Aboriginal Poverty in Canada Fact Sheet

Canada is one of the richest nations in the world, and yet the majority of Indigenous people in Canada are living in conditions found in third-world countries.  This marginalization of Aboriginal peoples in Canada has too long been ignored, and actions must be taken to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal people both on and off the reserve.  The poverty and related poor social conditions experienced by Aboriginal communities in Canada has been officially and repeatedly recognized by the United Nations.

Poverty is a root contributor to many of the social and economic disparities between First Nations and other Canadians and British Columbians.  The percentage of Aboriginal families living at or below low income is 26.7% compared with 17.7% for non-Aboriginal families in British Columbia.

  • In a recent report published by the United Nations on January 14th2010, Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis were found to live 17 years less than the average for non-Aboriginal Canadians.
  • Aboriginal children are believed to be the poorest in the country, with Inuit infant mortality rates three times more than the Canadian average[1].Aboriginal communities in Canada have a tuberculosis rate 35 times higher than non-Aboriginal Canadians, a suicide rate 11 times higher than the national average and an increase in crime resulting in 19% of all Canadian inmates being of Aboriginal descent[2].
  • BC has one of the highest percentages of Aboriginal peoples in core housing need at 29%, compared to 14% for the Canadian population as a whole [3]

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clearly outlines in article 21 that: “Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and re-training, housing, sanitation, health, and social security.”  It also outlines that “States shall take effective measures and, where appropriate, special measures to ensure continuing improvement of their economic and social conditions. Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities.”

First Nations take responsibility for the survival, dignity and well-being of the communities and families.  First Nations leaders are prepared to work together with government to meaningfully address poverty and close the socio-economic gaps between First Nations and other British Columbians.  The first step in this process is for the Government of Canada to uphold the basic human rights of First Nations in Canada through adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Missing and Murdered Women Fact Sheet

Increasing deaths of many vulnerable women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside still leaves family, friends, loved ones, and community members with an overwhelming sense of grief and loss. Over 3000 women are believed to have gone missing or been murdered in Canada since the 1970s, yet only 520 are officially recognized. Last year, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued this statement: “Hundreds of cases involving aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades have neither been fully investigated nor attracted priority attention.”

B.C’s highway of tears, the stretch of highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert has seen 32 women missing or murdered since 1969, most of the victims have been young Aboriginal women.  Canada’s most high profile serial killer, Robert Pickton’s, first six victims were Aboriginal women.  B.C leads all provinces in murdered or missing women by a wide margin with 137 total cases.

Indigenous women continue to suffer violence, indignity and discrimination in Canada based on their gender and economic status.  Efforts must continue to bring justice and restore the dignity and respect for First Nations women to ensure the safety of our grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, teachers, and leaders.  First Nations women must not be forgotten.  The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples highlights the need to protect Aboriginal women in article 22 which states: “Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children, and persons with disabilities in the implementation of this Declaration.  States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.”

Despite continued requests to the Federal government to investigate the cases of murdered and missing women in Canada, there has been no response from the Conservative government.  Provincial governments have taken it upon themselves to launch their own investigations.  Manitoba recently formed a murdered and missing women task force in August of 2009, and BC formed a Missing women investigative task force which is currently ongoing.

The British Columbia First Nations Task Force is asking the Federal Government for a public inquiry into all the cases involving murdered and missing women in Canada.  A public inquiry would not only provide closure and answers to the family members still living with the loss of their loved ones, but would also help identify the exact number of women that have gone missing across the country.

Human Rights Fact Sheet

Canada continues to refuse to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP), making it one of three countries worldwide that have yet to adopt the instrument.  Of those three countries, both the United States and New Zealand have agreed to review their position on the UN DRIP, while Canada has done nothing.  This refusal to adopt the UN DRIP is a basic denial of human rights for First Nations and implies the acceptance of further human rights violations against First Nations.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples promotes equality for Indigenous peoples and recognizes their basic and fundamental human rights, as a collective or as individuals.  Article 1 clearly states: “Indigenous people have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law.”  Adoption of the UN DRIP will reduce further lengthy and costly litigations and human rights complaints within Canada.

The federal government has refused to address discrimination against First Nations children in the child welfare system and education.

  • First Nations Child and Family Services agencies receive, on average, 22% less funding than provincial agencies; the Auditor General criticized the program indicating that shortfalls in funding mean the federal government is not providing First Nations Child and Family Services agencies with adequate funding requirements to meet the number or the needs of children in state care.   This matter is before the Canada Human Rights Tribunal.
  • Other core programs for First Nations children, such as education, have been capped at 2% a year, which does not keep pace with inflation or the growing First Nations population.
  • Currently, First Nations students receive $2,000 less per child annually for educational support than students in provincial schools. In 2007, INAC identified a need for 69 new schools while another 95 schools needed major repairs.  Approximately 40 First Nations communities do not have schools at all. INAC’s current plan addresses only 27 of those sites, but the funding is on hold.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has accepted a human rights complaint submitted by a group of BC First Nations, the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group and will be hearing their argument in the Spring of 2010. The HTG has provided a very strong statement on the ineffectiveness and inadequacy of the BC Treaty process and Canada’s judicial system to provide remedy for the protection of the Hul’qumi’num human rights to property and aboriginal title.

Title and Rights Fact Sheet

First Nations are committed to working together in nation-to-nation relationships that respect the title and rights and decision-making of each nation. However, there is a backlog of 800-1,000 unresolved claims within Canada’s own federal specific claims process – in other words, claims involving Canada’s treaty obligations – and estimates of the total value of these unresolved claims range from 2.6 billion dollars to six billion dollars. It takes an average of 13 years to settle a claim under the current system.

The delay in completing comprehensive claims (treaties) is costing the Canadian public millions in dollars in lost opportunities not to mention the costs of litigation, whereas completion of withstanding treaties could deliver more than 10 billion dollars in economic benefits to British Columbia’s economy alone over the next 15 years.

The recognition and respect for First Nations inherent title and rights provides opportunities for First Nations to be prominent in sustainable and successful economic and social initiatives that will benefit all peoples.   If all 60 First Nations currently in the BC treaty process completed treaties by 2025, they could receive a net financial benefit of $10.28 billion. (The 60 First Nations include 111 of the 198 Indian Act bands in British Columbia.)  Treaty settlement-related ‘lost opportunity costs’ in BC are projected to be $1.5 billion in 2009 dollars.

Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clearly outlines the Rights and Title of Indigenous peoples: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.  Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well at those which they have otherwise acquired.”

Canada’s rationale for not adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People is that it is inconsistent with the current policies and negotiating mandates in place.  However, the current policies and mandates are often so impoverished that the system fails, and delays and treaty failures are a result.  In essence, the current Canadian system doesn’t even meet the basic standards set out in the UN declaration.

[1] Canadian Medical Journal, Jan 24th 2010

[2] Statistics provided by the UN Permanent forum on Indigenous Issues

[3] Provincial Health Officer Annual Report 2007