Mr. Speaker, I move that the third report of the Standing Committee on Status of Women, presented on Tuesday, February 5, 2008, be concurred in.
The motion reads:
That the government endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007 and that Parliament and Government of Canada fully implement the standards contained therein.
After two decades of development, on September 13, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 143 to 4.
It is disgraceful that Canada was one of the four nations that voted against this declaration and the Government of Canada was actively lobbying other countries to vote against this historic declaration.
Canada's position in refusing to support the declaration is contrary to the wishes of aboriginal organizations, human rights organizations and even government officials. A ministerial briefing note obtained by Amnesty International stated that:
Indian and Northern Affairs and Foreign Affairs Canada initially advised...that they were recommending that Canada support the adoption of the draft Declaration.
Canada's decision to oppose the declaration flies in the face of a long history of championing UN standards to elevate and promote human rights globally.
The declaration recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to the lands, territories and natural resources that are critical to their way of life, a way of life that honours the earth and her resources.
The declaration also provides guidance measures needed to ensure the dignity, survival and well-being of some of the world's most impoverished and marginalized peoples.
The president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, Beverley Jacobs, states:
While the adoption of the declaration brings me great joy, Canada’s unprincipled decision to vote against the declaration demonstrates a lack of commitment, not only to indigenous peoples but to human rights more generally. This is not over. We will be calling on Canada to join us to implement this declaration immediately.
It is a reality that indigenous women confront double or even triple discrimination because they are indigenous, they are poor and they are marginalized.
In Canada, 38% of aboriginal women live in low income situations. The median income of aboriginal women was $12,300, about $5,000 less than the figure for non-aboriginal women.
According to Statistics Canada, aboriginal women represent less than 2% of the general population. However, they experience violence at a rate 3.5 times higher than non-aboriginal women. Close to 35% of aboriginal women have been the target of violence.
Aboriginal women live in remote communities and often have no access to women's shelters at all. These women are making the impossible choice between losing their home and living in fear with an abusive partner.
Young aboriginal women are five times more likely to die from violence than other women in Canada.
Aboriginal women continue to face barriers in attaining post-secondary education. Of aboriginal women aged 25 to 44 living off reserve who had started but had not completed a post-secondary education program, 34% reported family responsibilities as the reason they had not finished their post-secondary education, 21% reported financial reasons, 12% lost interest and motivation, and 8% found a job or had to work.
Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George, British Columbia has been renamed the Highway of Tears because of the more than 30 aboriginal women who have gone missing or have been found murdered along this stretch of highway.
Last spring, at Losha Native Family Healing Centre, a first nations agency in London, marked June 21 with a march and traditional ceremony of remembrance for the loss of our sisters across Canada. It was moving and gentle but it pointed out the despair of those left behind to mourn, those who will never know what happened to the women they loved.
Why are the Highway of Tears' victims mostly young aboriginal women? The answer is poverty.
In 2006 a symposium was held on the Highway of Tears. It produced numerous recommendations to prevent the unnecessary deaths and disappearances of young aboriginal women. I hope that the federal government will do everything possible to implement these recommendations. I hope it will finally listen, because aboriginal women and their children are more likely to experience violence and abuse in their lives than other Canadian women. Eight out of ten aboriginal women are abused.
Racism, the legacy of residential schools, and the lack of housing and educational opportunities work together to make aboriginal women more vulnerable. As a community we have an obligation to make sure violence against aboriginal women, against all women, ends.
The UN declaration is among the first international human rights instruments to explicitly provide for the adoption of measures to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy protection and guarantees against all forms of violence. According to Foreign Policy in Focus, indigenous peoples have fought for centuries against genocide, displacement, colonization and forced assimilation. This violence has left indigenous communities among the poorest and most marginalized in the world, alienated from state policies and disenfranchised by national governments.
In the Americas, indigenous peoples have a life expectancy 10 to 20 years less than the general population. The same general pattern holds internationally. Because of gender discrimination, the pattern is most entrenched for indigenous women.
Today the human rights and very survival of indigenous peoples are increasingly threatened as states and corporations battle for control of the earth's dwindling supply of natural resources, many of which are located on first nations territories.
One key concern of indigenous women is gender based violence. For indigenous women violence does not only stem from gender discrimination and women's subordination within their families and communities, it also arises from attitudes and policies that violate collective indigenous rights. As Dr. Myrna Cunningham, an internationally recognized indigenous leader, said:
For Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous women, exercising our rights--both as Indigenous Peoples and as women--depends on securing legal recognition of our collective ancestral territories, which are the basis of our identities, our cultures, our economies, and our traditions.
That understanding of collective rights has enabled first nations women to create anti-violent strategies that address connections between issues as diverse as women's human rights, economic justice and climate change. These connections are reflected in indigenous women's organizations around the world, for instance, in a Kenyan village run by indigenous women, and in a community development organization on Nicaragua's North Atlantic coast.
Experts believe that crowded housing conditions aggravate the problem of physical and sexual abuse. No woman should have to make the impossible choice between losing her home and living with an abusive partner.
Housing conditions are a major contributing factor to a person's physical and mental health. Aboriginal people face serious housing shortages, as well as substandard quality in their housing.
In Canada 52% of aboriginal households fall below core housing needs. According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation:
[This situation] is primarily the result of low incomes that stem from inequities experienced in the labour force and elsewhere by women and Aboriginal people in general. These inequities are amplified by low levels of schooling, and the inability of many to enter the labour force because of child-rearing responsibilities.
First nations housing and infrastructure is in crisis. When a comparison is made to the non-first nation demographic, first nations communities are at an extreme disadvantage. Adequate housing is considered a fundamental human right, one that is critical to the day to day well-being of first nations people. It is a key link to education, health, economic opportunities and employment outcomes.
Aboriginal women also experience poor health, have shorter life spans and are more likely to be disabled. According to the Saskatchewan Provincial Health Council, “health differences are reduced when economic and status differences between people, based on such things as culture, race, age, gender and disability are reduced”.
The poor health status of aboriginal women is linked to factors such as poverty, unemployment, lower social status, instability and violence in their families and communities, and inadequate housing and living conditions. Crowded housing conditions and lack of safe, clean water for drinking and washing aggravate the already poor health of aboriginal women.
The UN declaration is a fundamental international human rights instrument which outlines the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples. Articles 21 and 22 explicitly mention indigenous women and the interconnectedness of our well-being, our children and our elders to be free from violence and discrimination.
Indigenous women at the international level have fought hard for these provisions. These provisions are not abstract. They reflect the collective realities that first nations face in our communities and how deeply we feel the actions or inactions by the state. We need the Government of Canada to commit to the declaration and the principles, rights and values it upholds.
The International Indigenous Women's Forum stated that the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples will serve as a comprehensive international human rights instrument for all indigenous women, men and youth around the world. The adoption of the declaration will allow indigenous women and their families to infuse local human rights struggles with the power of international law, and their governments would be accountable to the international human rights standards.
Since 1923, first nations leaders have made attempts to represent their people at the international level. It is time for the Government of Canada to sign the UN declaration. This nation we are building has always championed human rights around the world. It is time to champion those same human rights at home.