In Canada, National Aboriginal Day is commemorated each year on June 21. When this day was first proclaimed by the Governor General of Canada in 1996, the Canadian Constitution recognized the three groups of Aboriginal peoples: First Nations, Inuit and Métis; each possessing their own diverse heritage, language, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.
Yet eleven years later, in 2007, Canada shamefully declined to join 144 other nations as a signatory of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). That that same year, our national partner First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS), and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), lodged a formal complaint against the Canadian government before the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The complaint outlined the longstanding and continuing discrimination of the Canadian government by its underfunding of First Nations children on reserves, compared to non-Aboriginal children in the general community.
As Canada’s largest private-sector union, we understand that this is a clear contravention of Article 1 of UNDRIP — that “Indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment… 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.” So we have stood with FNCFCS, with steadfast perseverance, in their challenge to uphold the rights of Aboriginal children. Last April, the case achieved an unprecedented victory when the Federal Court of Canada granted FNCFCS’ application for appeal and ordered the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) to appoint a new panel to review the child welfare case.
In 2010, Canada finally became a signatory to the UNDRIP, but the Harper government continues its utter disregard and abandonment of the human rights of our Aboriginal sisters and brothers. The systematic marginalization and colonization has pushed many Aboriginal communities to live in desolation and poverty. Notwithstanding the atrocious Residential Schools system that destroyed the lives of many Aboriginal children, Canada continues to exploit the vulnerability of our Aboriginal sisters and brothers. The children of Attawapiskat, for example, are entitled to schools where they can enjoy learning without having to deal with mould, high carbon dioxide levels, sewage fumes, frozen pipes, unheated portables, and frostbite. Yet these children are still at the mercy of the government to address these problems and build new schools in their community. Without implementing UNDRIP’s letter and spirit, Canada continues to contravene Article 14 (2) of UNDRIP that mandates “indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.”
So as social activists, National Aboriginal Day presents a timely backdrop to reflect on the continuing struggles of our Aboriginal sisters and brothers. It is also a day to appreciate the rich and multifaceted heritage and culture of our Aboriginal sisters and brothers.
It is also a day to renew our commitment to equality, so as FNCFCS continues its child welfare legal against the Canadian government, we must never forget to lend our support and stand behind initiatives to uphold the human rights of our Aboriginal sisters and brothers in our workplaces, schools, and communities.