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.
I would like to pay tribute to a remarkable New Brunswicker: The Acadian actress and former senator, the honorable Viola Léger.
It was with great sadness that I learned that Senator Léger has withdrawn from public life after suffering a stroke in January.
Often described as “one of the brightest stars in Canada’s artistic firmament”, she also performed as a distinguished public servant.
Mme Léger is known across the world for a character that portrays a humble Acadian cleaning lady from rural New Brunswick: La Sagouine.
She incarnated la Sagouine more than three-thousand times throughout Canada and abroad between 1971 and 2016, winning rave reviews for her unique and engaging portrayal.
Her talent has earned her many awards: In 1989, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2007, she was awarded the Order of New Brunswick, and in 2013, she received a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.
As an artist, as an educator, and as a senator; her vitality and creative nature remains great inspiration to many.
A great supporter of Canadian artists, she founded her own theatre company in New Brunswick and established the Viola Léger Foundation to support theatre production and professional training for Acadian theatre artists.
Her fresh insights, her passion for the theater and, her dedication to the promotion of Acadian culture marked the years we served together in this chamber.
I would like Senator Léger to know that we very much appreciate the enormous contribution she has made to Acadian culture and heritage in New Brunswick.
She will always be in the hearts of New Brunswickers and her image of a humble Acadian woman will live forever.
It was my pleasure to host Dr Claudio Aporta for an exhibition of some very special Arctic maps.
For two hours on Wednesday October 5, 2016 we had a chance to showcase Inuit trails.
In the absence of paved roads between communities we have a network of seasonal trails on the sea ice, land and water. These trails remain unchanged in spite of their seasonal nature. Every spring the snow thaws and the trails disappear, but in the fall, the snow falls and the trails reappear.
The purpose of the maps is to preserve this knowledge for our youth, and to demonstrate to the nation and to the world that the Arctic lands and sea ice and waters are consistently used by Inuit.
As the world expresses interest in the Arctic, many nations assume the land is empty – but Inuit have been using the land for thousands of years, and although we don’t have permanent settlements in some of these regions, we have regular and consistent use of the territory.
We are the caretakers of the land/sea ice/ water and the Arctic is our backyard.
As I continue my work on the issue of Inuit rights to the Arctic, my guiding principles are that Inuit must be equal partners in decision-making in the Arctic, resource development must promote the health of Inuit communities, and the environment must be protected.
This mapping project is a visual representation of our networks between communities.
And, even though we are going to be working on this for many more years, we wanted to show you the amazing Inuit highways which vanish with the change of seasons, and reappear every year.
Rising global temperatures have affected few areas as they have the Arctic Ocean. Areas that were once covered with sea ice year round are becoming more and more accessible to navigation and development activities. As a result, though the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea regime (UNCLOS), Canada is in the process of solidifying its sovereignty over its extended continental shelf and is engaging in treaty negotiations with its Arctic neighbors to ensure that it has fair and equitable access to the natural resources and sea lanes that this disappearing ice has presented. Yet Canada already has a set of treaties that cover the Arctic that it must uphold and respect: its treaties with the Inuit. These treaties were concluded in recognition of the Inuit peoples’ aboriginal rights to the Arctic Ocean and its resources. Other areas of the Arctic Ocean that are not covered by Treaties can also be seen as being subject to Inuit rights, such as Indigenous title and rights.
As Canada moves forward with the international treaty process and its claims to an extended continental shelf in the Arctic, it must ensure that it honours its obligations toward the Inuit, including the treaties Canada has concluded with them. This means that Inuit must be given a voice and their concerns must be taken into account whenever their interests are directly at stake, including in connection with international processes set up under UNCLOS. Bypassing the rights of the Inuit in the Arctic, in the context of State sovereignty claims, will discredit Canada’s engagements towards its Treaty partners to work together in a spirit of reconciliation and can expose it to legal action for breach of its domestic and international obligations toward the Inuit.
This week the Paris Conference on Climate Change has begun. For all those who are attending, many logistical plans went into their trip. One of which was inevitable was where they would stay during their trip.
For so many people in our world, having a place to stay is not a guarantee.
TheUNrecognized that international law sees adequate housing as a human right: “International human rights law recognizes everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing.
Despite the central place of this right within the global legal system, well over a billion people are not adequately housed. Millions around the world live in life- or health threatening conditions, in overcrowded slums and informal settlements, or in other conditions which do not uphold their human rights and their dignity. Further millions are forcibly evicted, or threatened with forced eviction, from their homes every year.”
The threat of climate change holds the potential to make this bad situation even worse, and could trigger a global housing crisis. To think that the current refugee crisis is a dire situation is to underplay what the potential effects will be with climactic shifts.
Extreme weather events around the world have already resulted in the displacement of thousands of people globally. The numbers are going to climb, and fast. The threat of mass displacement is so extreme that the UN has already begun referring to “climate change refugees”.
For those who think this is only going to be a crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, they are deeply mistaken. This is going to also impact adequate housing in Canada as well. As the current refugee crisis is demonstrating, these situations impact the entire world. The global community will be forced to respond, and like any event we have seen that has resulted in catastrophe, the best approach is the one that reduces the possible damages in the first place.
In order to properly brace for the effects climate change will have on humanity, we need a comprehensive picture of what that looks like. The right to adequate housing is the fourth of a series of six blogs I will share with you given the ongoing Paris conference on Climate Change. It is essential that the right to adequate housing and how the global community will prepare for potential mass displacement be discussed at the conference.
I will continue to look at how climate change is a threat to other human rights over the next few weeks, and welcome your feedback.