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By Sid Ryan
While the Harper government was busy in the House of Commons rushing through recognition of Quebeckers as a nation, its representatives at the United Nations in New York were busy voting against the extension of human rights to indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world.
The Harper Government has disgraced itself yet again on the world stage by voting to delay approval of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. Over the past two decades, Canada has provided leadership and stewardship for this historic document that recognizes the rights of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples. But not anymore.
It’s not just another example of the Conservatives embarrassing Canada at the world forum. It’s another kick at First Nations an integral part of Canada that Harper just doesn’t get.
The declaration is aimed at improving the standard of living of indigenous people and recognizing their right to self-determination, giving them the right to live within their own customs and culture and to preserve it through education delivered in their own languages. The declaration would also recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to land claims and resources and allow them to oppose military use of and incursions upon traditional lands.
Harper’s Conservatives have completely undermined two decades of work by previous Canadian governments. They joined forces with Russia, Australia, New Zealand and the United States to stall approval at the crucial UN committee on social, humanitarian and cultural matters.
To have Canada even mentioned in the same sentence as Russia, Australia or the US on the question of indigenous rights is in itself a testament to how far we have fallen in the eyes of the world community.
This is terribly disappointing for a country that has a strong record of defending human rights, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chairperson for the UN permanent forum on indigenous issues.
Harper’s contempt for indigenous people is not confined to the international arena. Earlier this year he reneged on the Kelowna Accord, another historic document, that promised to spend $5 billion on aboriginal housing, health care and education.
As a result, Canada’s aboriginal children will continue to live in housing on reserves where Statistics Canada identified 54% of the homes as being in substandard condition.
Boil water orders will still be the order of the day in more than 100 aboriginal communities across Canada at risk of disease and infections.
Aboriginal women between ages 25 and 44 will be five times more likely to suffer a violent death than other Canadian women in same age group.
Five hundred aboriginal women have gone missing or have been murdered in the past 15 years in Canada, with little or no interest from the police, courts, media or the public.
All of this is on top of the health problems experienced by aboriginal communities, everything from massive increases in TB among children and AIDS running rampant with a 500% increase in the past 20 years.
The Harper government has made a conscious decision to distance themselves from Canada’s aboriginal communities. The decision is rooted in the misguided policies similar to those of the Harris era. Harper, just like Harris before him, is looking to fashion a majority government by scapegoating those who disagree with him.
He views women’s groups, First Nations, gays and lesbians, and immigrants needing literacy skills, for example, as special interest groups somehow different from the taxpayers he likes to talk about.
Don’t kid yourself that Harper’s motion on Quebec had anything to do with human or civil rights; it was a political maneuver calculated to take the wind out of the BLOC sails and stir the pot among the Liberals.
Because if he really held those principles, he would not have walked away from the Kelowna Accord and undermined the UN declaration that would provide for a modicum of human decency in the treatment of Canada’s First Nations. Stephen Harper should hang his head in shame.