Canada ranked low in UN native report

Canada ranked 48 out of 174 countries in UN report on the well-being of its native people.

Canada's high ranking on the United Nations' human development scale would dramatically drop if the country were judged solely on the economic and social well-being of its First Nations people.

According to a new UN report, Canada would be placed 48th out of 174 countries if judged on those criteria.

The low position is a significant drop from Canada's usual top 10 ranking on the UN's human development scale. Canada came in seventh in the last report but if the conditions of native people were the only qualifiers, the country's ranking would plummet.

"Poverty, infant mortality, unemployment, morbidity, suicide, criminal detention, children on welfare, women victims of abuse, child prostitution, are all much higher among aboriginal people than in any other sector of Canadian society," said the report issued by the UN Human Rights Commission.

UN special investigator Rodolfo Stavenhagen researched the plight of Canada's indigenous peoples on a visit to the country from May 21 to June 4, 2004, at the invitation of the Canadian government. Stavenhagen pored over statistics and commission reports, and spoke with Inuit leaders.

"Economic, social and human indicators of well-being, quality of life and development are completely lower among aboriginal people than other Canadians," said Stavenhagen, who also warns the housing, health and suicide situation is reaching crisis proportions.

He said the condition of aboriginal people in the country was "the most pressing human rights issue facing Canada."

Among the problems highlighted in the report:

  • Poverty affects 60 per cent of aboriginal children.
  • The annual income of aboriginal people is "significantly lower" than other Canadians.
  • Unemployment is very high among aboriginals.
  • 20 per cent of aboriginal people have inadequate water and sewer systems.
  • Aboriginals make up 4.4 per cent of the Canadian population but account for 17 per cent of the people in prison.
  • Cases of tuberculosis are six times higher than the rest of Canada.
  • Life expectancy among the Inuit is 10 years lower than the rest of Canada.

Paul Meyer, Canada's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, agrees the health of native people in Canada is "a matter of serious concern." He referred to the recently launched Canada-Aboriginal Peoples Roundtable as the focus of efforts to improve the lives of First Nations people.