It slipped by The Nation as it did many newspapers and magazines that 1994 marked the 25th anniversary of a critical moment in Canadian history that would’ve affected all Aboriginal peoples within Canada’s present borders.
It was the infamous “White Paper.” That was a federal government statement that essentially called for the complete integration of Aboriginal peoples into the general population by removing all forms of “special status.”
The argument ran that only then could the inherent inequality and disadvantage of Canada’s original inhabitants be brought to an end. Sounds familiar when one listens to certain provincial and federal political rhetoric even in these enlightened times. By the way this infamous document was withdrawn formally in 1971 after vigorous opposition by Aboriginal peoples.
Well, 25 years have passed and still the Canadian Human Rights Commission says that the Native peoples’ situation remains the most pressing human rights problem facing Canadians in its recent 1994 annual report.
The commission feels there has been some progress in the last 25 years and sees this time as a transition stage for Canada and its original inhabitants. It also says the findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Affairs are expected to accelerate the process.
The human rights commission also likes the framework agreement in Manitoba dealing with Aboriginal self-government and the “dismantling” of the Department of Indian Affairs that will be starting in Manitoba.
The commission is concerned that the “extinguishment clause” appears to contradict a constitutional guarantee protecting Aboriginal rights. The commission encourages Ottawa to find a “formula more in keeping with our evolving understanding of the nature and extent of Aboriginal rights in Canada.”
The High Arctic Relocation is also mentioned. The commission says the federal government “failed in its fiduciary responsibilities to the relocatees.” And it must “acknowledge the wrongs done to the Inuit and apologize to the relocatees.”
The consensus is that the feds should sit down and agree on the appropriate compensation for the hardships and suffering endured. The commission says Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin was right to admit last September that “a mistake had been made.” No apology or compensation was made to date though.
Another point in Ottawa’s favour is that they finally recognized the Innu as “Indians” within the meaning of Canada’s Constitution in 1994. However, low-level flights still continue while the feds and the Innu negotiate.
Other problems the commission pointed to were the high rate of suicide among the Aboriginal population (two to five times the Canadian average depending on age), disproportionate amounts of people on social assistance (they point out the lack of employment opportunities), and the fact that Natives are underrepresented in the workforce.
Natives make up only 1 per cent of the workforce in federally regulated companies out of a potential 3 per cent available to work. Only 2 per cent of thefederal civil service is Native.