UN rapporteur concludes Canada faces aboriginal rights crisis

By: Brianne Smith

Canada’s commitment to aboriginal rights was under the microscope last week during a UN investigation, which concluded the country must improve housing and education rights for First Nation peoples.

James Anaya, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, gives a statement at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, Oct. 15. Photo by Brianne Smith

By: BRIANNE SMITH

James Anaya, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, gives a statement at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, Oct. 15. Photo by Brianne Smith

James Anaya, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, gives a statement at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, Oct. 15. Photo by Brianne Smith

Canada’s commitment to aboriginal rights was under the microscope last week during a UN investigation that concluded the country must improve housing and education rights for First Nation peoples.

Rapporteur James Anaya visited Canada from Oct. 7-15 to examine the challenges facing aboriginal Canadians and make recommendations on how to combat the issues. He met with government, aboriginal leaders, and community members in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Many aboriginal Canadians are living in cramped houses ridden with mould, which can lead to disease, Anaya said in a statement on Oct. 15. He also noted several generations are living in small, single dwelling homes together.

“Aboriginal people live in conditions akin to those in countries that rank much lower and in which poverty abounds,” he said.

Anaya also addressed concern about the First Nations Education Act, which aims to give aboriginal students access to the same quality of education as all Canadians, and create accountability.

The act would allow an “outside inspector” to assess education on reserves each year and implement changes if needed, according to the Toronto Star. “Temporary officials” could also be appointed to manage the schools if they don’t meet standards.

Anaya said this could damage Aboriginal communities by displacing children from their homes and cutting them off from their culture, he said.

Aboriginal people have also been calling for a national inquiry into cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Bridget Tolley, co-founder of the Families of Sisters in Spirit organization (FSIS), said that while the latest records from 2010 estimate that 600 women are missing or murdered, she estimates there are more than a thousand.

“Since I started FSIS I’ve been posting about missing and murdered women…But nothing has changed. Nobody cares,” Tolley said.

“When any woman goes missing, it’s important. We are all the same…we are all human beings,” Tolley said.

“The government needs to treat these conditions with the urgency it deserves,” Anaya said.

Anaya said Canada has adopted the goal of reconciliation, and that his recommendations will aim to identify ways the government can adhere to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.

Tolley said she hopes Anaya’s visit will be able to combat the challenges facing Canada’s aboriginal population.

Anaya’s final report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Sept. 2014 will include recommendations for the Canadian government and indigenous governing groups. Anaya said he might also coach interested organizations on how to address the issues and concerns of indigenous peoples.

“Canada, with its diverse and multicultural society, has been a leader on the world stage of the promotion of human rights since the creation of the United Nations in 1945,” Anaya said.

However, he said, “Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country.”

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