Canada is known for being relatively hospitable to migrants and minorities. The laws protecting the rights of its indigenous peoples are well written, but in practice there is little attention given to their problems. The 630 indigenous groups called the First Nations and total about 700,000 people, many of whom live in poverty and feel that they are victims of discrimination. Many migrate to big cities like Vancouver looking for work, but once there they often find it difficult to maintain their identity and culture.
With a population of 600,000, Vancouver is a medium-sized city, with an especially diverse ethnic composition due in part to the large number of indigenous residents. For about half of them, their first language is not English but their native tongue. They are members of the First Nations, and many come from elsewhere in Canada, particularly the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. Most end up in East Vancouver, one of the poorest districts of the city. Sections of the city of Vancouver have been designated as native territory.
The First Nations of Canada have a history stretching back thousands of years, although until the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century none of it was recorded in writing. Compared to the bloody scenes in the United States, the colonization of Canada took place in reasonable harmony with the indigenous peoples. The First Nations still have an important influence on Canadian culture, and have been able to retain their own territory, rights and identity.
Canada is acclaimed for its respect for human rights, but in recent years the government has done too little with regard to the miserable social and economic situation of its indigenous peoples. The subject returned to the Canadian political agenda late in 2011, after the Red Cross had to provide humanitarian aid to a native group in the south-west of the country. Less government money is budgeted for native children on reservations than for white children. According to the United Nations, the Canadian government involves the indigenous population too little in projects on their own territory. In 2012 Canada was reprimanded by human right authorities at the UN for discrimination against indigenous groups land for toughening up its immigration laws.
This story is part of Via Panam, Kadir van Lohuizen’s project about migration in the Americas.