- Category: news
- Created: Wednesday, 16 October 2013 13:31
- Published: Wednesday, 16 October 2013 13:31
- Written by Administrator 3
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BY JONATHAN CHARLTON AND MARK KENNEDY, THE STARPHOENIX AND POSTMEDIA NEWS
The federal government won’t be able to ignore the United Nations’ visit to Buffalo River Dene Nation, Chief Lance Byhette says.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, visited the reserve Sunday morning as part of his eight-day fact-finding trip to Canada.
Anaya took a short tour of the community with his entourage and a local elder, and the band hosted a grand entry in his honour at the school. Representatives from Alberta and Saskatchewan bands and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations also attended.
“It was a special visit. It was a great honour to have an individual like him come to Buffalo River Dene Nation to hear us out on the issues we have that haven’t been dealt with to date,” Byhette said.
Those issues include the Primrose Lake Air Weapons Base, which was built on traditional treaty lands, and a lack of consultation with oilsands development, he said.
The reserve also receives far too little money for housing and maintenance, which leads to overcrowding and the spread of infectious diseases, Byhette said, noting the band receives $243,000 annually to support a population of more than 1,300.
Anaya’s visit is “another stepping stone” towards the things his community fights for, he said.
“Him coming to Buffalo River is going to support us in continuing that battle.”
During an impassioned news conference near Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Anaya said Canada is facing a “crisis” over its treatment of aboriginals and the Harper government needs to take urgent steps to build trust with its indigenous peoples.
In a sharply worded statement, he called on the Conservative government to grant an extension to a commission studying the residential schools saga, to move more slowly on plans for a bill to reform aboriginal education,
and to establish a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Canada has been a world leader on human rights and was one of the first countries to extend constitutional protection to aboriginals, “But despite positive steps, daunting challenges remain,” he said.
“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 aboriginals and non-aboriginals has not narrowed in recent years, treaty claims remain “persistently unresolved” and there is a high level of “distrust” among aboriginals toward the federal and provincial governments.
“Canada consistently ranks near the top among countries with 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 at least one in five aboriginal Canadians live in homes in need of serious repair, which are often also overcrowded and contaminated with mould. The suicide rate among Inuit and First Nations youth on reserve — more than five times greater than the rate among other Canadians — is “alarming,” he said.
“One community I visited has suffered a suicide every six weeks since the start of this year. Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be murdered than non-indigenous women and indigenous peoples face disproportionately high incarceration rates.”
Amidst all this, he said governments are taking steps to address the problems, but they have fallen far short of what is needed.
Anaya said Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government must spend more time truly consulting aboriginals.
“If that doesn’t happen, the path forward is going to be a rocky one,” he said.
The Harper government has had a history of treating UN emissaries with disdain, and it was critical of Anaya last year when he spoke out against living conditions at a Northern Ontario reserve.
Anaya met last week with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, who issued a written statement Tuesday which did not address his specific recommendations. Instead, Valcourt pointed to Anaya’s compliments of Canada and insisted that the Conservative government is preoccupied with the “well-being” of aboriginals and is taking “effective incremental steps” to make progress for them.
In the wake of his tour of Canada, Anaya will prepare a report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September of 2014.