UN rapporteur says Canada faces an aboriginal crisis

James Anaya identifies myriad social and economic woes

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

“Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country.” — James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples

James Anaya didn’t tell Canadians anything they didn’t already know. The law professor at the University of Arizona just spent nine days in Canada in his capacity as a UN special rapporteur, charged with assessing the quality of life enjoyed by aboriginal Canadians. As his trip wrapped up yesterday, Anaya offered some preliminary conclusions, none of which would surprise anybody who’s even passively paid attention to the plight of Canadian aboriginals.

“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, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among aboriginal peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels,” wrote Anaya.

The rapporteur pointed to work that should be done to improve living conditions on reserve, discourage suicide, improve service funding, examine disproportionate incarceration rates, fully document the miserable history of residential schools, launch an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, improve educational outcomes, mitigate family violence and unemployment, invest in self-governing capacity, expedite treaty claim negotiations, and develop a common vision for achieving all of these things.

Worthy goals, no doubt, though the feds will certainly pick and choose their own priorities from that daunting list. But fixing problems is about more than government taking action, wrote Anaya, repeating the claim that drove to the heart of Idle No More’s discontent earlier this year. “Unless legislative and other government actions that directly affect indigenous peoples’ rights and interests are made with their meaningful participation, those actions will lack legitimacy and are likely to be ineffective,” he wrote.

Easier said than done, that. The federal government and many aboriginal leaders sometimes disagree fundamentally about the definition of “meaningful participation.” Bridging that gap is a monumental task, among the most difficult anyone in aboriginal affairs can tackle. Perhaps Anaya already knows that, and perhaps he’ll suggest solutions in his final report that the government and aboriginal leaders can rally around. Perhaps.


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