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Time to rethink aboriginal relations

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 06:00 am

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In annual polls of the best and most prosperous places to live in the world, Canada usually ends up in the top five, and almost always has a lock on top 10. Why, then, does Canada have significant numbers of its population living in Third World conditions?

A United Nations report was released Monday that closely examined Canada’s efforts to improve living conditions for aboriginals. James Anaya, the UN's envoy to Canada on the rights of indigenous peoples, spent just over a week last October visiting aboriginal communities in Canada. It's difficult to believe someone could get a true handle on this complex issue in such a short visit and the issues facing Canada’s aboriginal people won’t be solved in nine days of interviews, but it’s a start.

Anaya stated Canada has made noticeable if slight progress in improving aboriginals’ living conditions both on and off reserve. Anaya’s suggestions are valid, including examining the inordinate number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in this country. If you happen to be living in Canada and also are an aboriginal female, you have a shockingly good chance of being the victim of murder. For example, the RCMP confirmed May 2 that aboriginal women account for about 16 per cent of murder victims while making up just four per cent of the Canadian population. Since 1980, more than 1,000 aboriginal women have been murdered. That number doesn’t include missing women, or crimes that have never been uncovered.

The UN report also correctly suggested that Canada continue to offer support for those suffering first, second or even third generation effects of residential schools and other systemic institutionalized abuse that violated, harmed, dehumanized and marginalized aboriginal people through no fault of their own.

Yet another excellent point Anaya made was to include aboriginals in meaningful discussions. Many complained that consultation with aboriginal people seemed more like a formality when it came to the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipeline projects. They questioned the sincerity of governments and corporations, leaving some aboriginals with the impression that consultation with them was more about whether or not the “consultation” box could be checked off on an application form.

But Anaya fell short in a few areas in his report too. There are other problems on reserves that need more than lip service and real action by aboriginals themselves. Rooting out corruption and incompetence on reserves is a very serious issue that affects the lives of aboriginals from childhood to adulthood. In 2010, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation claimed that Nova Scotia’s Glooscap First Nation had paid its chief and three councillors $1.7 million for salaries, expenses and business contracts during the 2008-2009 fiscal year. There isn’t enough room here to list all the accusations that have been made, many by band members themselves, of tribal councils’ financial wrongdoings and nepotism.

Improving quality of life isn’t something you order off a menu of human rights. To repair the damage done by decades of bad choices and incompetence on both sides of the issue is going to require a complete rethinking of our relationship with Canada's aboriginal population. We need to accept the spirit of Anaya's report and get on with it.


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