Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

June 21, 2011 06:00 ET

Justice Can't Wait! OFL Statement on National Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2011

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 21, 2011) - Fifteen years after June 21 was first proclaimed National Aboriginal Day by Canadian Parliament, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people throughout Canada continue to struggle for justice and human rights. All across Ontario, workers are joining Aboriginal people in celebrating their many unique cultures and recognizing their important contributions to our workplaces, our communities and the labour movement.

National Aboriginal Day is significant for the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and the over one million organized Ontario workers it represents. Aboriginal communities play a major role in challenging our society and governments at all levels to take action on critical issues, such as ending violence against women, enshrining the right to education for all children, and establishing climate justice.

"Access to quality drinking water, healthcare, public services, education, training, and good jobs are rights that should be afforded to all people, but Canada's failure to protect even the most basic of these rights for Aboriginal people and Aboriginal communities is a national shame," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "Through public pressure, we have managed to reverse the Harper government's refusal to sign on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but we have yet to see genuine action to defend the next generation of Aboriginal people."

Over the last two decades, the Aboriginal population has grown by 45 percent compared to an eight percent growth rate for non-Aboriginals. This population is, on average, 13 years younger than the non-Aboriginal population and will have a growing impact on the labour movement and the Canadian economy. Ontario is home to one in five of Canada's Aboriginal peoples. This growing demographic of young Aboriginal people will enter Canada's workforce with a strong sense of their identity and their rights.

Today, Aboriginal peoples believe their treaty rights have become a series of broken promises. The OFL stands with Aboriginal people inside and outside the movement to actively fight for treaty rights, clean drinking water, access to education and justice for missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The fact that there are still boil water alerts in so many Aboriginal communities in Ontario is despicable. One community in Neskantaga (Landsdowne House) Ontario has been on a boil water advisory for 14 years. In many of these communities, Aboriginal youth continue to learn in substandard and unhealthy conditions that include overcrowding, extreme mould, high carbon dioxide levels, unheated portables, and many other hazards. It is also estimated that over 500 Aboriginal women, from all walks of life, have been murdered or gone missing in violent circumstances in Canada in the past 20 years. The government inaction on these issues is inexcusable.

"In the provincial system every child is guaranteed the fundamental right to an education, but none of these rights exist in reality for First Nations children," said OFL Executive Vice-President Terry Downey. "Aboriginal people have been waiting far too long for justice and respect. They can't afford to wait any longer."

From June 17 to 19, the OFL hosted "Walking in our Moccasins," its second Aboriginal Gathering, where community and union activists from all nations came together to share in Aboriginal culture and traditions and develop strategies for working with and within the labour movement to defend human rights and social justice.

It is only through solidarity that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers and community members will be able to ensure that Canada lives up to its treaty obligations and takes meaningful action towards implementing the tenets of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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