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Canada Amnesty International honours Canada’s Indigenous-rights movement

Children’s rights advocate Cindy Blackstock is among the six people selected to represent the movement.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Canada's Indigenous-rights movement has been named a recipient of a prestigious award from Amnesty International, drawing attention to persistent inequality in one of the world's wealthiest countries.

Amnesty International describes the Ambassador of Conscience Award as its highest honour, given annually to those who show courage in standing up to injustice. In announcing the award, Amnesty underlined the fact that although they live in a prosperous country, Canada's Indigenous peoples are "consistently among the most marginalized members of society."

Children's rights advocate Cindy Blackstock, Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair and Senator Murray Sinclair, relatives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and leaders of Idle No More are among the six people selected to represent the movement.

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Ms. Blackstock was the driving force behind a 2016 Human Rights Tribunal victory that concluded the Canadian government was discriminating against Indigenous children on reserves because it failed to provide the same level of social services available to those living in the rest of Canada. She said this award serves as a reminder of the chronic injustices facing Indigenous children.

"You see First Nations children getting less for education, less health services, one in six First Nations don't have clean drinking water for children to drink, all of these things are symptomatic of the federal government simply making a decision to allow these inequalities to continue. In effect, they're sending a message to First Nations children that they're not worth the money," she said.

"The government has not formally acknowledged that they are using racial discrimination as fiscal policy across every public service that First Nations children receive. Nor have they developed a clear plan with First Nations that has definable targets on how to eradicate it. Instead, the government's approach has been to address the inequality for children one teaspoon at a time and then ask for recognition that this is a good first step," she said.

The award also recognizes Melissa Mollen Dupuis and Widia Larivière, co-founders of the Idle No More movement in Quebec, and Delilah Saunders and Melanie Morrison, who both lost a female relative to homicide. Amnesty described Idle No More as a grassroots protest that helped "shine a light on Indigenous peoples' ongoing struggle to be able to make their own decisions about their lands, resources and environment."

The 2017 award is shared with musician Alicia Keys, who is being recognized for her philanthropic efforts on HIV and AIDS in India and Africa and the global refugee crisis. Previous winners of the award include former South African president Nelson Mandela, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and girls' education campaigner Malala Yousafzai.

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