The road to reconciliation starts with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

And yet it remains the only international human rights standard in Canada still up for debate

Chief Jimmy Lulua of the Xeni Gwet’in
Chief Jimmy Lulua of the Xeni Gwet’in was elected in a 2018 landslide victory and is continuing the band’s decades-long fight against Taseko Mines’ proposed New Prosperity Mine at Fish Lake. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded its work almost four years ago, it provided a road map for Canadians to follow. That road map, the 94 Calls to Action, aims to “revitalize the relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and Canadian society” after more than 100 years of the traumatic and systemic removal of Indigenous children from their families.

Call No. 43 underpinned all others, according to the commission. The commission urged federal, provincial and territorial governments to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They called it “the framework” for all reconciliation measures “at all levels and across all sectors of society.”

It’s extremely rare for international human rights standards to even be mentioned in the Canadian policy debate. However, when Canada voted against the declaration in 2007 at the United Nations, it was the first time that Canada had ever stood in opposition to an international human rights standard.

It remains today the only international human rights standard in Canada up for debate.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper issued an official apology for residential schools in 2008. However, my ongoing study on state apologies to Indigenous Peoples demonstrates that apologies without clear policy shift are typically rejected as “empty gestures.”

International standards of justice require that those responsible for human rights violations must do more than acknowledge and apologize for the harm that has been done. They must go further. They must take every reasonable measure to set things right and to prevent any recurrence of harms.

A closer look at the history of the declaration and its unique framework for human rights protection underscores the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s wisdom in highlighting its indispensable role in reconciliation.

…With the adoption of the declaration, the famous words “We the peoples of the United Nations” at long last became inclusive of the realities of Indigenous Peoples. It made way for Indigenous Peoples who seek a multiplicity of new relationships with UN member states within whose boundaries our territories and nations have been divided and subsumed.

The declaration reinvigorates the themes of self-determination, decolonization and anti-discrimination that are the foundations of the United Nations.

In its preamble, the declaration refutes the doctrines of racial superiority that have been used to justify the dispossession of Indigenous peoples around the world. In its provisions, the declaration calls for concrete remedies for the harms that have resulted from this dispossession. MORE

We need to have a talk about capitalism in our struggle for climate justice

Photo: Brent Patterson

This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in an Extinction Rebellion (XR) march from Hackney Downs to London Fields in east London, as well as to visit the tomb of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery in north London.

A little compare and contrast reflection is bound to happen.

First of all, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the disruption XR is planning in London and other cities around the world this coming October 7 to 19.

It reportedly will be larger in scale than the disruption that took place this past April. That’s when about 10,000 people occupied four sites (including Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus) in London for 11 days resulting in more than 1,150 arrests.

XR Berlin says, “Politics and conventional approaches to political engagement such as voting, lobbying, petitions and demonstrations fail to address this crisis. History shows us a promising, democratic means to bring about social change: nonviolent, civil disobedience.”

That’s a refreshing departure from the traditional NGO approach of campaigns based on symbolic protests and e-petitions targeted at indifferent politicians.

But our struggle needs to go further than that.

Last December, XR activists Cameron Joshi and Boden Franklin wrote, “So far, the [Extinction Rebellion] movement hasn’t focused on neo-colonialism and capitalism as the engines of climate breakdown, and it has actively chosen to disassociate from Leftist thought.”

They highlighted, “Anti-capitalism, decolonization and anti-oppression work cannot be an afterthought — shoved into a five-minute window between speeches or tucked away at the end of an action.”

And then this past May, The Wretched of the Earth wrote in an open letter, “We commend the energy and enthusiasm XR has brought to the environmental movement, and it brings us hope to see so many people willing to take action.”

The grassroots collective continued, “The strategy of XR, with the primary tactic of being arrested, is a valid one — but it needs to be underlined by an ongoing analysis of privilege as well as the reality of police and state violence.”

It adds, “XR participants should be able to use their privilege to risk arrest, whilst at the same time highlighting the racialised nature of policing.”

The amount of friendly chatting between XR organizers and the police that I witnessed in east London suggests that analysis is still lacking.

The Wretched of the Earth letter then notes, “Though some of this analysis has started to happen, until it becomes central to XR’s organising it is not sufficient. To address climate change and its roots in inequity and domination, a diversity and plurality of tactics and communities will be needed to co-create the transformative change necessary.”

Agreed. MORE

Canada Reckons With Genocide

A damning new report on the deaths of indigenous women highlights post-colonial nations’ failures.

A sign at a Canadian First Nations protest in Toronto references the high number of missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada on April 21, 2018.

A sign at a Canadian First Nations protest in Toronto references the high number of missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada on April 21, 2018. ROBERTO MACHADO NOA/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

Every page of testimony from Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is heartbreaking.

It is a mammoth effort—and one that might provide a way forward for the United States and other post-colonial countries, such as Australia and Brazil, trying to grapple with the past treatment of indigenous peoples.

But for Canadians, it’s also a challenge, one that calls for their country to decolonize and fundamentally change its relationship with indigenous peoples. The report demands the country recognize its role in perpetrating a “deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide”—language that already has irked some commentators.

The public inquiry into the deaths or disappearances of thousands of indigenous women was one of Justin Trudeau’s first acts after becoming prime minister of Canada in 2015. The stories contained in the report, gathered by four years of fact-finding work, are harrowing and frustrating. They detail police inaction, cycles of intergenerational violence, and failed government policies that have broken families and locked indigenous peoples into poverty.

The inquiry heard from 1,484 family members and survivors, but it also initiated a forensic document review, poring over police records to identify gaps and problems in the law enforcement response. Officially, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police identified 1,017 homicides of indigenous women between 1980 and 2012—a homicide rate nearly five times higher than that of non-indigenous women—as well as 164 disappearances. The report maintains the real number is much higher.

The stories of these cases play out through the report, detailing tragedies from every corner of the country.

The calls to action in the report—not merely recommendations, as the commissioners underscored—are aimed at achieving nothing short of decolonization

On the West coast, the inquiry heard from Robin Rain, who lost her daughter Isabella Rose in 2005. She was killed by Rain’s partner at the time, an abusive man who she remained with out of financial necessity, she told the inquiry in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Even when I was sitting in the hospital beside my daughter’s corpse, the detective told me to get away from her body,” she said. “He stood guard over her body to make sure that I didn’t touch her. I couldn’t even hold her hand. I could only sit across the room and look at her little lifeless body.”

In Quebec, Gilberte Vachon told the inquiry about the night her daughter Adèle-Patricia headed out the door. “She came back after and told us ‘I love you.’ That was the last time I heard her voice.” Her daughter was found, beaten, outside a community center in Pessamit. She died in a hospital. MORE