Indigenous peoples in Canada are collectively referred to as “Aboriginal peoples”. The Constitution Act of 1982 recognizes three groups of Aboriginal peoples: Indians, Inuit and Métis. According to the 2016 Canadian Census, there were 1,673,785 Aboriginal people in Canada, accounting for 4.9% of the total population.1
The indigenous peoples of Canada are collectively known as Aboriginal peoples. Canada recognizes three groups of Aboriginal peoples: Indians, Inuit and Métis. Aboriginal peoples in Canada are challenged by the slow implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, child welfare and violence against indigenous women and girls.
In 2010, the Canadian government announced its support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007. This decision was a reversal of Canada's previous opposition to the Declaration, which he pursued together with Australia, the United States and New Zealand. All have reviewed their attitude towards the Declaration.
The Government of Canada has highlighted four important principles that govern its relations with indigenous peoples. These are the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. Unfortunately, these principles seem to come with little more than political rhetoric. In addition, Canada has not ratified ILO Convention 169.
The Constitutional Act of Canada of 1982 recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and Existing Treaties of Aboriginal Peoples. In addition, the Supreme Court of Canada has called for the reconciliation of "pre-existing aboriginal sovereignty with the supposed sovereignty of the Crown."
Aboriginal peoples and First Nations
According to the 2011 census, 1,400,685 people in Canada had an aboriginal identity, accounting for 4.3% of the total Canadian population. 851,560 people identified as First Nations people, representing 60.8% of the total Aboriginal population and 2.6% of the total Canadian population.
The First Nations, referred to as Indians in the Constitution and generally registered under the Indigenous Act of Canada, are a diverse group, representing more than 600 First Nations and more than 60 languages. About 55% live in the reserve and 45% reside in urban, rural, special access and remote areas outside the reserve. The métis constitute a distinct aboriginal nation, with 451,795 in 2011, many of whom live in urban centers, mainly in western Canada.
Main challenges for the indigenous peoples of Canada
Indigenous peoples and their allies are challenged by the slowness of substantive action on the implementation of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the United Nations. Even with a support government at the federal level, implementation remains a challenge for the state. The causes of this include pressures from the corporate sector and disputes within the government about how the implementation could move forward.
Another struggle is related to child welfare. The Canadian Court of Human Rights (CHRT) ruled that the First Nations Children and Families Services Program (FNCFS), provided by the Government of Canada through the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC), has denied services of child welfare to many First Nations Children and families living in the reserves. Despite welcoming the decision and swearing to act, the Canadian government has not complied.
It is worth noting that Canada has presented itself before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) at the Organization of American States (OAS) regarding both the issues of violence against indigenous women and girls and the current discrimination against them.
Possible progress for the indigenous peoples of Canada
After many years of national and international calls, Canada launched a national investigation into indigenous women and girls killed and disappeared in 2016. The commission should recommend actions to eliminate the systemic causes of violence and increase the safety of indigenous women and girls .
The recommendations will be made to the government through an interim report before November 1, 2017 and a final report by November 1, 2018. Indigenous communities and political organisations have welcomed the investigation, but have also expressed concerns for the slow start and raised with respect to transparency.
In February, the Prime Minister announced a working group of ministers to review and decolonize all federal laws, policies and operational practices, including to ensure consistency with the UN Declaration. This work should be carried out in consultation with indigenous peoples. While the working group met and presumably worked on this critical task, the commitment with representatives of indigenous peoples and other experts was unfortunately minimal.
In late 2016, the Prime Minister announced new bilateral mechanisms between the federal government and the three national representative bodies for indigenous peoples: the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis nation. Such a formalized relationship between the federal government and indigenous peoples is certainly a step to improve relationships and work in a more collaborative manner.
James Anaya, the special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples is calling on countries across the world to honour treaties with indigenous peoples and stressing the importance of this as an important part of addressing historical wrongs and moving toward reconciliation. The remarks from the special rapporteur has been made as treaty talks between the Harper government and First Nations leaders in Canada appear to be making little headway.
The majority of the 65,030 Inuit in Canada live in 51 communities in Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland encompassing the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik in northern Quebec and Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador.
According to the National Post three United Nations special rapporteurs are on their way to take a thorough look at Canada’s record on human rights, treatment of aboriginals and discrimination against women. Canada has approved three visits, which are from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. During Canada’s appearance before the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva this month, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Elissa Golberg, was asked by delegates from Chile why UN Special Rapporteurs had not been granted access. The council was told that the three requests to visit Canada as part of the UN’s monitoring and assessment of international human rights had recently been approved.