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UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples starts 10-day visit to Canada

For the first time since being appointed as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, José Francisco Calí Tzay is making an official visit to Canada.

Calí Tzay, who is Mayan Kaqchikel from Guatemala, was appointed to the role in 2020. 

The 10-day trip starts in Ottawa Wednesday and includes visits to Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver before returning to Ottawa.

Kenneth Deer, a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s external relations committee, will be in attendance for an one-hour meeting with Calí Tzay on Thursday in Montreal. 

José Francisco Calí Tzay is Mayan Kaqchikel from Guatemala.
José Francisco Calí Tzay was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2020. (United Nations)

“Canada has this altar boy image out there that everything is wonderful,” he said.

“We need people like the special rapporteur to focus on human rights violations that take place within Canada. It helps keep Canada to account.”

Deer, who has represented the Haudenosaunee Confederacy at the United Nations for many years, said he is going to raise human rights issues like Canada not fully recognizing the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as a government, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, unmarked burials associated with former residential schools sites, and racism experienced in Quebec.

During the visit, Calí Tzay will examine a wide range of issues affecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis, including the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the right to self-determination, land, and resources, according to a statement from the UN human rights office. 

Kenneth Deer at the Mohawk Nation longhouse in Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal.
Kenneth Deer is a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s external relations committee. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

He will also focus on issues like missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, unmarked burials associated with residential schools, language and culture, and free, prior and informed consent.

Meetings with Indigenous leaders

Calí Tzay will meet with government officials, national human rights institutions, and several Indigenous leaders including representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council.

“We are looking forward to meeting the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples to discuss issues for the Métis Nation, including the Métis experience of residential schools,” said Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron in a statement to CBC News.

“We hope that this will be a first of many meetings where we can share issues that many Métis citizens face in Canada, with a look to a strong future of working together to ensure UNDRIP is implemented for all Indigenous Peoples, wherever they are located.” 

Cassidy Caron, President of the Métis National Council, takes part in an announcement in Ottawa on Jan. 12, 2023, regarding funding to support Métis-led engagement that will inform the development of an Indigenous Justice Strategy.
Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council, says they will talk with the special rapporteur about Métis Nation issues, including the Métis experience of residential schools. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

For Hailey Rose, co-chair of the AFN National Youth Council, the opportunity to meet with Calí Tzay will provide an important platform for First Nations youth.

“I think that’s extremely integral for the next generations to talk about things that are suppressing and colonizing and still assimilating our people,” said Rose, who is from the Mosquito-Grizzly Bear’s Head-Lean Man First Nation and Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

“For myself, language revitalization is important and I think it’s important that he comes and supports us and recognizes our national and our provincial regional priorities.”

Hailey Rose is the co-chair of the AFN Youth Council.
Hailey Rose is the co-chair of the AFN Youth Council. (Submitted by Hailey Rose)

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller will also meet with Calí Tzay. Miller’s office said in a statement to CBC News that he will be “very interested in any report provided by the special rapporteur, and looks forward to his recommendations.”

Report with recommendations coming

The mandate of the special rapporteur is to gather good practices and challenges in terms of implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and make constructive and concrete recommendations to prevent and remedy human right violations.

UNDRIP documents the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous Peoples.

“Because there’s a declaration, we need a person to make sure that that declaration and the rights in that declaration and other international human rights standards are being applied to Indigenous Peoples,” said Deer.

The last official visit to Canada by a Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples occurred in 2013 with James Anaya. In his report, Anaya concluded that the numerous initiatives taken by the federal and provincial governments to address problems faced by Indigenous Peoples had been insufficient.

Calí Tzay will share his preliminary findings and recommendations in Ottawa on March 10, and present his final report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2023. 

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