OTTAWA – A United Nations fact-finder is set to take stock of the plight of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.
The UN has dispatched law professor James Anaya to speak to First Nations representatives and government officials as he drafts a report for the world body.
“The idea is to get a first-hand view of the situation of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada by hearing directly from as many as I can,” he said in a telephone interview.
As the UN’s special rapporteur on indigenous rights, Anaya is responsible for promoting laws and policies that support indigenous peoples around the world. He will also look at their living conditions and issue reports and recommendations.
The rapporteur has no binding authority. Rather, he aims to shame governments into action by bringing unacceptable conditions to light.
The federal government will get a chance to respond to Anaya’s findings before a final report is circulated and presented next year to the UN Human Rights Council.
The report will include recommendations for the federal government, First Nations and possibly other groups.
The nine-day trip — which begins Monday and ends Oct. 15 — will see Anaya visit both small rural communities and big cities. He will also spend time in Ottawa meeting federal representatives from several government departments and agencies.
One issue bound to come up in his discussions is resource development on First Nations land.
Without talking specifically about Canada, Anaya said companies and governments are starting to realize that major energy projects need the co-operation of First Nations.
“On a global scale, yes, absolutely we’ve seen a clear trend in that direction among the major mining and oil companies in particular,” he said.
“You see a clear trend toward greater awareness of the need for there to be consultation with indigenous peoples and agreements with indigenous peoples if resource extraction or development is going to take place within their territories.”
That realization is seemingly being borne out in Canada with the recent trip to British Columbia by a cadre of senior government officials to listen to First Nations concerns over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and other energy projects.
In some cases, Anaya said, companies may have no choice but to significantly alter or even shelve projects that infringe on the rights of First Nations.
Anaya’s fact-finding trip has been a long time coming. He first requested permission to make an official visit to Canada in February 2012.
“I hesitate to draw any conclusions from these kinds of things. It often takes time for governments to get back to me on requests,” he said.
“There are different factors that come into play. So there’s no way of knowing what all those factors are and how they weigh against each other and against my request.”
He had to reschedule his trip, originally set for Oct. 12-20, after Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament.
The head of the Assembly of First Nations said he hopes Anaya’s visit will shed light on some of the hardships endured by Aboriginal Peoples.
“What this moment represents, in my view, is a moment to hold a mirror up to the country and reflect back the kinds of real challenges,” Shawn Atleo said.
“It’s a truth-telling moment, if you will.”