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Indigenous Nations in Canada face humanitarian crisis

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This blog post is not an official report, but is modeled off situation reports from international groups and organizations about specific crises in other countries. Canada portrays itself as a model nation but always hides the darker side of the historic genocide perpetrated on Indigenous peoples and the aggressive assimilatory actions it is taking currently -- which only serve to make poverty in First Nations much worse.

I. Highlights

- Children in care crisis - 40% of children in care in Canada (30,000) are Indigenous children;
- Over-incarceration crisis - 25-30% of prison populations are Indigenous and increasing;
- Water crisis - 116+ First Nations do not have clean water, 75% of water systems med-high risk;
- Housing crisis - 40% of First Nations home in need of major repair, 85,000 home backlog;
- Indigenous women safety crisis - over 600 murdered and missing Indigenous women;
- Health crisis - Life expectancy is 8-20 years less for Indigenous peoples due to extreme poverty;
- Cultural crisis - 94% of Indigenous languages in Canada (47/50) at high risk of extinction;

II. Situation overview

Although the Government of Canada has been presenting a picture of stable relations with and improved living conditions for Indigenous Nations, the reality on the ground shows many Indigenous individuals, families, communities and Nations suffering from multiple, over-lapping crises. Although federal, provincial, Indigenous and independent researchers have all verified the crises, Canada has refused to act. This is resulting in the pre-mature deaths of hundreds, even thousands of Indigenous peoples every year. Many of those that do survive, do so with higher levels of injuries, disabilities, diabetes, TB, heart disease, and other preventable health issues.

There is a children in care crisis where 40% of children in care in Canada (30,000) are Indigenous children. The crisis of over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples in state prisons shows 25-30% of prison populations are Indigenous and increasing. The water crisis of 116+ First Nations not having clean water and 75% of their water systems being at medium to high risk is well-known. The housing crisis is particularly staggering when you consider that 40% of First Nations homes are in need of major repair and there is a 85,000 home backlog. There is a growing crisis of violence against Indigenous women with over 600 murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada. The health crisis results in a life expectancy of 8-20 years less for Indigenous peoples due to extreme poverty. This does not include the cultural crisis where 94% of Indigenous languages in Canada (47/50) are at high risk of extinction. These are all exacerbated for communities who suffer from massive flooding due to hydro-electric operations.

The gap between Canadians and Indigenous peoples with regards to education, employment, skills training, food security, water security, health care, and mental health services continues to increase. Statistics are often manipulated by Canada to show that conditions are getting better, but when reviewed over a 20 year period, the statistics are clear that the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous peoples are on a downward trend. The levels of poverty and ill-health in northern Indigenous communities are even more acute. Suicide rates are amongst the highest in the world with suicides starting at much younger ages, like 9 years old. While Canada rates in the top 4 countries when measuring the human development index, when Indigenous peoples are isolated, Canada drops to 78th.

Indigenous Nations in Canada have attempted to work with federal and provincial governments to address these crisis areas, all to no avail. The closest Indigenous Nations came to accessing funding relief for the current crisis was in 2005 when the Government of Canada promised $5 billion over 10 years to address issues like education and housing. This commitment was later withdrawn when the Conservative Party came to power. Since then, Indigenous Nations, through their individual First Nation communities, representative organizations and advocacy groups, continue to try to raise public awareness and get Canada's attention - but have been met with funding cuts, instead of assistance.

These funding and other cuts are in direct violation of Canada's domestic laws, legislated mandates and legally binding treaties and other agreements with Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples in Canada have been in a state of prolonged crisis and casualties continue to increase. The situation has become critical and many Indigenous individuals and communities are in need of immediate emergency assistance. Other communities not in a crisis, still require that their treaties be upheld, their stolen lands be returned and they have a fair share of the wealth that comes from their traditional territories in order to be self-sustaining.

III. Security threats

The Government of Canada has initiated what can only be called a blitz attack on Indigenous governments and communities. From all available analyses, it appears as though the maneuver is designed to overwhelm Indigenous communities in the hopes that they will not have time to make their citizens aware of what is happening. This observation is supported by the fact that the Government of Canada has plotted an aggressive, assimilatory suite of legislative amendments that would do several things: (1) transfer all financial liability to Indigenous communities, (2) transfer jurisdictional authority to provinces, and (3) open up the remaining Indigenous lands and resources to pipelines, mining companies and land acquisition companies.

The level of legislative and policy changes being forced on Indigenous peoples without their free, informed, and prior consent, are historic in their number, scope, and the speed at which they are being implemented. The Government of Canada has decided to ignore even domestic laws which require that, at a minimum, it consult and accommodate the Aboriginal and treaty rights of Indigenous peoples which are constitutionally protected. Canada has been, and continues to be in breach of legally binding treaties on a daily basis without any consequences from the international community.

The Government of Canada has tried to minimize any possible Indigenous resistance to these offensive measures by implementing severe funding cuts to Indigenous representative organizations. Indigenous communities are at significant risk of confrontations with Canada's police and military forces as Canada has been known to use armed forced to quell any Indigenous resistance to the further theft and destruction of Indigenous lands and resources.

