Hopeful time (sort of) for Indigenous people
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It’s been a hopeful time.
Over the past few months, every Canadian NHL hockey team has unveiled and worn a special commemorative Indigenous-themed jersey, and recognized the contributions and commitments their respective cities share with Indigenous communities.
The Winnipeg Jets — the first NHL team to create an Indigenous logo, in 2019 – even won their annual Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre game March 4, beating the Edmonton Oilers 7-5.
(It was the first time the Jets have won a WASAC game, where the team honoured Indigenous peoples, having lost the first three.)
This past week, more than 1,000 Indigenous entrepreneurs, tour operators and leaders travelled to Treaty 1 land to take in the 2023 International Indigenous Tourism Conference in Winnipeg.
Indigenous-led tourism is the wave of the future for many such communities, with new golf courses, cultural experiences and restaurants opening gateways to economic livelihood.
On Thursday, a Federal Court judge approved the $2.8-billion settlement between Ottawa and 325 First Nation communities whose members attend residential schools as “day scholars” (meaning they went home at night).
Left out of the 2006 residential school settlement agreement, and paid individual compensation previously, this settlement money will go towards the revitalization of Indigenous languages, growing cultural institutions, protecting heritage and building wellness.
It’s not that the past few months haven’t also had constant reminders of racism and violence against Indigenous peoples, but there have been remarkable positive moments, too.
The hope continued Friday from a somewhat surprising source, when Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, made a public statement after spending 10 days touring Canada and meeting with government officials, Indigenous leaders and organizations invested in reconciliation.
“I acknowledge the progress made by Canada towards the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples since the visits of my predecessors in 2003 and 2013,” Cali Tzay announced at a news conference in Ottawa.
“I commend the Canadian government on a number of positive measures, including the passage of Bill C-15, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, and a similar law enacted by the province of British Columbia.”
These kinds of words are a pretty far cry from previous UN special rapporteurs observing Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples.
In 2003, Rodolfo Stavenhagan remarked the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the federal Liberal government was virtually non-existent, had deep mistrust, and suffered from a great deal of neglect and apathy.
In 2013, James Anaya met with Indigenous leaders and communities living under prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
His verdict was: “I can only conclude that Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of Indigenous peoples in the country.”
Cali Tzay’s statement Friday contains residue of past condemnations of the federal government, such as: “Despite the positive measures taken by Canada, Indigenous peoples continue to face serious obstacles to achieving full enjoyment of their individual and collective rights.”
The Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he remarked, has not done enough to help communities access potential burial sites at former residential schools, address poverty and homelessness, enact the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls’ calls for justice, and change the rate of Indigenous over-incarceration in prisons.
Echoing previous UN special rapporteurs, Cali Tzay said “the situation of access to economic, social, and cultural rights has not improved since the visit of my predecessor in 2013.”
In an unprecedented move though, he shifted some of the blame to the provinces.
For example: “I welcome Canada’s passage of Bill C-92, which acknowledges the right of Indigenous peoples self-government over child welfare services; however, it is discouraging to hear that some provinces have challenged this law in courts.”
Cali Tzay also pointed out racism in Quebec hospitals, the justice system on the Prairies, and “the situation unfolding in Winnipeg… in recovering the bodies of missing and murdered Indigenous women from a local landfill.”
His biggest condemnation though was what he called the “ongoing militarization of Indigenous lands… the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines.”
“I regret that the government of Alberta declined my invitation to meet, especially considering the concerning situation of Indigenous Peoples in the province,” he said.
Cali Tzay’s final report on his visit is a year away, but is positive for the federal Liberals — if you can call half the blame a win.
It is a hopeful time, sort of.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.