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Aboriginal students caught in the middle of a housing crisis: UN report

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The situation of aboriginal people in Canada is facing a crisis, according to a recent preliminary report published Oct. 15, 2013 by a UN rapporteur. The report highlights, among many causes, the living situations of aboriginal students.

“The housing problem has a significant economic and social impact. Young people described to me the difficulty they have studying in small homes overcrowded by generations of family members,” rapporteur James Anaya stated.

At least one in five aboriginal Canadians live in homes in need of serious repair and are often overcrowded and contaminated with mould.

In addition to living conditions, educational funding disparity is a major impediment facing aboriginal students, according to the UN report.

“Aboriginal students are actually very much under-funded for education,” says Shelley Wright, coordinator of Aboriginal Studies at Langara College. “People think that aboriginal students get everything for free and that is absolutely not the case.”

Wright says students need a comprehensive understanding of aboriginal issues.

“I think it’s important if they want to go into teaching, or law, or social work, or business. They’re going to need to know about aboriginal issues because they’re there, everywhere you go,” says Wright.

The UN report advocates a measure that could be “implemented relatively quickly.” It calls on government to “ensure funding delivered to aboriginal authorities for education per student is at least equivalent to that available in the provincial educational system.”

Earlier this month, Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, told a crowd gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Oct. 18 that the UN report was incredibly timely considering clashes between RCMP and protesters in Rexton, New Brunswick.

“[Anaya] met with a number of people in the crowd here,” said Phillip. “He heard about the deplorable, the disgusting, disgraceful abuses of human rights that are an everyday occurrence and that have been normalized in our country.”

The federal government released proposed legislation last week to overhaul the First Nation’s Education Act.

Opponents say that without proper consultation, legislation aimed at addressing educational issues for indigenous people cannot be effective.

Consultation needs to occur on a community level and with the national and regional organizations across the country, says Wright. “Before any legislation is passed, the people who are going to be affected by it need to be consulted.”

Wright is hoping to offer courses in Aboriginal Studies online in the future to correspond with the high interest the department receives from students.

Anaya’s final report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council when it’s completed.

Reported by James McLaughlin and Marie Del Cid

“[James Anaya] heard about the deplorable, the disgusting, disgraceful abuses of human rights that are an everyday occurrence and that have been normalized in our country,” says B.C.’s Gand Chief Stewart Phillip to a crowd gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Oct. 18, 2013.

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