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Justin Trudeau Just Devoted His UN Speech to Confronting Canada’s Mistreatment of Indigenous People

Greg Neurolanis

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave his address to the United Nations General Assembly today, he spoke to world leaders about the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN’s set of targets for improving human rights around the world.

But unlike many UN speeches that focused on international relations and cross-country diplomacy, Trudeau’s focus was closer to home.

He spoke of the importance of implementing the SDGs at home, for all Canadians, including one group that has long been marginalized in Canadian society: indigenous people.

“The SDGs are as meaningful in Canada as they are everywhere else in the world,” Trudeau said, adding that the country is committed to achieving them at home and around the world.

“This is important because poverty and hunger know no borders,” he continued. “We cannot pretend that these solvable challenges happen only on distance shores. The need for greater equality and decent work, those are real and persistent human needs one cannot afford to ignore, especially in our own countries.”

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The prime minister reiterated Canada’s full support for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and went on to list the achievements the country is working towards.

Since Trudeau took office, Canada has made investments to bring clean drinking water to Indigenous communities, part of the SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. While many drinking water advisories remain across the country, more than 24 have been eliminated, and Trudeau says the government has a plan to bring to an end those that remain.

He continued by explaining that the country has been working towards eliminating gaps in education in First Nations communities. New agreements look to recognize the power of First Nations authorities, while also proving them with the means to establish their own educational systems, which falls under SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. The prime minister believes that this will lay the groundwork for SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

“We know that no one can have a real and fair chance of succeeding without the following: good health, a sound community, well-paying jobs, quality education and safe and affordable housing,” the prime minister said. “Of course, this applies to the Indigenous Peoples as well.”

That is why construction work on almost 4,000 homes has been completed or is underway in Indigenous communities, according to Trudeau. This is working towards the fulfillment of SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

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Perhaps where Trudeau is best known is on his commitment to gender equality. Canada is working on SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

“We need women and girls to succeed because that’s how we grow stronger economies and build stronger communities.”

The prime minister said that not only is this something the country will work towards with indigenous people in Canada, but around the world.

“Equality is for everyone, regardless of our gender, our origins, our beliefs or the person we choose to love.”

Climate change has been an important topic at the UN General Assembly this year, and Trudeau feels that government cooperation with Indigenous Peoples is key to working towards combating the environmental issues the world is now facing.

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"We have the responsibility to take better care of the environment, which we all share," he said. "We are all concerned in every sense of the word. We are all responsible," Trudeau said.

He outlined the need for positive relationships between people and countries, an idea that was at the foundation of his speech dedicated to Indigenous rights.

“We can’t charter a more peaceful path if the starting point is suspicion and mistrust. And we can’t build a better world unless we work together, respect our differences, protect the vulnerable and stand up for the things that matter most.”

While the government still has many obstacles to face, and Trudeau’s commitment to Indigenous Peoples has been questioned in response to the Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, the prime minister’s leadership has been felt around the world when it comes to his commitment to refugees and achieving gender equality.

“Any challenge can be met if we meet it together,” Trudeau finished.