10/04/2013 02:45 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

UN Special Rapporteur To Gauge Aboriginal Peoples' Progress


The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is about to put Canada under a microscope.

James Anaya is arriving this weekend, before embarking on a nine-day tour of the country, starting Monday.

He will meet with aboriginal people, as well as government officials and even natural resource industry representatives.

Anaya's predecessor visited in 2003 and his final report was not flattering to Canada. It highlighted the continuing inequalities that aboriginal people face in Canada, in terms of economic and social rights, education, housing and health.

"The purpose of my visit is to take stock of what progress has been made," Anaya told CBC News in an interview from his office at the law faculty of the University of Arizona. "That past report does serve as a benchmark of sorts for my visit."

In February of 2012, Anaya asked the Canadian government if he could come visit.

He didn't hear back until more than a year later, just this past spring.

"Of course I would have liked to have earlier acceptance of the visit, but I'm more pleased that it was eventually accepted," he said.

Anaya's visit comes at a critical time for indigenous peoples. In an interview with CBC News, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo outlined why.

"Deep impoverishment, over 600 murdered, missing indigenous women and girls, underfunding in education, challenging Canada at the Canadian Human Rights Commission," he listed, adding that Anaya's visit will be "the holding up of a mirror, reflecting back to Canada, about its relationship with First Nations."

But the UN Special Rapporteur's visit also comes at a critical time for the federal government.

Resource development

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has staked the future prosperity of the country on natural resource development, much of which would take place on or near indigenous lands.

Anaya said it is clear what those industries need to do.

"If the extractive activities go forward, it (must) be done so with the consent of the indigenous people concerned and consistent with their own aspirations for development," Anaya said.

Without proper consultation, Anaya warned what will happen.

"There's going to be social conflict and typically the projects aren't going to be sustainable, not just because of the social conflict but because of the inability of the project to go forward without the active support of the people most affected by the activity."

In fact, Anaya said he has seen all over the world that the more indigenous peoples are consulted over development, the more open they are to negotiating with industries about development on their land.

Atleo agreed. He said First Nations can either stand in the way of development or be partners in it, depending on how the government approaches them.

"It is about, right now, collaboration or collision."

Atleo added that along with legal and moral reasons, there is also an economic imperative for the government and industry to consult them.

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development was not available for comment.

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