We Stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder with Idle No More

Executive Director Leilani Farha has co-authored an Op-Ed posted in the Toronto Star today with other leading national organizations stating our support for Idle No More:

While polls have shown that many Canadians might prefer flash mobs to bridge blockades as a protest strategy, they also sympathize with the issues at the heart of the Idle No More struggle. That’s not surprising given the movement’s success over the past month at thrusting indigenous issues into the spotlight. Spearheaded by four women who were concerned about new federal legislation that threatens to damage the environment and fails to comply with the government’s legal duty to consult with aboriginal peoples, Idle No More has grown into a revolution that has stimulated people across Canada to think and talk about the plight of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and communities.

Anti-poverty and human rights organizations share Idle No More’s alarm about the impact of this legislation, and the broader but equally urgent problem of injustice facing aboriginal peoples. Simply put, as a result of historic and current policies marked by paternalism, the dispossession of aboriginal peoples’ lands and resources, and the denial of their self-determination and sovereignty, aboriginal peoples disproportionately experience poverty, inadequate housing and homelessness, hunger and ill health.

Consider this: While Canada ranks 6th in the world on the United Nations Human Development Index (which lists countries in terms of life expectancy, education and a decent standard of living), when the measure is applied to First Nations, our ranking plummets to about 68th, near Kazakhstan and Albania. This is reflected in Canada by alarming statistics. The unemployment rate for aboriginal peoples is twice the national average; close to 40 per cent of aboriginal women are poor; one in four First Nations children live in poverty (whereas the national average is one in seven); compared to other Canadians, First Nations’ homes are 90 times more likely to be without running water, and twice as likely to be overcrowded compared to other households in Canada. We could go on. Across the board, when it comes to socio-economic standards, aboriginal peoples are worse off than most people in Canada.

These conditions must be understood within the context in which they have been allowed to occur: in Canada, a sophisticated democracy and one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Canada has signed and ratified various international human rights treaties committing our nation to ensuring an adequate standard of living for the most disadvantaged groups in the country. And we have endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which provides a full framework of rights, including the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent about any decision affecting their lands and resources. Despite these commitments, Canada has repeatedly been told by the international community that the conditions of aboriginal peoples in Canada are unacceptable. In March 2012, for example, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was alarmed by the “persistent levels of poverty among aboriginal peoples, and the persistent marginalization and difficulties faced by them in respect of employment, housing, drinking water, health and education.” And during an official mission to Canada in May 2012, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter decried a system that “tolerates increased inequalities between rich and poor and aboriginal (and) non-aboriginal peoples.”

It is deeply disturbing that anyone is treated this unequally in a country such as Canada. Our international human rights obligations are more urgent than ever particularly as the global financial outlook remains turbulent, and as there is a tendency to blame the disadvantaged for their own misfortune. We need to remember that we know better, and then we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with Idle No More and do better.

Leilani Farha is executive director of Canada Without Poverty. Laurel Rothman is national co-ordinator of Campaign 2000: End Child Poverty in Canada. Rita Morbia is executive director of Inter Pares. Shelagh Day is director of the Poverty and Human Rights Centre. John Fraser is executive director of the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation.