Toronto – August 8, 2016 – Each year, on August 9, the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples is observed to promote and acknowledge the rights of the world's indigenous communities. The day also serves as a somber reminder of the displacement and extinction of thousands of indigenous communities around the world.
The day was formally proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. This year's theme is "Indigenous Peoples' Right to Education". The right of Indigenous Peoples to education is protected by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but a critical gap continues exist between Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples and the general community when it comes to equal access to quality education. The gap in education not only mirrors historical abuses, discrimination and marginalization suffered by Aboriginal Peoples, but also reflects their continued struggle for equality and respect for their rights as peoples and as individuals. And while the Liberal government recently reaffirmed Canada’s endorsement of UNDRIP, it has yet to implement it.
Recently, the federal budget allotted $635 million of new money over five years for education funding for Aboriginal communities. However, this falls short of what was expected following a January 2016 ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which directed the government to rectify its underfunding of services and education for children in Aboriginal communities. The funding shortfall not only impacts access to quality education, but also to health and counselling resources desperately needed to counter the crisis of youth depression and suicides in many Aboriginal communities.
As Canada's leading union, UFCW Canada has joined hands with social justice organizations including The Caring Society, to ensure that campaigns like Shannen's Dream succeed in order to ensure the creation of adequate schools, with heat, school supplies and the provision of culturally appropriate language. Over the past decade, UFCW Canada has also been in solidarity with grassroots organizations demanding a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. As that inquiry commences, we remain committed to an inquiry that has the resources and inclusion to provide a robust and full investigation.
There is no better time than the present to support our indigenous sisters and brothers through reconciliation. This August 9, let us remember that the power of collective choices united in strength can bring change, equity and justice. We need each other. With solidarity we are stronger.
Paul R. Meinema