Other security risks for Indigenous peoples include:

(1) Canada's use of their Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to monitor individual Indigenous activists, which is well outside the scope, mandate and resource allotment of INAC;

(2) Canada's use of CSIS to monitor individual Indigenous activists and leaders is a form of intimidation to deter resistance;

(3) Canada's use of its national police force, the RCMP, to surveil Indigenous individuals and communities for signs of co-ordinated activities;

(4) Canada's use of the military to quell Indigenous resistance and portraying them publicly as "terrorists" in their own territories;

(5) Canada's use of resources to fund contracts to monitor social media activities of Indigenous peoples and their allies and to engage in counter-information campaigns against them;

(6) Canada's use of Parliamentary privilege and the media to smear, villainize and otherwise degrade Indigenous peoples, their communities and cultures which encourages similar behaviour from the public;

(7) Canada's use of law enforcement to over-incarcerate Indigenous men, women and youth to prevent Indigenous resistance on the ground;

(8) Canada's use of the child welfare system to remove additional generations of Indigenous children from their families, communities and Nations which would also reduce those who might engage in resistance in the future.

IV. Humanitarian needs and response

Some individual Indigenous peoples and communities in Canada require immediate aid in the form of critical supplies, infrastructure, emergency services, and international intervention at the state level:

Critical supplies:

- potable water;
- healthy food;
- warm clothing and outerwear;
- blankets;
- medicine and various physical aids ;


- safe housing;
- water infrastructure;
- sanitation infrastructure;
- access to solar, wind or other power generation;
- communications (phone, Internet, emergency infrastructure);
- schools & day cares;

Emergency services:

- Fire prevention;
- Medical centres;
- Mental health centres;
- Indigenous policing/public safety centres;
- Emergency management centres;

International intervention:

Indigenous Nations require the assistance of the United Nations and/or any individual state to put pressure on Canada, via economic, legal, political, or other sanctions, to ensure that the root causes of the crises in Indigenous Nations are addressed. Primarily, assistance is needed to ensure that any and all unilateral development on Indigenous lands and water must be halted until restitution has been made for past thefts and illegal takings, compensation for loss of use and nation to nation agreements are made with regards to the sharing of natural resources and other wealth on Indigenous lands are negotiated.  (This does not include activities or development underway in partnership with Indigenous peoples) Unilateral state activities include, but are not limited to:

- land development;
- All new hydro developments;
- All Crown land purchases, leases, transfers, and permits;
- All pipelines, hydro-fracking, and mineral extraction;
- all clear-cutting and timber and gravel removal;

Similarly, all new legislative and policy initiatives related to Indigenous peoples and their territories must be withdrawn or held in abeyance until proper nation to nation negotiations, including, but not limited to:

- All legislation directly or indirectly impacting Indigenous peoples;
- All litigation targeted against Indigenous peoples;
- All enforcement activities against Indigenous peoples in their traditional activities;
- All enforcement activities against Indigenous peoples engaging in economic activities;

Government-based funding transfers to Indigenous governments must be maintained and protected  during negotiations, including, but not limited to:

- Federal and provincial funding transfers to Indigenous Nations, their First Nations communities and their representative organizations;
- Government transfer levels to Indigenous governments must be adjusted to reflect current population and inflation levels;
- Additional funding to cover the costs of current emergency services;
- Additional funding to cover the backlogs created by multiple decades of chronic underfunding;
- Permanent funding transfers to account for taxation, fees, permits, licences, business profits and other wealth generation which come from traditional territories;

It must be remembered that these funds are not "hand-outs", but in fact come from the wealth off of Indigenous lands that are denied to Indigenous peoples. These funds are also legally binding treaty agreements. The wealth off Indigenous lands actually support all Canadians and the Canadian state - thus, if there are any hand-outs they come from Indigenous lands and resources to support everyone else. It is time Indigenous Nations saw their fair share.

V. Coordination

There are specific Indigenous governments, communities and their representative organizations who are ready to work with international bodies to address the current crisis in Canada. Coordination can be done via video-conferencing, conference calls and meetings. Special arrangements will have to be made for any international travel of Indigenous representatives as Canada has already started to attack our own Indigenous passport systems.

It is advisable that a strategic planning session take place to coordinate public information, international interventions and emergency action on the ground. Not all Indigenous communities are in crisis, but those that are need attention urgently. A major public education campaign is needed to counter the misinformation campaign and Indigenous allies can help in this process. Other states can offer assistance in a variety of forms, but the United Nations has an opportunity to play a significant role and help Canada live up to the principles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.

VI. Funding

It is absolutely critical that the international community contribute funding to address the immediate crisis, as well as fund advocacy activities to help Indigenous peoples organize and address the current situation. Currently, more than one third of the funding that is set aside for Indigenous peoples is confiscated by the federal bureaucracy to pay for their large salaries, vacations, and professional development, which is used to increase the capacity and strength of Canada's bureaucratic army against Indigenous peoples. This of course, does not include the funds spent on legal counsel to fight Indigenous peoples in court.

If Indigenous peoples are not put on an equal footing with the state, they have very little chance of successfully resisting this blitz attack. There is more than enough wealth which comes from the traditional lands and resources of Indigenous peoples - the issue has always been the illegal theft of those resources by the state. Emergency measures must be put in place to address those that die everyday in foster homes, prisons, or homeless on the street and the many thousands without clean water, food, heat or housing. State bodies have been calling these issues a crisis for over a decade and little action has been taken to address them. How many more Indigenous peoples need to suffer?

VII. Contact

Please contact Indigenous governments and their representative organizations directly. You may also contact me at [email protected] for more details or for information about how to connect with specific Indigenous governments, communities and organizations.

For more information about the current crisis, please see my article "Stretched Beyond Human Limits: Death By Poverty in First Nations" published in the journal - Canadian Review of Social Policy.

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