US & Canada

Canada faces 'crisis' on indigenous living conditions

Members of the "Omushkegowuk Walkers" and their supporters march towards Parliament Hill 24 February 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Canada has seen a rise in protests over indigenous issues in the past year

Canada faces a "crisis" over the living conditions of its aboriginal residents, the UN special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples has said.

James Anaya said Canada had taken "positive steps" but that "daunting challenges" remained, including a lower level of "well-being".

He said aboriginal women and girls remained vulnerable to abuse, and noted a lack of trust of the government.

The report issued on Monday came after a week-long tour in October 2013.

On Monday, Mr Anaya told CBC News that, "there are daunting challenges and in many respects… there is a crisis among aboriginal communities in terms of their basic necessities."

Roughly 4.3% of Canada's 32.9 million residents are indigenous, and of those, about half are registered "status" Indians belonging to federally recognised First Nations tribes, 30% are mixed-race "metis", 15% are unregistered, and 4% are Inuit.

'Jarring' conditions

The UN envoy said the gap between the conditions in which Canada's indigenous population and non-aboriginal people live was especially concerning, given Canada's overall wealth.

"The most jarring manifestation of these human rights problems is the distressing socio-economic conditions of indigenous peoples in a highly developed country," Mr Anaya said in a new report.

"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, indigenous women and girls remain vulnerable to abuse."

The report also cited the "disturbing phenomenon" of missing and murdered aboriginal women, and called on the Canadian government to make a broad inquiry on the issue.

In March, a parliamentary report did not recommend a full public inquiry into the deaths, a decision that angered First Nations activists and opposition parties in parliament.

Mr Anaya, a professor of human rights law at the University of Arizona, said that while the Canadian government had made "notable efforts" to address treaty claims and improve the social and economic well-being of indigenous people, the steps taken "have been insufficient".

"Overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among indigenous peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels," the report says.

The UN envoy also recommended increased funding for indigenous peoples in the areas of education, health, and child welfare.

In addition, "Canada must take urgent action to address the housing crisis in indigenous communities both on and off reserve, especially communities in the north, and dedicate increased funding towards this end," he said.

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