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James Anaya, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples, upon completion of his 8-day visit to Canada said the country “faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country.”
The overarching message in Anaya's concluding statement, released yesterday, is that over the last decade Canada has failed to make any meaningful progress on the very serious threats faced by aboriginal communities.
Anaya's visit comes 10 years after the 2003 visit by UN Special Rapporteur Rodolfo Stavenhagen who, at the time, stressed “the economic, social and human indicators of well-being, quality of life and development are consistently lower among Aboriginal people than other Canadians.” In 2004 Stavenhagen noted poverty, infant mortality, unemployment, morbidity, suicide, criminal detention, children on welfare, women victims of abuse, child prostitution are significantly higher in Aboriginal populations compared to any other sector of Canadian society, while education, health, housing conditions, family income, and equal access to economic and social opportunities are much lower.
Canada, Stavenhagen assured the international community in 2003, had “taken up the challenge to close this gap.”
Upon completion of Anaya’s current visit he stated Canada still has a very long way to go in its work to tighten the “well-being gap” between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.
Canada, notes Anaya, was one of the first countries to extend constitutional protection to indigenous peoples’ rights, yet, he says “despite positive steps, daunting challenges remain” for Canada.
“The well-being gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has not narrowed over the last several years, treaty and aboriginal claims remain persistently unresolved, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among aboriginal peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels,” he said.
Although Canada ranks high on international indices of human development standards, he said, “amidst this wealth and prosperity, aboriginal people live in conditions akin to those in countries that rank much lower and in which poverty abounds.”
He noted dismal living conditions, poor education and high suicide rates in aboriginal communities were alarming. This is not new information, said Anaya, who added the Canadian Human Rights Commission “has consistently said that the conditions of aboriginal peoples makes for the most serious human rights problem in Canada.”
He also said that the “disturbing phenomenon” of murdered and missing aboriginal women forms part of the “long shadow” of oppression that includes residential schools and other aspects of Canadian First Nations’ history.
Of additional concern, says Anaya, is the fact that Canada’s ‘solutions’ to the variety of social and economic hardships faced by aboriginal communities “has not appropriately included nor responded to aboriginal views.” He added one hundred and thirty years of Indian Act policies have persistently undermined, and continute to undermine, First Nation’s and Inuit people’s self-governance, which is essential to “creating socially and economically healthy and self-sufficient aboriginal communities.”
Anaya’s preliminary recommendations, reported by Roger Annis on the Vancouver Observer, are listed below. A more in-depth report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2014.
- Granting an extension to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is examining the history of the residential school policy that dates back more than one century. He says the extension should last “as long as may be necessary.” The Commission’s mandate expires on July 1, 2014, but its work has been obstructed and delayed because the federal government has refused to divulge extensive documentation about residential schools.
- Slowing a “rush forward” with planned legislation this fall to reform the Aboriginal education system. He says there is “profound distrust” among First Nations over the proposed First Nation Education Act. It will set standards for teaching staff, curriculum and students. Aboriginal leaders are concerned the act will impose standards that disregard Indigenous language and culture and that education funding will not be increased. They want immediate increases to education funding, but Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt says there will be no funding increases considered until the new act is passed.
- Establishing a public inquiry into the cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women, whose numbers are estimated at more than 600. The federal government has flatly rejected this, and is ignoring calls from international organizations and provincial governments on the matter.
- Treating the housing situation on First Nations reserves and Inuit communities “with the urgency it deserves.” He says housing conditions are unacceptable and it is “abundantly clear” that funding for aboriginal housing is “woefully inadequate.”
- Adopting a much less “adversarial” approach to dealing with aboriginal land claims and treaty disputes.
- Recognizing that “resource extraction” should not occur on lands subject to aboriginal claims without “adequate consultations” and the “free, prior and informed consent” of the Aboriginals affected.
First Nation’s children on reserves in Canada receive 22 percent less per child in federal funding and more than 500 reserve schools lack access to basic amenities like running water in libraries. The average child on reserve receives $2000 to $3000 less per year in education funding.
In addition First Nation’s communities have been on the front lines of some of Canada’s most ground-breaking – and expensive – legal challenges to environmentally harmful resource extraction. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation is undertaking what could become Canada’s most important challenge to the ever-expanding Alberta tar sands. And the Chilcotin people in Northern British Columbia are just weeks away from what might be the most significant land title hearing in Canada since the precedent-setting 1997 Delgamuukw decision.
Remote front-line communities often face the greatest impacts of resource extraction that threaten land-based ways of life. First Nations, through constitutionally-protected rights and treaty rights, must be ‘adequately consulted’ before resource projects are approved – a requirement often overlook by the Government of Canada.
In addition the lack of meaningful investment into First Nations’ land, economies and culture has led to difficult socio-economic conditions for younger generations. Child poverty is the most striking indicator of the well-being gap that is widening between on and off reserve children.
This graphic, produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, shows the disparity between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadian children according to province.
First Nations child poverty by the numbers:
- Each on-reserve First Nations child receives 22% less funding than each child off of reserve.
- 50 per cent of status First Nations children in Canada live in poverty.
- Approximately 3 times as many First Nations children are now in child welfare care than were ever in the residential school system.
- First Nations children are 6 to 8 times more likely to go into child welfare care than non-aboriginal children.
- 65% of kids in child welfare care in Alberta are First Nations (who account for less than 10% of the population).
- 53% of kids in child welfare care in British Columbia are First Nations.
- 1 in 6 children on reserves in Canada doesn't have clean water to drink.
- The cost to pull all First Nations children out of poverty: $1 billion.
- The World Health Organization says, for $1 properly invested in children, the taxpayer saves $7 down the line.
- That’s a net profit of $6 billion.
For more of James Anaya’s reflections on his visit to Canada, see his written statement on the UN's website.
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