The head of the Okanagan Nation Alliance says the rights of First Nations people across Canada have worsened under the Stephen Harper government and are only going to get worse until a new government is elected that respects the rights of First Nations people.
ONA grand chief Stewart Phillip made the comments to kick off a day-long gathering of First Nations leaders from around B.C. who are together on Westbank First Nations land to meet with a United Nations representative and talk about issues facing indigenous people in Canada.
A representative from the Okanagan Indian Band was among those in attendance.
“The Harper government has been hostile towards First Nations and until there is a change in government things are only going to get worse,” said Phillip at a press conference on Wednesday prior to the information session.
Phillip pointed to a July 2014 report by the United Nations on Canada’s relationship with its indigenous people that stated that initiatives undertaken by all levels of government to address problems have been insufficient.
“It is these systemic violations of our internationally acknowledged human rights that First Nations people want the government of Canada to acknowledge and begin rectifying,” said Phillip. “This is a very significant time in our respective nation’s history where we have an opportunity to formally bring forth, to the United Nations, the difficulties that the indigenous people in British Columbia are facing today.”
Other native leaders echoed the sentiments of Phillip including Westbank First Nations chief Robert Louie, who pointed to the success of his people in Westbank as an example of how native groups can thrive if they are given the equality they deserve.
“Indigenous people have been seen as second-class citizens and that has happened since the point of first contact (with European settlers),” said Louie. “What we need is equality and as soon as that happens First Nations can move quickly.”
Louie says First Nations must push to be self-sufficient and self governing and said places like the nearby Sensisyusten school, where students are taught academic courses but are also taught the history of their people as a way to maintain First Nations traditions, are ways for First Nations groups to maintain their traditionss
Other issues the native leaders raised include murdered and missing women, land claims, fishing, housing and self government.
Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde, who represents over 600 First Nations across Canada, says there is a huge gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people, noting while Canada is ranked fairly high compared to other countries around the world when it comes to well-being, the conditions of Canada’s native people are much worse.
“Canada is rated as a great place to live,” said Bellegarde. “But while Canada is way up here, its indigenous people are rated way lower. It’s this gap that we need to change and as soon as we can do that it will be better for everyone.”
Several presentations to the United Nations special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz were going to take place on Tuesday. Tauli-Corpuz said she was there to listen to the concerns and learn about the issues facing First Nations groups in B.C. and in Canada.