Aboriginals file complaints against their own leaders
- Aboriginals file complaints against their own leaders
Federal government is also accused of discrimination
By Michael Woods, Postmedia News
April 25, 2013
Aboriginals have filed 225 complaints against First Nations governments and 165 cases involving Ottawa.
Photograph by: Geoff Robins, The Canadian Press Files, Postmedia News
Flooded with a wave of discrimination complaints about First Nations governments by Canada's aboriginals, Canada's national human rights commission is acting to help indigenous communities find ways to resolve their complaints locally.
Since 2008, aboriginal people and First Nations groups have filed 390 complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, according to its latest annual report. The number of complaints has grown from a mere 16 in 2008 to more than 170 last year.
Matters under the federal Indian Act were long untouched by Canadian human rights law.
That changed in 2008, when a legislative change gave First Nations the ability to file human rights complaints against the federal government. The change didn't apply to First Nations governments until 2011; after that, the number of complaints spiked.
"It became a big part of our work," said David Gollob, director of communications for the commission.
There have been 225 complaints against First Nations governments on issues such as housing on reserves and voting eligibility in band council elections, according to the commission. A further 165 complaints have been filed against the federal government on issues such as federal funding for services on reserves, including child welfare, education and policing.
The commission attributes the sharp increase to better awareness of the 2008 legislative change among First Nations.
"The Canadian Human Rights Act wasn't exactly well-known among First Nations," said Sherri Helgason, director of the commission's National Aboriginal Initiative.
Now, with input from aboriginal groups, the commission has created a tool kit to help aboriginal communities deal with discrimination issues locally, rather than taking them to the commission. The tool kit can be found at doyouknowyourrights.ca.
"If an issue can be resolved close to the source, then that's probably a really positive thing for everybody involved," Helgason said. "The earlier that a dispute can be resolved, usually the better off everybody is."
The document is a guide to developing a community-based dispute resolution process, including advice on financing and implementation. It emphasizes aboriginal treaty rights, First Nations legal traditions and the aboriginal right to self-government, and was developed in conjunction with aboriginal communities and other groups.
The new document is targeted at First Nations governments to help them manage disputes. It is also aimed at individuals to help them assess whether they have grounds for a human rights complaint.
"There are alternative dispute resolution processes. You don't have to go to the Canadian Human Rights Commission," Gollob said. "You can perhaps try to resolve the matter at the source."
The influx of human rights complaints post-2008 wasn't unexpected, and the commission was allocated supplementary funding to help field them. But that funding is set to end this year, Gollob said.
There's a wide spectrum of dispute resolution among Canada's more than 600 First Nations communities. Some have well-established dispute-resolution systems; others are developing them. Still others have made less progress.
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