UN investigator visits Manitoba reserve where some homes lack running water
Published Saturday, October 12, 2013 10:15PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, October 12, 2013 10:57PM EDT
A United Nations fact-finder visited a remote reserve in northwest Manitoba on Saturday as part of a nine-day visit to Canada, looking into what have been called "Third World living conditions" for some of Canada’s aboriginal communities.
Law professor James Anaya, the UN's special rapporteur on indigenous rights, started his day Saturday in Winnipeg, then travelled to Pukatawagan, a remote Cree reserve with more than 2,500 people.
In some cases, families of 15 are living in three-bedroom homes. Some of the houses on the reserve are infested with bed bugs and have mould issues.
In one home, an elderly diabetic woman who lost a leg and relies on her family to help care for her lives with no running water.
"She’s asked for many years to get help to fix her home and it’s not being helped," chief Arlen Dumas told CTV News. "She wants to have a proper place for herself…"
Dumas said his community’s problems are not unique and can be found on other reserves across Canada. Many reserves are overcrowded, lack adequate housing, and there are not enough jobs for the growing population.
"We want to provide for our children and our future generations and we need to do that in the proper way," Dumas said.
Dumas said new mining projects are being developed in Manitoba on what he considers treaty land -- and those projects are stripping away resources from his people.
Earlier this year Anaya filed a special report to the UN General Assembly on "Extractive industries and indigenous people," that endorsed the concept of free and informed consent for such operations of indigenous lands.
"In many cases indigenous people are open to discussions about extraction of natural resources from their territories in ways beneficial to them and respectful of their rights," the report says.
Anaya's report said the interests of the mining and natural resource industries and those of aboriginals are not always at odds with each other. "A number of situations have been brought to the attention of the special rapporteur in which indigenous peoples have agreed to industrial-scale resource extraction within their territories."
The report says, however, that there are "certainly cases" in which resource mining is "simply incompatible with indigenous peoples' own aspirations."
The federal government will have the opportunity to respond to a preliminary version of Anaya’s findings next week, before a final report is presented to the UN next year.
The report will include recommendations for Ottawa, First Nations, and possibly other groups. The report is non-binding, but First Nations leaders in Canada believe it will bring to light some of the unacceptable living conditions on reserves.
Anaya’s visit to Pukatawagan is part of a nine-day visit to Canada. He’s already visited Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta. He will wrap up his tour Sunday by visiting two communities in Saskatchewan.
Other concerns include education and justice
Earlier Saturday, Anaya was in downtown Winnipeg where he was greeted by members of the First Nation community at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street. The event temporarily shut down traffic at the busy intersection.
"The world needs to see that we are still caught in this colonial paradigm and that we are doing our best to break through," Derek Nepinak, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told CTV News.
Anaya heard many concerns at the welcoming event, including the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
"It needs to be on the priority list," Jo Seenie, who was at the event, told CTV Winnipeg on Saturday. "How can anyone imagine how women can disappear, never to be found?"
Anaya head comments about the state of on-reserve schools, and how they lag behind those in the provincial system.
"Everyone knows that to be in university, you need a higher level of sciences and maths and that’s not something we enjoy on the reserve," said Jeremy McKay, a university student.
Anaya has waited more than year to officially travel to Canada on behalf of the UN. He first requested permission for the fact-finding mission in February 2012.
With reports from CTV’s Jill Macyshon and CTV Winnipeg