Canada faces “a crisis” when it comes to the plight of Aboriginals, despite strides made recently in trying to improve their lot, a UN envoy said on Tuesday.
UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya said at the end of a nine-day tour of Canadian Aboriginal communities that steps taken to right historical wrongs and help lift Aboriginals out of severe poverty have been “insufficient.”
“Despite positive steps, daunting challenges remain,” he told a press conference in Ottawa. “From all I have learned, I can only conclude that Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country.”
He said the “well-being gap” between Canadian Aboriginals and the rest of the population has not narrowed over the past several years.
As an example he pointed to overcrowded, moldy homes “in need of serious repair,” high suicide rates, and a lack of educational and work opportunities in many Aboriginal communities.
“Overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among Aboriginal peoples toward government[s],” he added.
Anaya visited several Aboriginal communities and spoke with government officials over the past nine days.
In his preliminary observations, he urged Ottawa to consult more with Aboriginals on proposed education legislation, hold a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and prolong an ongoing Truth and Reconciliation Commission probing abuses at government-funded, church-run residential schools.
The government has recently said no to all three.
Anaya will soon present a more detailed report on the plight of Canada’s First Nations, with recommendations, to the UN Human Rights Council.
In it he is expected to also praise Canada for its process of settling land claims, remedying gender disparities in laws specific to Aboriginals and “adopting the goal of reconciliation, to repair the legacy of past injustices” since Anaya’s predecessor last visited Canada in 2003.
Conflicts with Aboriginals arising over Canada’s burgeoning resource industry may also be featured in the report.
Several tribes are protesting against new mines, pipelines and other resource projects in their traditional territories, either over environmental concerns or demands for a slice of royalties.
“Resource extraction should not occur on lands subject to Aboriginal claims without adequate consultations with and the free, prior and informed consent of the Aboriginal peoples concerned,” Anaya said.