The 2010 throne speech highlighted a myriad of Aboriginal issues from Canada’s alarmingly high rate of missing/ murdered Aboriginal women to the Sisters in Spirit initiative to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But what does it all mean?
This is what Ellen Gabriel, president of Quebec Native Women Inc., pondered as she listened to the address on her car radio. While the federal government has made a commitment to addressing Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women, by no means did it elaborate on what kind of action it will be taking.
In terms of the UN Declaration, Gabriel said she was wary of the government because though it affirmed it would reconsider endorsing the Declaration, it did not commit to signing it. She recalled a series of previous instances where representatives from the federal government consistently objected to the word “peoples” within the Declaration as a means of separating individual rights and land rights.
“They prefer the term ‘people’ which means we don’t have land or territories. They believe they have a sovereign right to our lands and territories. There’s a lot of legalese and subtleties in these things, but something I think that is very dangerous is if they say this is going to go underneath the Canadian constitution and that sets a dangerous precedent. We have countries around the world that do not protect human rights and they could easily do the same if Canada tries to do that,” said Gabriel.
At the same time, Gabriel does not trust that Canada would actually roll out the legislation that would allow for the Declaration to be implemented, similar to the way they have signed treaties in the past but passed no legislation to implement them.
“There are a lot of things that are worrisome and not just with the Declaration. In the speech from the throne they are talking about making it easier for foreign corporations to come in and develop. We have many cases of this, such as the tar sands or uranium development, which is actually a problem for us,” said Gabriel.
One of her concerns involves an old uranium mine within her home community of Kanehsatake that has been closed since 1980, but now an American corporation is looking to reopen it. She said the company, Niocan, has been anxious to convince the Native and non-Native communities in the area that the project is “environmentally friendly”, which is alarming, particularly as the company already has the support of both the federal and provincial governments.
“It is really troubling that on the one hand they are saying they want to endorse the Declaration, but on the other hand they are going to help speed up the development process and work with President Obama on energy security. It’s like saying we are concerned about your health, but we don’t care about the air you breathe or the water you drink. We will make more cutbacks to your healthcare and make more cutbacks to your basic needs so that we can get rid of you faster,” said Gabriel.
The one thing that did bring Gabriel some solace was that Canada will be addressing the “disturbing number of unsolved cases” of missing and murdered Aboriginal women as a “pressing criminal justice priority.”
While the government has pledged $10 million over two years to address this situation, where this money will go and what it will do was not made clear. Some of this funding could go to renewing the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Sisters in Spirit initiative to continue its research in this area.
Gabriel said this is great on one hand but on the other there is a huge gap between policy changes, creating task forces in each province and territory, and making legislative changes that will promote the full enjoyment of Indigenous women and children’s rights.
“There are so many issues linked to the reason why Aboriginal women have higher rates of violence in their lives than any other group in Canada. Research is good because that’s what policy change is based on but there needs to be something now. We are losing women now and the government drags its feet most of the time,” said Gabriel.