Mr. Speaker, today is the opening day for the International Year of the World's Indigenous people at the United Nations general assembly in New York city. The theme for the year will be "indigenous people - a new partnership".
The purpose of naming 1993 as an international year is to highlight the circumstances facing aboriginal peoples around the world and to foster international cooperation to try to solve some of the problems that affect these peoples including areas such as human rights, health, education and the environment.
The United Nations has several criteria for determining what should be the subject of an international year. The theme should be of concern to the majority of member countries. The theme should be one requiring action which could take place at the international and national levels. There should be a reasonable expectation that an international year will generate significant follow-up action at both the national and international levels in the form of new activities or the strengthening of existing ones.
Frankly, Mr. Speaker, there are signs that the international year of indigenous people is already in some trouble here in Canada and abroad. For example, the name of the year refers to "people" instead of "peoples", which suggests in international law that aboriginal peoples are not collectives with rights of self-determination. Secondly, aboriginal peoples in Canada as early as 1991 rejected the involvement of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in planning for and coordinating activities for the year. D.I.A.N.D. is the lead federal department in spite of this aboriginal opposition. Thirdly, it appears that Canada is taking a lead role at the United Nations in planning for the year but apparently the federal government is not allocating any new money for special activities or programs during the year. In fact, the federal Finance Minister announced about $150 million worth of budget cuts to aboriginal programs last week. For past international years there have been special budgets for activities. Canada has contributed only $72,000 to the United Nations for this international year and it is the single largest contributor so far.
On the international stage, Canada is seen as a world leader in aboriginal and human rights issues. The media has reported, however, that Canada originally opposed the idea of an international year for indigenous peoples at the United Nations prior to the Oka crisis, but shortly after that event Canada tried to take the lead in organizing the United Nations affair. Some people have questioned Canada's motives for this change of heart. From within Canada we can still see many areas requiring significant measures. Had the Charlottetown Accord been approved in the recent national referendum, we would have been well ahead of the world in forging a new relationship with aboriginal peoples. We cannot afford to lose sight of the objectives of that process.
The international year could be an opportunity for the Government of Canada and aboriginal leaders to highlight for other countries some of the progress made in Canada to resolve aboriginal issues. More importantly, 1993 should be a year for governments, aboriginal peoples and Canadians generally to make more progress on issues like aboriginal self-government, comprehensive claims, and social and economic issues now under study by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
Aboriginal peoples, through their national, regional and local organizations, will have to take the lead in identifying activities for the international year. Two national aboriginal leaders, Mary Simon and Ovide Mercredi, will be in New York at the opening ceremonies to represent the aboriginal peoples of Canada and each will be making a short presentation. It is clear that governments in Canada will have to do more if this is going to be a meaningful exercise.
Mr. Speaker, I will keep Members informed over the course of the year on matters of interest relating to the International Year of the World's Indigenous People. Thank you.