OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is not doing enough to tackle the social and economic ills facing its large aboriginal population, which is beset by poverty, poor housing and high unemployment, a United Nations official said on Tuesday.
In a rare international rebuke to Canada, James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said Ottawa was taking some measures to address problems that have bedeviled the native population for many decades.
“It is equally clear that these steps are insufficient, and have yet to fully respond to aboriginal peoples’ urgent needs,” he told a news conference in Ottawa at the end of a nine-day visit.
“Canada consistently ranks near the top among countries with respect to human development standards, and yet ... aboriginal people live in conditions akin to those in countries that rank much lower and in which poverty abounds.”
Anaya said indigenous people suffered from high levels of violence, crime, unemployment, suicide and “woefully inadequate” housing which has led to a range of health problems.
A 2011 census showed Canada has 1.4 million aboriginals, or about 4.3 percent of the overall population.
“As acknowledged by the rapporteur, positive steps have been taken and challenges remain. The comments of the rapporteur encourage us to continue working hard to achieve results,” Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said in a statement.
Some Canadian aboriginal bands briefly blockaded roads and rail lines in January - as well as the Ottawa building where Prime Minister Stephen Harper has an office - as part of a national protest called “Idle No More” against the poor living conditions of many native people.
In March, an alliance of Canadian and U.S. aboriginal groups vowed to block three proposed pipelines that are planned to transport oil from tar sands in Alberta through the United States.
Aboriginals complain that various levels of government in Canada have not properly consulted them before approving exploitation of natural resources on lands that native people consider to be theirs.
“I’ve seen enough to know there needs to be further dialogue with regards to the pipeline(s),” said Anaya.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Christopher Wilson