National Indigenous Peoples DayPublished on 21 June 2017 Blog by Senator Charlie Watt (retired)
Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day, and I would like to remind everyone that Canada has made promises to indigenous peoples in many forms, but there is still inequality between indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
As Inuk, I know we Inuit have strong treaties with the Crown which were signed decades ago, but problems still abound with the implementation of the terms of these treaties:
- To this day, the delivery of health care to remote and rural communities is still inadequate.
- As outside interest in the Arctic increases due to the melting of the sea ice, we are still fighting to get the government to acknowledge our rights to Arctic resources and to allow us to practice our full constitutional rights to participate in negotiations dealing with our homeland. One example of this is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the territory beyond Canada’s 200-mile limit.
Meanwhile, First Nations are dealing with similar issues that Inuit have:
- Over 70 First Nation communities lack clean drinking water.
- Indigenous children receive less funding per child than non-indigenous students, with the funding gap between 20 and 50 per cent in some provinces.
- There is still a lack of consistent multi-year funding that will give certainty and stability of programming and support for indigenous communities.
We as Senators also need to improve our approach to indigenous-related issues. We are still dealing with bills that have potential impact on the treaties signed with Aboriginal peoples, but we do not have standard non-derogation clause. Neither do we get alerted by the Department of Justice when there are possible infringements on our rights or Section 35 violations, which I believe is the Department’s responsibility. Furthermore, even our own colleagues in the Senate still consider Consultation to be an afterthought instead of a necessity.
In spite of this, I was encouraged yesterday in our Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. The fine young witnesses gave us a glimpse of what Canada could be if we empower these youth with appropriate opportunities and funding to move forward with the goals of reconciliation and partnership between Canada and indigenous peoples.
Canada is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation this year, and it would be a great celebration indeed if only the government could finally follow through the commitments that this nation has made to all native inhabitants of this country. Until then, we could only continue the fight that indigenous peoples have been fighting for more than 150 years.