On Tuesday, Patty Hajdu, Canada's minister for the status of women, quoted new research from the Native Women's Association of Canada that calculated a much higher number of deaths and disappearances than previously thought.
— UN Women (@UN_Women) February 18, 2016
In a scrum, Minister Patty Hajdu says @NWAC_CA estimates the number of missing or murdered Indigenous women could be as high as 4,000— Connie Walker (@connie_walker) February 16, 2016
The minister underlined, though, that lack of reliable data made it difficult to establish an accurate figure once and for all.
The statement comes as Canada's freshly-appointed Liberal cabinet is about to launch a national inquiry into the disappearance and murder of thousands of indigenous women.
26th Annual Women's Memorial March. #MMIWG #AmINext #ViolenceStopsWithMe #UBCIC pic.twitter.com/ONds64seoM— UBCIC (@UBCIC) February 15, 2016
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had pledged to start an investigation to the chiefs of Canada's First Nations during his electoral campaign last year.
Minister Hajdu, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Justice Minister Jody-Wilson Raybould have already started speaking with indigenous survivors and the relatives and partners of many missing native women all across the country.
"We have heard enough stories to hear that if you count these deaths that were called a suicide or other things, we have anecdotal evidence that the problem is greater. I think it's important we look to the root causes," Hajdu told CBC.
A previous estimate, from a 2014 report of Canada's mounted police, had pegged the figure at around 1,200 missing or killed indigenous women from 1980 to 2012.
The issue came to the fore of Canada's public debate in December 2015, after a man was charged for murdering native 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose corpse had been found in the Red River in 2014.
The killing grabbed the spotlight and caused nationwide outrage. Raymond Cormier, 53, was charged with second-degree murder.
Still, the Fontaine case is just the tip of the iceberg in a country where dozens of aboriginal women vanish every year, and are sometimes found dead in the same river.
Trudeau's inquiry aims at establishing the reasons behind widespread violence against indigenous women, and could eventually result in a review of the laws on indigenous peoples.
The investigation could also help restore the currently strained relations between Canada's authorities and its indigenous communities — also called the First Nations.
In Canada, @UN Secretary-General highlights rights of #indigenous women and girls. https://t.co/uD4XVsuREJ pic.twitter.com/ts7uO9yTyC— UNPFII (@UN4Indigenous) February 12, 2016
The situation has recently soured over several issues, such as government-sponsored projects for pipelines that would cross indigenous territory and rivers.
In 2012, First Nation women launched the "Idle No More" movement to protest the country's environmental degradation and what they saw as violations of indigenous peoples' rights.