What can be done about the past and present injustices dealt to Indigenous people in Canada?
Among its 94 Calls to Action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called on federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.
It also called upon the Government of Canada to develop a national action plan, strategies and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
What is this Declaration and what weight does it carry?
It is an international human rights document adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007, after more than 20 years of negotiations. Its 46 articles affirm the collective and individual human rights of Indigenous peoples around the world on issues such as culture, identity, religion, language, health, education and community – issues that are central to the circumstances of Indigenous people in Canada.
(For instance, Article 7, part 2: “Indigenous peoples ... shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.” Think of the tragedies of residential schools and the “Sixties Scoop”.)
A UN General Assembly declaration is a document expressing political commitment on matters of global significance. It is not legally binding and is not signed or ratified by individual countries.
Initially, Canada was one of four nations (along with Australia, New Zealand and the United States) that voted against the Declaration.
However, in November 2010, Canada issued a statement of support endorsing the principles of the UN Declaration. In November 2015, the Prime Minister of Canada asked the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and other ministers, in their mandate letters, to implement the Declaration. And in May 2016, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs announced Canada is now a full supporter of the Declaration.
Despite these federal government statements of support and endorsement, Canada has not yet passed legislation implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
In April 2016, Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash, (NDP critic for Intergovernmental Indigenous Affairs) tabled legislation (Bill C-262) to ensure that the laws of Canada respect the Declaration. Mr. Saganash, who spent 23 years at the UN negotiating the Declaration, says on his website that Bill C-262 provides a clear path to adopt and implement the Declaration in a “principled, systematic, cooperative, transparent and accountable” way.
This is the second time that Mr. Saganash has tabled a bill calling for Canada to give the Declaration a legal basis in this country. When the Conservatives were in power, his earlier bill was supported by the NDP, Liberals and Greens. He has called on the Liberal government to support his bill, which is endorsed by Indigenous peoples and Canadians from coast to coast.
If you agree with this effort to put legal teeth into the promises to Indigenous people in Canada, ask your MP to support Bill C-262 as it proceeds through Parliament.
For contact information for Members of Parliament: ourcommons.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members (If you don’t know who your MP is, there is a search bar on this page; type in your postal code to have him or her identified.)
Go to nfu.ca for more information.
Originally Published: January 11, 2018
Dianne Dowling, Contributor and President, Local 316, National Farmers’ Union (Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox-Addington Counties)