Friday, August 9 is recognized globally as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. United Nation’s Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has issued a special message stating: “We highlight the importance of honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between States, their citizens and indigenous peoples. Such consensual arrangements enable better understanding of their view and values and are essential for protecting and promoting rights and establishing the political vision and necessary frameworks for different cultures to coexist in harmony.”
There have been a number of treaties and other legal instruments affecting Canada’s First Nations (many pre-date the formal creation of Canada in 1867). One of the most important is the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which will be commemorated on October 7 on its 250th anniversary. The Royal Proclamation is enshrined in Section 25 of Canada’s Constitution.
In 2008, the federal government formally apologized for the abusive treatment of more than 150,000 Aboriginal children over more than a century in Indian Residential Schools, and, in the words of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, acknowledged that “the legacy of Indian Residential Schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is continuing in its mandate: “The truth telling and reconciliation process as part of an overall holistic and comprehensive response to the Indian Residential School legacy is a sincere indication and acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people and the need for continued healing.”
Meanwhile, other terrible chapters in the lives of Aboriginal people are gaining attention and calls for action. In July, Canada’s Premiers joined with other groups in calling for a national public inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women.
The Wellesley Institute, and many other research and policy institutions, have documented the social and health burdens facing Canada’s First Nations, Metis, Inuit and other Aboriginal peoples. In 2008, we worked with a group of Aboriginal housing and service providers on the Greater Toronto Aboriginal Housing Consultation which led to the Ontario government releasing $20 million in federal affordable housing funding for Aboriginal people in the Greater Toronto Area.
In our innovation and enterprise work, we continue to work with Aboriginal groups and business leaders on practical initiatives to assist urban Aboriginal youth in employment, education and training.