Canada’s natives have been betrayed, says leaderCanada’s natives have been betrayed, says leader

OTTAWA, (Reuters) – Canada is betraying its  native peoples, who must deal with dreadful living conditions,  poor health care and discrimination, the country’s top  aboriginal leader said in a fiery speech yesterday.

Native Indians, who make up around 1.2 million of Canada’s  34.5 million population, suffer high levels of poverty and  crime. Unemployment and suicide levels are highest among  natives, especially on the remote reserves and settlements that  dot the country’s north.

Dismaying conditions in the isolated community of  Attawapiskat in northern Ontario – where a severe housing crisis  means people are living in tents as temperatures dip down  towards minus 40 Fahrenheit (minus 40 Celsius) – have been at  the centre of Canadian media attention since last week,  embarrassing the federal government.

“Canada saw for the first time last week what we see every  day, what our people live with day in and day out,” said Shawn  Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

“Some of our communities – too many of our peoples – live in  appalling conditions. This is a national disgrace. And we have  reason to feel angry and betrayed,” he told an Ottawa gathering  of aboriginal leaders.

Atleo said aboriginals were living through “a tragic,  frustrating and even terrifying time”. He said the Attawapiskat  debacle could be a moment of reckoning that helps natives gain  more control over their lives.

Successive Canadian governments have for decades struggled  to improve the life of natives, who want more federal spending  and a much greater say over what happens to the resources on  their land.

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