Indigenous leaders in Canada were vindicated upon the release of the report of James Anaya, the outgoing United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which concluded that relations have deteriorated and are at a crisis point.
The matter came full circle at the 13th session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is under way this month through May 23, when Anaya formally presented his report at the international meeting.
“I want to thank the Special Rapporteur for his report and I profoundly appreciate professor Anaya’s thorough analysis and recommendations on the way forward for First Nations and Canada,” said Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Ghislain Picard, the AFN’s spokesperson since National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo resigned on May 2. “The key issues before us now are to examine what Indigenous Peoples can do to ensure that the recommendations in the report are fully implemented, identify international mechanisms to ensure the State works with Indigenous peoples to support implementation, and ways the State can be held accountable in the event of non-compliance. I will be reporting back to First Nations soon to discuss next steps.”
Picard has long advocated bringing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the people from the halls of institutions. Only then, he has said, will the declaration truly be implemented—when people can see it playing out in their daily lives.
Highlighting everything from housing, to health, to education, Anaya, whose term has just ended, called various initiatives at the federal and provincial levels of government “insufficient” in addressing the problems that Indigenous Peoples face in Canada.
“The well-being gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has not narrowed over the last several years, treaty and aboriginals claims remain persistently unresolved, indigenous women and girls remain vulnerable to abuse, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among indigenous peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels,” Anaya said in his opening summary. “Indigenous peoples’ concerns merit higher priority at all levels and within all branches of Government, and across all departments. Concerted measures, based on mutual understanding and real partnership with aboriginal peoples, through their own representative institutions, are vital to establishing long-term solutions. To that end, it is necessary for Canada to arrive at a common understanding with indigenous peoples of objectives and goals that are based on full respect for their constitutional, treaty, and internationally recognized rights.”
The relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian government has only deteriorated since the previous Rapporteur’s report, in 2004, he said. While many measures and policies exist to improve aboriginal well-being, education, health, housing and access to justice—among many other areas—the initiatives are not living up to their potential.
“It is difficult to reconcile Canada’s well-developed legal framework and general prosperity with the human rights problems faced by indigenous peoples in Canada that have reached crisis proportions in many respects,” Anaya said in his report. “Moreover, the relationship between the federal Government and indigenous peoples is strained, perhaps even more so than when the previous Special Rapporteur visited Canada in 2003, despite certain positive developments that have occurred since then and the shared goal of improving conditions for indigenous peoples.”
First Nations and other aboriginal leaders called for immediate action.
“The AFN National Executive Committee acknowledges the efforts of UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya, and we are calling on the Government of Canada to work with First Nations to implement the important recommendations in today’s report to ensure these priorities are addressed in ways that work for our peoples,” said Picard when the report was released on May 12, the first day of the Forum.
“First Nations fully agree that Canada must bring much more attention and action on the issues facing our people, issues that affect all Canadians,” Picard said in a statement. “This includes full respect and implementation of First Nations rights, title and Treaties and ensuring safe and healthy communities for our people. We welcome as well his support for our call for a national public inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. There is a groundswell of support for such an inquiry and the Government of Canada must hear this call and act on it now.”
Other indigenous leaders concurred, saying the report had not told them anything they didn’t already know.
"Dr. Anaya's critical study on the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada is a clear and objective report on the conditions facing Indigenous communities in Canada,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, in a statement from the First Nations Leadership Council.
"The Harper government still relies upon ineffective, legally outdated, prejudicial and dishonorable policies of engagement with Indigenous Peoples in Canada,” he said in a statement. “As indicated by Dr. Anaya, this approach has contributed to an adversarial atmosphere of contentiousness and mistrust that does not allow for beneficial economic development or social peace. We absolutely expect Canada to carry out the recommendations that Dr. Anaya made, specifically the recommendation that Canada undertake a comprehensive inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.”
The renewed call for such a national inquiry came on the heels of revelations by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) that nearly 1,200 aboriginal women are missing or murdered, a third or more higher than the number estimated by advocates.