Canada’s Aboriginal communities are in a state of crisis and hope a new awareness campaign will draw attention to deepening poverty that First Nations leaders are calling an abuse of human rights.

“The situation in our communities is absolutely desperate,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, prior to a National Day of Action march yesterday.

About 200 people marched from Canada Place to the Vancouver Art Gallery yesterday afternoon, one of nine rallies throughout the province.

“We need to develop a movement akin to the civil rights movement that happened in the 1960s in the U.S.,” Phillip said.

“There has to be widespread support for what we’re undertaking. We hope to build that support by doing things that are reasonable, peaceful and strategic.”

Phillip said First Nations are looking at sponsoring public education forums to raise public awareness of issues.

First Nations face deepening poverty levels and epidemic suicide rates, he said. Housing, water and sewage infrastructure is crumbling, resulting in emerging health concerns like mould and tuberculosis.

Sto:lo Grand Chief Doug Kelly said the aim of the campaign is to educate voters and to put pressure on elected representatives.