Canada has at long last signed on to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. Adopted by many nations in 2007, but rejected by Canada, Canada's First Nations, Métis and Inuit have been urging the government to endorse the protocol.
Canada announced it had signed the Declaration in a statement issued Friday from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, John Duncan said "Canada has endorsed the Declaration to further reconcile and strengthen our relationship with Aboriginal peoples in Canada." Duncan added, "Canada's Aboriginal leadership has spoken with passion on the importance of endorsing the Declaration. Today's announcement represents another important milestone on the road to respect and co-operation."
Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon said the agreement means "Canada is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples. Canada's active involvement abroad, coupled with its productive partnership with Aboriginal Canadians, is having a real impact in advancing indigenous rights at home and abroad."
However, underlying all the congratulations was an ominous sentence embedded in the government's press release in a paragraph about the Declaration: "... The United Nations Declaration describes the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples. It sets out a number of principles that should guide harmonious and cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and States, such as equality, partnership, good faith and mutual respect. Canada strongly supports these principles and believes that they are consistent with the Government's approach to working with Aboriginal peoples. While the Declaration is not legally binding, endorsing it as an important aspirational document is a significant step forward in strengthening relations with Aboriginal peoples."
The Assembly of First Nations noticed that statement and said in a press release, "We do take exception to the statement that the UNDRIP does not reflect customary international law. However, with the endorsement, we can now move forward to address the full range of issues."
The Declaration took almost 30 years to draft, said the Métis National Council in a press release expressing approval of Canada's decision. The President of the Métis National Council, Clément Chartier said "Ever since September 2007 when the UN adopted the UNDRIP, the Métis Nation has been urging Canada to reverse its decision not to support the UN DRIP. Today, Canada finally listened and we congratulate the government on taking this important step.
This decision helps to clear the way for a positive, constructive path forward for the Métis Nation and all Canadians in addressing many of the challenges facing our people across the homeland.”
Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations also welcomed Canada's endorsement of the Declaration. Atleo said the endorsement was "... important, not as the culmination of our efforts, but as the beginning of a new approach and a new agenda. Canada's apology for the residential schools in 2008 was a critical moment to acknowledge the pain of the past. Endorsing the Declaration is the opportunity to look forward and re-set the relationship between First Nations and the Crown so it is consistent with the Treaties and other agreements with First Nations upon which this country was founded. In endorsing the UN Declaration, Canada is committing to work with us as a true partner to achieve reconciliation as instructed by the courts in Canada.
I congratulate Canada in taking another step towards the promotion and protection of human and fundamental freedoms for all."
Grand Chief Ron Evans, speaking on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a release issued to journalists, "While I am encouraged by the endorsement, it is unfortunate that in Island Lake , for example, 50% of our people live without running water.
A third world country in need of aid exists right here in Manitoba.
It is my deepest hope that the federal government will take action to raise the standard of living of First Nations people to the rest of Canada."
The Declaration, said Canada in a background document, "... describes the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, taking into account their specific cultural, social and economic circumstances. The Declaration also encourages harmonious, cooperative relationships between States and Indigenous peoples, based on the principles of equality, partnership, good faith and mutual respect. Canada strongly supports these principles and believes that they are consistent with the government's approach to working with Aboriginal peoples."
The Assembly of First Nations explained the significance of Canada's endorsement, saying "Canadian First Nation leaders have been directly involved in the development and negotiation of the UN Declaration (UNDRIP) for over twenty years. In 2007, the UNDRIP passed at the United Nations. Canada was one of only four countries along with Australia, New Zealand and the United States to vote in opposition to the UNDRIP.
First Nation leaders advocated strongly for the UNDRIP as a framework for advancing First Nations rights, dignity, survival, security and well-being. Assembly of First Nations' resolution No. 37/2007 called on the Government of Canada to endorse the UN Declaration without delay.
Now three years later, Canada, today, has endorsed the Declaration. While this in itself doesn't address our urgent needs, it does say that Canada is listening and that Canada is willing to work with us to achieve the standards set out in the UNDRIP. Furthermore, the UNDRIP will inform and guide the discussion regarding the meaning and implementation of treaty and aboriginal rights as guaranteed in the Constitution Act, 1982."
The Assembly of First Nations said it would use the endorsement of the Declaration as a starting point for new actions, announcing the organizations "... will work immediately to seek commitment from Canada to move forward on priority issues as mandated by the Chiefs in Assembly including education. In addition, we will call on Canada to convene a First Nations-Crown Gathering as a key step forward in affirming our nation-to-nation relationships."