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Indigenous human rights: Continuing to uncover the truth

This past year will always be defined by the confirmation of what generations of Indigenous families and communities had always known to be the truth: that hundreds, even thousands, of Indigenous children were buried in unmarked graves on the grounds of what were then called Indian Residential Schools.

Over the course of the spring and summer of 2021, hundreds of unmarked gravesites were uncovered through local, community-based, Nation-led investigations. The discoveries forced people across Canada to come to a reckoning about this shameful part of our collective history, and subsequently our collective responsibility to advance truth and reconciliation.

The Commission joined outraged, grieving voices across Canada. Across our public platforms, we honoured the lost lives and their families, and we called on people in Canada to join us in standing in solidarity with Indigenous peoples during this time of grief. We spoke out in support of widespread calls for action by all levels of government to fund efforts to investigate the grounds of every residential school in Canada.

We also marked the 2021 inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which invited people across the country to educate themselves about the truth of Canada's history. The Commission maintains that it is long past due for all non-Indigenous people in Canada to carry the burden of this knowledge, and to mobilize themselves in light of their responsibility to advance Truth and Reconciliation.

We continue to encourage everyone in Canada to stand together in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, to learn the truth about what happened, and to push for cooperation by federal, provincial and territorial governments with Indigenous governments and communities so that every single long-lost child can be brought home.

On June 21, 2021, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act received Royal Assent and immediately came into force. The purpose of this Act is to affirm the UN Declaration as an international human rights instrument that can help interpret and apply Canadian law. It also provides a framework to advance implementation of the Declaration at the federal level.

This important milestone has come at an urgent time for the human rights of many Indigenous peoples in Canada, including the Innu Nation. In 2021, we received the Follow-up Report to the Canadian Human Rights Commission on the Human Rights of the Innu of Labrador — a detailed account of the lived experiences of generations of Innu people.

The report is the product of a collaboration between the Innu Nation, Celeste McKay Consulting Inc., and Professor Donald McRae. Prof. McRae had worked on the Commission's first report that outlined the dire situation in Labrador, almost 30 years ago. In 2019, the Innu Nation invited Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry for visits and consultations, which resulted in this 2021 report.

As the report clearly outlines, since the publication of a second Commission report in 2002, there has been significant progress, both domestically and internationally, in the promotion and protection of Indigenous rights. However, there has been little change in seven crucial areas of life for the Innu People, all which rely on government services: health; child and family services; education; language and culture; housing; policing and the justice system; and overall economic well-being.