AFN Submission to Canada’s Premiers July 2015 – Closing the Gap
AFN Submission to Canada’s Premiers July 2015 – Closing the Gap
Closing the Gap: Seeking Reconciliation, Advancing First Nations Well Being and Human Rights
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) welcomes the opportunity to meet with Premiers of the Provinces and Territories at your annual meeting. This is the 13th time we have met in this way and we recognize the commitment of Premiers to meet and discuss our common priorities – including First Nations’ education, economic participation, ending violence, housing, disaster mitigation, and children in care.
However, we all know that this table needs to demonstrate tangible change in all of these areas. We will identify some tangible action items in this submission, and these include broader inclusion of First Nations in ministerial meetings that lead to, and inform, this meeting. We cannot be and should not be restricted to meeting with Aboriginal Affairs Ministers.
A common thread running through all of these pressing subject matters is the need for action that will meet the fundamental human rights of Indigenous peoples – and which include our inherent rights, title and jurisdiction. Our collective rights as Indigenous peoples are human rights and are intimately connected to the enjoyment of fundamental human rights by First Nations people.
As noted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “The rights-based approach must be the starting point for all our endeavours … in both the public and private sectors. … [T]his is an approach that involves human rights strategies of governance, namely, that we take the basic human rights as the starting point for governmental programmes and the programmes of national, regional and international institutions.” (Commission on Human Rights, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2003/14 (26 February 2003), para. 53.)
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified this linkage and has put forward implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the UN Declaration) as a first and guiding principle for reconciliation across the many topics that they addressed and that are on our agenda today – education, child welfare, Indigenous languages, violence against Indigenous women and girls and the socio-economic gap as a whole.
We point out that the UN Declaration reflects existing international human rights law. It does not create new rights. This has implications for provinces as well as the federal government because the Charter of the United Nations requires all States, including all the constituent elements of a federal State like Canada, to respect and promote human rights. It is a duty. Neither federalism nor fear can be used as an excuse for any government in Canada to not take action to fulfill our fundamental human rights. Federal and provincial laws must uphold the minimum standards of the Declaration and also must be interpreted in a manner consistent with it. We recognize the efforts of Alberta Premier Notley in committing to implement the Declaration and pledge our support in achieving this goal.
It is also clear in reviewing the policy challenges examined by the Aboriginal Affairs Working Group and reported out to us here, that the individual human rights of First Nations children with respect to education, child welfare and the right to life and personal security of Indigenous women and children are daily infringed upon by the actions and inactions of governments. All governments including First Nations governments bear responsibility for addressing this collective failure.
Another common thread running across all of the topics on our agenda today is the persistent and unacceptable gap in outcomes on all social, economic, political and human rights measures. Federal statistics show the Gap in well-being between First Nations and Canada has not changed since 1981. When measured against Canada’s standing on the UN Human Development Index, the gap in socio-economic conditions is also starkly evident. This is the result of a relationship that has not been fulfilled; of Crown partners that have neglected the Treaties and ignored or subverted Indigenous rights.
The gap is well known and internationally acknowledged. We remind Premiers that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples noted in the report on his visit to Canada in 2013:
- But despite positive steps, daunting challenges remain. Canada faces a continuing crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country. The well-being gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has not narrowed over the last several years, treaty and aboriginal claims remain persistently unresolved, indigenous women and girls remain vulnerable to abuse, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among indigenous peoples towards government at both the federal and provincial levels.
- The numerous initiatives that have been taken at the federal and provincial/territorial levels to address the problems faced by indigenous peoples have been insufficient. Aboriginal peoples’ concerns and well-being merit higher priority at all levels and within all branches of government, and across all departments. Concerted measures, based on mutual understanding and real partnership with aboriginal peoples, through their own representative institutions, are vital to establishing long-term solutions. To that end, it is necessary for Canada to arrive at a common understanding with aboriginal peoples of objectives and goals that are based on full respect for their constitutional, treaty and internationally-recognized rights.
- The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has been endorsed by Canada, provides a common framework within which the issues faced by indigenous peoples in the country can be addressed.
Closing the Gap and fulfilling human rights will be achieved by restoring the nation-to-nation relationship; fiscal fairness, commitment to the lands, waters and environmental protection, protecting First Nations human rights and implementing reconciliation.
- All Provinces and Territories commit to establishing bilateral processes with First Nations to monitor and ensure the Crown’s consultation, accommodation and consent obligations are met; and support the inclusion of First Nations in discussions with the federal Crown to identify the mechanisms required to ensure Crown duties to consult, accommodate or seek consent are fully met.
- All Provinces and Territories commit to a discussion table at the AAWG to discuss perspectives and status of implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Fiscal Fairness – Addressing Chronic Underfunding of Essential Services
We seek your support and commitment to work with us on a new fiscal arrangement between First Nations and the Government of Canada. Two essential things need to happen: 1) the federal government lifting its 2% cap (the short-term measure that has been in place since 1996) and 2) new one-time investments to be made such that First Nations get to an equitable starting place. At the same time, moving toward a new fiscal relationship with all governments needs to be undertaken in a concerted manner, as all governments have constitutional obligations to ensure equality of access and quality of service to First Nations comparable to what Canadians enjoy.
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