The Canadian Press
UNITED NATIONS, N.Y.–Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday used the brightest stage in international politics to shine a light on the darkest corners of Canada’s story–devoting a speech at the United Nations General Assembly to the plight of Canada’s indigenous peoples.
He spoke of forced migration, broken treaty promises, and family separations via residential schools.
These left a devastating legacy on reserves to this day, in a country whose very existence, Trudeau said, came without the consent and participation of the indigenous populations who lived there for millenniums.
“For indigenous peoples in Canada, the experience was mostly one of humiliation, neglect, and abuse,” he noted.
“There are, today, children living on reserve in Canada who cannot safely drink, or bathe in, or even play in the water that comes out of their taps,” Trudeau said.
“There are indigenous parents who say goodnight to their children, and have to cross their fingers in the hopes that their kids won’t run away or take their own lives in the night. . . .
“And for far too many indigenous women, life in Canada includes threats of violence so frequent and severe that Amnesty International has called it ‘a human rights crisis,'” Trudeau added.
“That is the legacy of colonialism in Canada.”
It was the dominant theme of his address. He later was asked at a news conference why he dwelt so much on domestic issues and aired the country’s dirty laundry on a stage designed for international crises such as North Korea, Syrian migration, and atrocities against minorities in Myanmar.
Trudeau retorted this is an international issue.
The UN just adopted a set of development goals for 2030 and No. 6 is universal access to clean drinking water.
In his speech, Trudeau pointed out Canada, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, has eliminated two dozen long-term drinking water advisories in indigenous communities and still is working on others.
He also described another way this intersects with international affairs. When Canada tries to raise concerns about events elsewhere in the world, other countries quickly throw the aboriginal situation back.
Other prime ministers have alluded to similar exchanges abroad.
But Trudeau’s speech also was optimistic.
It looked ahead at a series of solutions: better infrastructure on reserves, better housing, signing of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, and the dismantling of the old Indian Affairs department.
“Canada remains a work in progress,” Trudeau said. “For all the mistakes we’ve made, we remain hopeful.”
Trudeau used these examples to bolster his main point here at the UN this week: that Canada is ready to take on complex challenges, at home and abroad, and deserves a seat on the Security Council.
The rest of the speech focused on climate change, international trade rules aimed at helping workers, and his controversial tax reform, which he cited as an example of his middle-class-friendly policies.
Trudeau drew applause when he promised to keep supporting the international climate-change treaty.