexe.