After three years, on Friday, November 12, 2010, Canada finally joined the other 146 nations in supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Now only one country stands officially in opposition to the declaration – the United States.
“We understand and respect the importance of this United Nations Declaration to Indigenous peoples in Canada and worldwide,” commented the Honourable John Duncan, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-status Indians. “Canada has endorsed the Declaration to further reconcile and strengthen our relationship with Aboriginal peoples in Canada.”
The Declaration was originally adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on September 13, 2007, by a majority of 144 states. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States voted against the adoption and 11 counties abstained from voting -Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine.
Since its adoption in 2007, however, Australia and New Zealand reversed their positions to endorse the Declaration. Colombia and Samoa have also reversed their positions and indicated their support for the Declaration. Now Canada has joined rank to support the increasing international efforts to protect Indigenous heritage, intellectual property, and access to resources worldwide.
“Canada is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples,” added the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and MP for the riding of Pontiac. “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.”
Over twenty-two years to construct, the declaration recognizes the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, and education. It emphasizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and “to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.”
The Declaration also recognizes that Indigenous peoples have suffered from “historic injustices” as a result of ongoing colonial encounters. The unfortunate results of these encounters have included the dispossession of Indigenous lands, territories and resources around the globe, ultimately making it increasingly difficult for Indigenous communities to exercise their rights to development in accordance with their own needs and interests.
“This is an important step for First Nations, but it is not enough to adopt such a resolution, it must also be implemented with concrete actions,” stressed Grand Council Chief of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, Lucien Wabanonik. “Our schools are under funded, many of our communities live in substandard conditions while they plunder the resources of their ancestral territory, and the Canadian government still exerts against First Nations a colonialist policy that comes from another century. It will require the government to realize that many of its policies go against the text of the Declaration that they’ve just adopted.”
Canada still maintains many of its aggressive colonialist policies, such as the Indian Act and the use of extinguishment clauses in modern-day comprehensive treaty negotiations. Only recently, with the establishment of a multi-million dollar Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the controversial legacy of residential schools, is the country finally beginning to understand the magnitude of the effect Canada’s assimilationist policies have had on Indigenous peoples over the short-period of the last one hundred years.
Published in the West Quebec Post, November 19, 2010