Canada faces a 'crisis' on aboriginal reserves: UN investigator
Christina Commisso, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, October 15, 2013 10:40AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 15, 2013 11:03PM EDT
A UN indigenous rights investigator said Canada faces a "crisis" when it comes to the situation of the country's aboriginal peoples.
James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said Tuesday that one in five aboriginal Canadians lives in a home in need of serious repairs, and the suicide rate among youth on reserves is "alarming" at a rate five times greater than that of all Canadians.
"One community I visited has suffered a suicide (once) every six weeks since the start of this year," Anaya said during a news conference Tuesday.
The First Nation community is Pukatawagan, Man., which is located 900 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
"Canada consistently ranks among the top of countries in 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," he said.
Anaya’s comments follow a nine-day mission, in which he was tasked with reviewing the rights of indigenous people and the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Since his mission began on Oct. 7, Anaya spent time in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba looking into what have been called "third-world living conditions" for some of Canada’s aboriginal communities.
He said Canada has addressed some concerns raised the previous Special Rapporteur in 2004, and noted that the country was the first to extend constitutional protection to indigenous peoples rights.
He added that federal and provincial governments have made notable effort to address treaty and aboriginal land claims, and to improve the economic and social well-being of indigenous people.
"Despite positive steps, the daunting challenge remains," he said. "From all I've learned, I can only conclude that Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples."
He said the residential school period in Canada continues to "cast a long shadow of despair on indigenous communities."
Anaya urged the federal government to extend the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which has been tasked with learning about what happened in the residential schools and to inform all Canadians, for "as long as necessary."
"Many of the dire social and economic problems faced by aboriginal people are directly linked to that experience," he said.
Anaya, a law professor, met with representatives from the federal government and First Nations during his visit.
Liberal Aboriginal Affairs critic Carolyn Bennett said there is mistrust between First Nations and government.
“We are nowhere closer to reconciliation or improving or resetting the relationship,” she said in an interview with CTV News Tuesday.
Lorna Bighetty, a resident of Pukatawagan whose 20-year-old son, Shawn, died of suicide four years ago, says something must be done to help her community, where poverty is prevalent. Since Shawn’s death, there have been as many as 27 more suicides at Pukatawagan, which is home to 2,500 residents.
“It is very depressing to know so many of our kids are leaving us this way,” she said.
But there is hope, as calls for change grow louder, says Derek Nepinak, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
“It’s time we stop living the way we’ve been living and come together, and really create the prosperity that was promised through the treaty relationships we’ve built,” he said.
A public report on Anaya’s findings is expected to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014, but he said Tuesday that ahead of the report, he wanted to share some preliminary observations.
The federal government will get a chance to respond to Anaya's findings before a final report goes to the UN.
With a report from CTV News’ Jill Macyshon