Canada is facing a "crisis" when it comes to the situation of indigenous people across the country, according to United Nations special rapporteur James Anaya.
Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, included that finding in a statement issued today (October 15) at the conclusion of his seven-day visit to Canada.
Over the coming weeks, Anaya will review the information collected from aboriginal organizations and government officials to compile a report. But the investigator’s preliminary observations and recommendations include calls for a national inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women, and for the federal government “not to rush forward” with the First Nations Education Act.
“Canada consistently ranks near the top among countries with respect to human development standards, and yet amidst this wealth and prosperity, aboriginal people live in conditions akin to those in countries that rank much lower and in which poverty abounds,” Anaya said in the statement.
The investigator drew attention to poor living conditions facing aboriginal people, including inadequate housing, and to the much higher rates of suicide and violence against women compared to the non-aboriginal population.
According to the investigator, the concerns of indigenous people “merit higher priority” at all levels of government
“It is clear to me that Canada is aware of and concerned about these issues, and that it is taking steps to address them,” stated Anaya. “I have learned about numerous programs, policies and efforts that have been rolled out at the federal and provincial levels, and many of these have achieved notable successes. However, it is equally clear that these steps are insufficient, and have yet to fully respond to aboriginal peoples’ urgent needs, fully protect their aboriginal and treaty rights, or to secure relationships based on mutual trust and common purpose.”
Anaya urged the federal government to extend the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to allow it to complete its work. He acknowledged the continuing impacts of the residential school system, stating that the period in Canada’s history “continues to cast a long shadow of despair on indigenous communities”, with many of the social and economic problems faced by aboriginal people directly linked to the experience.
He also supported calls for a “comprehensive and nation-wide inquiry” into the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women, and said funding for aboriginal education should be at least equivalent to per-student funding for provincial educational systems.
Based on observations collected from aboriginal communities across the country, Anaya described funding for aboriginal housing as “woefully inadequate”.
“I urge the Government to treat the housing situation on First Nations reserves and Inuit communities with the urgency it deserves,” he stated. “It simply cannot be acceptable that these conditions persist in the midst of a country with such great wealth.”
The special rapporteur also said that as a “general rule”, resource extraction should not occur on lands that are the subject of aboriginal land claims without adequate consultation.
During his official visit to Canada from October 7 to 15, Anaya heard from government officials and indigenous leaders in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.
Anaya’s report on his findings will be made public, and will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014.