People in Ottawa protesting the lack of a government inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. (Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
According to a UN report released today, Canada’s relationship with its aboriginal people needs improvement. Lots of improvement.
The report was authored by James Anaya, the UN rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. In it, Anaya says that “human rights problems faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada have reached crisis proportions.” The report calls for, among other things, a nationwide inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. His findings come after spending nine days in Canada last year meeting with First Nations representatives and government officials.
Anaya specifically highlights ”the well-being gap” between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada. He writes: “treaty and aboriginals claims remain persistently unresolved, indigenous women and girls remain vulnerable to abuse.” He also points to “high levels of distrust among indigenous peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels.”
The report articulates many of the problems that have been circulating in news stories over the past year. For example, it comes just days after the Canadian government put its First Nations education bill (Bill C-33) on hold. And just two weeks ago, the Aboriginal People's Television Network reported that the RCMP has uncovered more than 1,000 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women — an issue that has been the source of widespread protests.
The report makes a series of recommendations, which include:
- Ensure sufficient funding for services for indigenous peoples both on- and off-reserve in areas of education, health, and child welfare
- Prioritize addressing the housing crisis
- Provide more support for indigenous-run and culturally appropriate social and judicial services
- Work in conjunction with indigenous peoples to enhance education opportunities for them
- Further address eligibility for registration under the Indian Act and take into account indigenous peoples’ own criteria for membership
- Adhere to the Canadian constitution in regards to resource extraction, which should not occur on lands subject to aboriginal claims without adequate consultations with and the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned.
Bernard Valcourt, Canada’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, issued a response to the report this morning. He acknowledged that while more work needs to be done, the government is proud of “the effective and incremental steps taken in partnership with aboriginal communities,” and is committed to making “significant progress” in improving the lives of aboriginal people.