By CHRISTINA SPENCER, Sun Media2008-10-03
OTTAWA — Aboriginal leaders say they’re gravely disappointed by a federal election campaign that has virtually ignored their priorities and problems.
“The suggestion has been made that aboriginal issues are too complicated to be discussed during the campaign,” scoffed Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. “We’re very troubled by the absence of any discussion.”
While aboriginals were briefly mentioned in the televised leaders debates, Fontaine said it was only “by default,” during talk about other issues such as health and crime. Aboriginals weren’t the focus of any of the 16 “theme” questions raised in the French and English debates.
“I’m certainly displeased about the lack of discussion around aboriginal issues in this campaign,” said Patrick Brazeau, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents aboriginals who don’t live on reserves.
Four of the five main political parties have published platforms containing pledges to the aboriginal population. But Brazeau said many of the promises are warmed over from the 2006 election, with “language that is not new” and doesn’t speak to off-reserve aboriginals.
Mary Simon, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said she has seen “little attention paid to Inuit-specific issues during this election campaign and very little on aboriginal issues in general.”
Their absence from the election agenda is a double blow to many aboriginals, said the leaders, because it was only four months ago that Canada’s politicians delivered a historic apology for the abuses of the residential school system on indigenous peoples. Many saw this as a sign of hope toward solving the longstanding issues that plague the community.
Foremost among them is poverty. According to the 2001 census, average full-time income for Canadians was $43,298; for aboriginals, it was $33,416. First Nations people lag behind the rest of Canada on education levels, and health indicators for them are poor.
Fontaine said if party leaders are willing to talk about the tumultuous economy, they should be willing to confront aboriginal concerns head-on.
“The economy is about the future — and so are First Nations’ issues.
“We are the most vulnerable in all of this.”
The 2006 census counts 1.18 million aboriginals, including First Nations, Inuit and Metis. It is Canada’s fastest-growing population.
In some areas of Canada, voter turnout among aboriginals is very high but overall it, too, lags the Canadian average.
Fontaine said voter participation among aboriginals has been made more complicated this year by changes in Canada’s election law, which requires two pieces of identification to establish the elector’s name and address.
For people in First Nations communities in the North in particular, it’s “especially difficult” to meet this requirement, Fontaine said.
Hundreds walked through the streets of downtown Edmonton on Saturday afternoon to raise awareness about missing and murdered Aboriginal women. A similar ceremony was held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Vigil for aboriginal women mixes tears and hope
Oct. 4 2008
Friends and families gathered across 40 Canadian communities, including Ottawa, on Saturday for the Sisters in Spirit vigil, remembering aboriginal women who have disappeared or been murdered.
The day hit home for the Kitigan Zibi First Nations community near Maniwaki, where two teenaged girls disappeared last month and their families continue a search for answers.
Alex Neve, the secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, called the trend a human rights tragedy.
"Indigenous women are attacked, go missing or are killed and receive inadequate protection from governments and police forces across this country because they are women and because they are indigenous," Neve told a crowd on Parliament Hill.
Tony Martin, whose daughter was murdered, said: "To lose my daughter and have nobody care makes me so furious. It's just unbelievable that the police care so little."
Many in Ottawa were calling on Canada's politicians to make this issue a priority, saying violence against aboriginal women is just as important as the economy and the environment.
"Here we are talking about over 500 missing or murdered First Nations women, aboriginal women. And so very little is said about this," said Chief Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations. "This is about Canada and we need to do something about this."
Maisy Odkick, 16, and Shannon Alexander, 17, disappeared on Sept. 5 from Kitigan Zibi, leaving their wallets and clothes behind.
"I just want my daughter home or to hear her voice again," said Laurie Odjick.
Family and police don't believe the girls ran away, but are no closer to finding them and continue their appeal to the public for information.
With a report from CTV Ottawa's Nicole d'Entremont