James Anaya speaking in Ottawa, October 15, 2013 (Photo: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, just completed a nine-day tour of Canada to examine the situation of First Nations people in this country. At a news conference in Ottawa, he said we are facing a "crisis," and that work needs to be done to narrow "the well-being gap" between aboriginals and non-aboriginals, CBC News reports.
Anaya also called on the government to launch a nationwide inquiry into cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women, which he called a "disturbing phenomenon." The Native Women's Association of Canada estimates that there have been more than 600 such cases in the past 20 years. While he acknowledged that the government has taken some steps to address the issue of violence against aboriginal women, Anaya said that First Nations people he spoke to had expressed "a widespread lack of confidence in the effectiveness of those measures."
As well, he suggested that the federal government should extend the mandate of its Truth and Reconciliation Committee beyond next summer so that it will have time to finish its work.
Over the course of his nine-day mission, Anaya met with representatives of First Nations, as well as government officials and natural resource industry representatives. Among the topics of discussion was the First Nations Education Act currently being developed by the government. He says he heard from some First Nations people "a particular deep concern that the process for developing the act has not appropriately included nor responded to aboriginal views."
At the press conference, Anaya asked the government "not to rush forward with this legislation but to reinitiate discussions with aboriginal leaders to develop a process and ultimately a bill that addresses aboriginal concerns and incorporates aboriginal view points." He also suggested the government could increase funding to aboriginal students "relatively quickly."
Aboriginal Affairs minister Bernard Valcourt told CBC News in a written statement that increased funding will only happen after the system has been reformed.
"Reform will take place, funding will follow," he said. "But funding will not replace reform because the current education system is failing these kids."
Valcourt's statement also addressed Anaya's other observations, saying they are at "the centre of Canada’s preoccupations and explain why the government has taken, and continues to take, effective incremental steps to improve the situation in partnership with Aboriginal Canadians."
Head to CBC News for a full report on Anaya's comments.