Canada's aboriginals slam "third-world" conditions

Thu May 29, 2008 4:29pm EDT
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By Jonathan Spicer

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada cares less and less about the "third-world" living conditions faced by many of its native peoples, protesters said on Thursday in the second annual aboriginal National Day of Action.

"The Canadian government turns around and tells foreigners that are coming to this country that native people in Canada are very well taken care of -- that they have money, that they have houses, that that have jobs," said Gary Wassaykeesic from the Mishkeegogamang Indian reserve in northwestern Ontario.

"But in all reality, when you go into your own backyard, you're going to find third-world conditions."

Natives' frustrations have grown in recent years over the issues of poverty, health care and living conditions on many of the country's reserves. Increasingly, there have been road blockades and standoffs between native protesters and police, and sometimes violence.

But Thursday's National Day of Action was peaceful, police said, unlike 2007, when protesters east of Toronto shut down Canada's busiest highway.

"There's no violence. We're trying to get our message across without breaking windows or smashing cars," Wassaykeesic told Reuters on the sidelines of the march through Toronto, where obvious signs of support from onlookers were scarce.

More than any other group in Canada by far, aboriginals face poverty, crime, and poor health and housing. Unemployment and suicide levels are also highest among natives, especially on the remote reserves that dot the country's north.

Asked why conditions are still so bad for aboriginals, federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl told reporters in Ottawa: "There's lots to do, I admit that, and I don't claim that it's all done."   Continued...

<p>The Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Ardoch Algonquin and Grassy Narrows First Nations gather at Queen's Park, the site of Ontario's legislature in Toronto May 29, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Cassese</p>