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

The MMIWG final report lands: ‘I hold up a mirror to Canada’

The chief commissioner urged Canadians to learn their ‘true history’, delivering a scathing report monumental in scope and minute in detail


Trudeau holds a copy of the report presented to him by the commissioners of the national inquiry in Gatineau, Que., on June 3, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

It was of course the consciously freighted language that grabbed all the headlines and sparked many of the media questions the day the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report.
The hefty document—as big as a New York City telephone book and the product of nearly three years of work, hearings across the country and considerable controversy and upheaval—called the thousands of cases of dead and disappeared daughters, aunts, mothers, wives and friends “nothing less than the deliberate, often covert campaign of genocide,” adding, “This is not what Canada is supposed to be about; it is not what it purports to stand for.”

“Today, the commissioners and I hold up a mirror to Canada,” Chief Commissioner Marion Buller said. “We reflect back what we have heard and what we have documented.”

She elicited a big cheer from the crowd when she exhorted Indigenous people to “decolonize yourself” by learning the history of their people and the “true history” of Canada. But Buller reflected the tone of the day and of the report itself with her relentlessly fierce message that no one look away or back off on this issue now that the report is printed and bound.

“The murders, the abductions, the human trafficking, the beatings, the rapes, the violence—yes, the genocide—will continue unless all Canadians find the strength, courage and vision to build a new, decolonized relationship with each other based on respect and self-determination,” she said. “Let us walk together. Let us work together. We must do this, together, to achieve our destiny as strong, proud people in this great nation.”

Commissioner Qajaq Robinson—who was raised in Nunavut and speaks fluent Inuktitut but is not Indigenous herself—suggested that many of the people watching and listening to the ceremony might have similar reactions to her own: “Guilt, shame, denial, the urge to say ‘No, no, that’s not what this is. This is not who I am. I didn’t play a part in this. My ancestors didn’t play a part in this. We’re good people.’” But the families and survivors who spoke to the inquiry in 15 community hearings held across the country revealed a collective reality she urged others not to look away from.

“But it’s the truth,” she said. “It’s our truth, it’s my truth, it’s your truth.”

MORE

The next generation of leaders needs a knowledge transfer. Negotiation simulations are proving invaluable.

Image result for policy options:  Français   The next generation of leaders needs a knowledge transfer. Negotiation simulations are proving invaluable.

The federal government has said that no relationship is more important than the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples. A key part of rebuilding this relationship is having Indigenous leaders at the table to determine their own futures. With the next generation of Indigenous leaders set to inherit leadership roles, it is imperative that they have the education and training to secure their futures, which includes learning about their treaties.

Knowledge transfer is key.

However, there is an increasing knowledge gap between emerging leaders and the treaty negotiators who came of age in the 1970s. Work must be done to engage next-generation Indigenous leaders about the importance of treaty negotiations and implementing those treaties, and the role they need to play in them.

Since 1975, 26 modern treaties have been successfully negotiated, providing Indigenous ownership of more than 600,000 square kilometres of land, almost the size of Manitoba. Many more agreements will be signed in the coming years, defining land rights of many more Indigenous peoples and creating paths for self-determination.

Emerging leaders need to get involved so that they understand the spirit and intent of the hard-fought treaties. This knowledge is passed down orally from those at the table. Without it, the nuances of the agreements and the way they were meant to be interpreted risk being lost with the passage of time. MORE

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British Columbia to Introduce UNDRIP Legislation


Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says [Nov, 2017] the federal government will  endorse a private member’s bill that calls for the full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

On February 12, 2019, the British Columbia government announced plans to introduce legislation that implements the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) (the Legislation), as part of the provincial government’s reconciliation objective.

UNDRIP consists of 46 articles that offer guidance to governments on recognizing and promoting basic human rights of Indigenous peoples around the world, as well as their right to self-determination. The most contentious principles relate to obtaining the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous communities before undertaking certain actions, including prior to approving any project affecting their lands or resources. If the Legislation is passed, then B.C. will be the first province in Canada to endorse UNDRIP through legislation.

This update summarizes the status of UNDRIP in Canada and discusses potential implications of the Legislation. MORE

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