Recently, Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry, Ad.E. met with a wide range of stakeholders in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. All of the stakeholders she met with said that there are serious systemic human rights violations occurring in this region of the country. Chief Commissioner Landry was told that people in southern Canada don’t really grasp the dire conditions that people in vulnerable circumstances, such as women and youth, are experiencing in many isolated, northern Indigenous communities.
The stakeholders pointed to many issues, including housing, food and potable water shortages. They said that many women and young people live in vulnerable circumstances and face violence and homelessness, with very limited access to counseling or emergency shelters. It was also said that having a safe place to grow up or access to a nearby school is not a given when you live in an Indigenous northern community.
The infrastructure for basic education is lacking in many northern Indigenous communities. As a result, Indigenous youth must leave their community to attend school and if they don’t come back, it can feel as though the residential school era is still happening. There is a feeling of emptiness for the families and communities left behind, and the youth may come to feel disconnected from their communities.
These experiences are consistent with those that were shared with the Commission during the Indigenous Women’s Roundtables and featured in the Honouring the Strength of Our Sisters report released in 2015. These challenges were also recognized in a 2014 Report written by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya. In the Report the Special Rapporteur recommended that “Canada (…) take urgent action to address the housing crisis in Indigenous communities both on and off reserve, especially communities in the north.”
In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, the federal government was also urged to address human rights issues in the North. Call to Action number 21 specifically calls upon “…the federal government to provide sustainable funding for existing and new Aboriginal healing centres to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harms caused by residential schools, and to ensure that the funding of healing centres in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories is a priority.”
The human rights challenges taking place in remote communities throughout the North and particularly in Indigenous communities, represent some of the most pressing human rights issues in Canada today. The Canadian Human Rights Commission is striving to promote the principles of equality, dignity and respect in all parts of the country. And Chief Commissioner Landry has affirmed that the Commission will make it a priority to find ways to collaborate with Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups to raise awareness of, and find ways to address the human rights northern communities continue to face.