[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Thu, 1 Oct 98 09:00:12 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: RIGHTS-CANADA: Indigenous People Tell Mandela of Their Plight
Article: 44348
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.13587.19981002181532@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 539.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-CANADA: Indigenous People Tell Mandela of Their Plight **
** Written 3:36 PM Sep 30, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Indigenous People Tell Mandela of Their Plight

By Mark Bourrie, IPS, 27 September 1998

OTTAWA, Sep 27 (IPS) - Canada's government had to endure a few hours of discomfort while it played host to South African President Nelson Mandela as the anti-apartheid hero paid special attention to Canada's long-oppressed native people.

Many critics of Canadian native policy have compared the plight of aboriginal Canadians to the suffering endured by black South Africans during apartheid and Mandela met indigenous leaders twice during his two-day visit here on Thursday and Friday to hear about their problems.

On Thursday, he met Indian, Inuit and Metis (mixed-race) leaders in Canada's Human Rights Memorial in Ottawa. Inside the concrete and granite monument, away from the eyes of the public and the media, native leaders explained some of their problems.

These include the suicide rates among Canadian aboriginals, which are at least three times as high as those among non-natives. Among the Inuit - the peoples of the Arctic - the rate is four times higher than the rest of Canada. The real rates are believed to be even higher than those figures, since, according to a government study, up to 25 per cent of accidental deaths among aboriginals may be unreported suicides.

Native Canadians also have the highest rates of diabetes, tuberculosis, alcoholism and prescription-drug abuse.

And the majority of female prisoners in Canada are native women, who make up less than five per cent of the female population of Canada, while the per-capita incarceration rate for native men is five times higher than the national average.

On Friday, before going to a huge youth rally, Mandela met the head of Canada's national native group, the Assembly of First Nations.

Mr. Mandela appreciates what Canada's aboriginal people are going through, said AFN Grand Chief Phil Fontaine. He was well- briefed on aboriginal issues, and I left the meeting feeling that the president was very sympathetic to our struggles.

He may not be able to translate that into action, but we felt honoured to be able to seek his advice, Fontaine said.

Canadian authorities and the country's mainstream media gave virtually no coverage to Mandela's meetings with Canadian aboriginal leaders. On the request of Canadian government officials, all of the South African president's meetings with indinegous chiefs were held behind closed doors.

Mandela did not speak publicly about native issues, but insisted on wearing a traditional sash given to him by aboriginal chiefs when he addressed a joint session of the Canadian parliament on Thursday.

His meeting Friday in Toronto with Fontaine, who represents all of the people officially recognised Indians and Inuit in Canada, went unreported, and virtually no aboriginal leaders were invited to gala events held in his honour.

Still, aboriginal leaders are looking to Mandela to become an ally in their struggle for self-government and equality. Chiefs say indigenous Canadians used to face many of the same discriminatory laws endured by black South Africans, including being barred from citizenship.

They were also confined to reserves and forbidden by law from settling on the vast, fertile plains of western Canada. They were prohibited by law from selling agricultural produce grown on reserves and were forbidden to practice many of their religious rites. Native women who married non-native men were stripped of their Indian status and no longer received allowances and health benefits provided to other natives.

In 1981, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that the government's Indian Act constituted a breach of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Some Canadian officials believe their government endured Mandela's sessions with indigenous leaders because they hope the South African president will support Canada's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Nelson Mandela has such personal and moral respect among world leaders, especially those in Africa, that few of them would turn him down if they ask him to support the Canadian bid, said a senior government source.

They are willing to give him money for education, to expand trade, and even will send peacekeepers to Lesotho if Mandela asks. Partly, it's because Mandela is one of the most popular and respected men in the world, and partly it's recognition that Mandela is the head of a major regional power, he said.