James Anaya, the special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples is calling on countries across the world to honour treaties with indigenous peoples and stressing the importance of this as an important part of addressing historical wrongs and moving toward reconciliation. The remarks from the special rapporteur has been made as treaty talks between the Harper government and First Nations leaders in Canada appear to be making little headway.
Indigenous peoples in Canada
The indigenous peoples of Canada are collectively referred to as “aboriginal peoples”. Canada recognizes three groups of aboriginal peoples: Indians, Inuit and Métis. Canada’s aboriginal peoples are challenged by the slow implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, child welfare, and violence against indigenous women and girls.
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples endorsed
In 2010, the Canadian government announced its endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007.
This decision came as a reversal of Canada's earlier opposition to the Declaration, which it pursued together with Australia, the USA, and New Zealand. They have all revised their attitude towards the Declaration.
The Government of Canada has highlighted four important principles governing its relationships with indigenous peoples. These are recognition of rights, respect, cooperation, and partnership. Unfortunately, these principles seem to come with little more than political rhetoric.
Canada has not ratified ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms the existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples. Also, Canada’s highest Court has called for reconciliation of “pre-existing Aboriginal sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty”.
Aboriginal and First Nations peoples
According to the 2011 census, 1,400,685 peoples in Canada had an aboriginal identity, representing 4.3 per cent of the total Canadian population. 851,560 peoples identified as a First Nations person, representing 60.8 per cent of the total aboriginal population and 2.6 per cent of the total Canadian population.
First Nations, who are referred to as “Indians” in the Constitution and generally registered under Canada’s Indian Act, are a diverse group, representing more than 600 First Nations and more than 60 languages.
Around 55 per cent live on-reserve and 45 per cent reside off-reserve in urban, rural, special access, and remote areas.
The Métis constitute a distinct Aboriginal nation, numbering 451,795 in 2011, many of whom live in urban centres, mostly in western Canada.
Canada’s First Nations peoples speak many different languages
Canada’s First Nations are a diverse group speaking more than 60 languages.
Main challenges for Canada’s indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples and their allies are challenged by the slow pace of substantive action on implementation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Even with a supportive government at the federal level, implementation remains a challenge for the state. Causes for this include pressures from the corporate sector as well disputes within government on how implementation might be advanced.
Another struggle relates to child welfare. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) has issued a ruling that the First Nations Child and Family Services (FNCFS) Program, provided by the Government of Canada through the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC), has denied child welfare services to many First Nations children and families living on reserves. Despite welcoming the decision and vowing to take action, the Government of Canada has failed to comply.
It is worth noting, that Canada has appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at the Organization of American States (OAS) with regard to both the issues of violence against indigenous women and girls, as well as the ongoing discrimination against indigenous children with regard to service delivery on First Nations’ reserves.
Another challenge for Canada’s indigenous peoples relates to decisions to proceed with natural resource development projects, which have been made in 2016. These projects will have disproportionate impacts on the indigenous peoples across the continent.
Potential progress for Canada’s indigenous peoples
After many years of national and international calls, Canada launched a national inquiry into the murdered and missing indigenous women and girls on 1 September 2016. The commission is to recommend actions to remove the systemic causes of violence and increase the safety of indigenous women and girls.
Recommendations will be made to the government through an interim report by 1 November 2017 and a final report by 1 November 2018. Indigenous communities and political organizations have welcomed the inquiry, but have also indicated concerns at the slow start and issues have been raised with regard to transparency.
The American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by consensus of the OAS in June 2016. Indigenous peoples in the Americas now have two declarations, that specifically affirm and elaborate upon their human rights and related state obligations.
Case: Bill C-262: Potential progress for Canada’s indigenous peoples
In 2016, Bill C-262, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was introduced. The preamble to Bill C-262 explicitly rejects colonialism and calls for a contemporary approach based on justice, democracy, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and respect for human rights. The bill also repudiates doctrines of superiority, in the same language as in the UN Declaration.
If adopted, Bill C-262 would provide a much-needed legislative framework for implementing the UN Declaration. The bill establishes two collaborative processes with indigenous peoples: One to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the UN Declaration, and the other to develop and implement a national action plan to achieve the objectives of the Declaration.
According to the National Post three United Nations special rapporteurs are on their way to take a thorough look at Canada’s record on human rights, treatment of aboriginals and discrimination against women. Canada has approved three visits, which are from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. During Canada’s appearance before the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva this month, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Elissa Golberg, was asked by delegates from Chile why UN Special Rapporteurs had not been granted access. The council was told that the three requests to visit Canada as part of the UN’s monitoring and assessment of international human rights had recently been approved.
(Ottawa, ON) – In response to the 2013 federal Budget released today, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo continues the call for transformative change requiring key investments and a fundamentally new fiscal relationship based on respect and fairness.
Canada's term as head of the Arctic Council could get interesting before it even begins after Russia shut down a group that represents its northern aboriginals at international meetings. Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who sits on the council and is an Inuk herself, says Canada is concerned about the move and has joined other members in "expressing their concern."