Sharon Armstrong, of Ottawa, takes part in a vigil on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, for Loretta Saunders and to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
The United Nations is set to release today its final report outlining Canada's "continuing crisis" when it comes to the treatment of aboriginal people, and recommendations on how to ensure their rights are protected.
The much-anticipated report is the culmination of a UN fact-finding mission from last October.
James Anaya, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, spent nine days visiting aboriginal communities across Canada, as well as meeting with government representatives, to take stock of the plight of aboriginal people in the country.
In an advance unedited version released on May 7, Anaya wrote that treaty claims "remain persistently unresolved, indigenous women and girls remain vulnerable to abuse, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among indigenous peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels."
The report is "awaiting minimal edits by the documentation unit of the United Nations but these will not affect substantive observations or conclusions," according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
These findings are in line with preliminary observations he made in the fall.
The advance report outlines a number of recommendations to improve relations between the Canadian government and aboriginal people, including the call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Last week, the RCMP confirmed there have been more than 1,000 murdered aboriginal women over the past three decades, prompting aboriginal groups to renew calls for an inquiry — something the government has steadfastly refused to do.
Report cites pipeline concerns
The report also recommends the government get consent from aboriginal groups before moving forward with resource extraction projects on land subject to aboriginal claims. That would include pipeline projects currently in the works, such as Enbridge's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline.
"While indigenous peoples potentially have much to gain from resource development within their territories, they also face the highest risks to their health, economy, and cultural identity from any associated environmental degradation," reads the unedited version of the preliminary report.
"Perhaps more importantly, indigenous nations’ efforts to protect their long-term interests in lands and resources often fit uneasily into the efforts by private non-indigenous companies, with the backing of the federal and provincial governments, to move forward with natural resource projects."
Anaya wrote that the concerns of aboriginal people merit higher priority at all levels and within all branches of government, and across all departments, especially considering the relationship between aboriginal people and the government is "perhaps even more" strained since the last UN special rapporteur visit in 2003, which produced a report for the following year.
"The most jarring manifestation of these human rights problems is the distressing socio-economic conditions of indigenous peoples in a highly developed country," the report reads.
Despite the UN's 2004 recommendations for Canada to ramp up efforts to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians when it comes to health care, housing, education, welfare and social services, "there has been no change in that gap in the intervening period in relation to registered Indians/First Nations."
Federal government to review report
In a statement, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said despite these challenges, the federal government has taken many steps "to improve the overall well-being and prosperity of aboriginal people in Canada."
"Our government is proud of the effective and incremental steps taken in partnership with aboriginal communities. We are committed to continuing to work with our partners to make significant progress in improving the lives of aboriginal people in Canada. We will review the report carefully to determine how we can best address the recommendations," he said.
Monday’s UN final report is being released at a fragile time for relations between the federal government and First Nations.
The government put “on hold” its prized but controversial First Nations education bill following the sudden resignation of Shawn Atleo as national chief for the Assembly of First Nations.
Bill C-33 will stay on hold until the AFN “clarifies” its position on the bill which it is expected to do during a special assembly of national chiefs in Ottawa on May 27.
Anaya’s term as UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples comes to a close at the end of the month.
The UN Human Rights Council confirmed on May 8 that Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, of the Philippines, will replace Anaya beginning June 1.
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