UN report warns of crisis for First Nations in Canada
Despite positive steps over the past decade, Canada faces a “continuing crisis” when it comes to the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya released his report on May 12. The report is based on his nine-day trip to Canada last fall where he met with different Aboriginal communities in six different provinces.
The report includes his findings on the conditions on Aboriginal communities in Canada and 16 recommendations in the areas of social and economic conditions, truth and reconciliation, missing women and girls, self-government, participation and partnership, treaty negotiation and claims processes, and resource development.
The recommendations include improving socio-economic conditions with a focus on education out comes and adequate housing, addressing over-representation in the criminal justice system, taking acting to end violence against Indigenous women and girls, which includes calling a national inquiry in missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, addressing legal barriers to the exercise of self-government including meaningful consultation on legislation and the development and implementation of policies and programs, reforming the comprehensive claims process, ensuring that resource development projects that do not infringe on Aboriginal rights and title, and that First Nations be fully emerged in such projects.
Assembly of First Nations spokesperson Regional Chief Ghislain Picard welcomed the report, and called on the federal government to work together with Indigenous peoples to implement the recommendations.
Picard said First Nations fully agree that Canada must bring more attention and action on the issues facing Indigenous people, issues that affect all Canadians.
“This includes full respect and implementation of First Nations rights, title and treaties and ensuring safe and healthy communities for our people,” Picard said.
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy said he is not surprised by the “crisis situation” described by Anaya, and that the report comes at a very fragile time in the relationship between the federal government and Indigenous people.
Beardy hopes this report is a wake-up call.
“I hope this UN report is a wake-up call for the Canadian government because it only reinforces and strengthens our positions,” he said. “Not only does this report recommend Ottawa call an inquiry into missing and murdered women and recognize the disparity between the average Canadian and our First Nation communities, but it reports the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples is worse than ever.”
Beardy said that the report also states the initiatives that have been taken by the government to address issues like missing and murdered women and the disparity between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals have been insufficient.
While acknowledging that challenges remain, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Minister Bernard Valcourt said the government has taken many positive steps to improve the overall well-being and prosperity of Aboriginal people in Canada.
“Canada’s diverse and multicultural society has been a leader on the world stage in the protection of human rights and, as acknowledged in the report, is one of the first countries in the modern era to extend constitutional protection to the rights of Aboriginal peoples,” Valcourt said.
Valcourt said that Canada’s numerous laws, policies, and programs aimed at addressing Aboriginal peoples’ concerns allow for a positive collaboration with Canada’s Aboriginal and northern communities.
“As pointed out in the report, Canada’s policies and processes to address historical grievances are an example to the world and many of Canada’s efforts provide important examples of reconciliation and accommodation,” Valcourt said.
Valcourt said that while more work needs to be done, the report notes the important steps that have been taken to ensure progress in providing equal access to First Nations, as all other Canadians, to safe housing, education, and matrimonial rights.
Valcourt said AANDC is committed to continuing work with partners to make significant progress in improving the lives of Aboriginal people in Canada, and will review the report carefully to determine how to best address the recommendations.
AANDC stated Canada is investing $241 million over four years to help First Nation youth between the ages of 18 and 24 get personalized job and skills training. And that the Economic Action Plan 2014 includes an additional $25 million over five years to reduce violence against Aboriginal women and girls, and putting money into concrete resources.
Through the Economic Action Plan 2014, Canada committed to invest $323.4 million dollars over two years for the implementation of the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan.
The Government of Canada’s investments for on-reserve housing have resulted in the construction of 11,364 new units and more than 21,212 renovations between 2006/07 and 2012/13.
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