Ottawa removes objections to UNDRIP

The objections of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was one of the many unfortunate legacies left by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, yet it has been fixed by the current Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and is being received well by indigenous leaders across Canada.

Trudeau formally removed the objections on record with the United Nations along with Canada’s reluctant acceptance of the UNDRIP. Canada was the last to sign onto the UNDRIP declaration which Harper was opposed to. When he finally did, as the last holdout of more than 125 countries, he added several caveats, watering down some of the articles that most impacted the federal Conservative’s commitment to assimilate all aboriginal peoples under one Canada.

This has been a well-documented stance of the Conservative Party since John A. MacDonald who once said in 1879, “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

And this from Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, in 1910:

“It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in these schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is being geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.”

Harper followed the same Conservative path as his predecessors in relation to Indigenous Rights when UNDRIP was unveiled 10 years ago. They objected saying, “the wording could be seen as giving a veto to aboriginal groups and could not, therefore, be reconciled with Canadian law.”

Liberal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett made the announcement on behalf of the federal government in Ottawa, Monday.

Among the articles outlined in the UNDRIP that caused Harper problems is one that calls for “states” to obtain the consent of indigenous peoples when enacting laws and undertaking development that will affect them. Another was the right to free, prior and informed consent when development of any kind may impact on indigenous rights and traditional land.

“I think that we feel very strongly that Canada now is seen to have an important role in reconciliation and decolonizing, and it was very important for the indigenous people to make sure that our record was clear,” Bennett said in an interview with the Globe and Mail from New York. “They want any question about Canada’s commitment clarified so that we can go forward in a good way.”

Fending off anticipated reaction from some Conservatives, Bennett explained what that means and does not mean in the eyes of the Liberals.

“This is about making decisions together” from the inception, the minister said. “It means not putting some fully-baked project in front of people and getting them to vote yes or no.”

This is important news for Onkwehonwe [First Nations] land protectors with Trudeau clearly sending a message that “free, prior and informed consent” is now a part of Canadian policy.

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde is was in New York this week to attend the UN forum, which focused on a request that Indigenous governments be represented at the United Nations General Assembly — a point Bennett announced that Canada “unequivocally supports that proposition.”

Bellegarde praised Bennett’s public removal of Canada’s objections.

“We call on all levels of government, both federal and provincial, to look at ways and means to breathe life into the UN declaration from both a practical and a legal perspective,” said Bellegarde. “Before you try to build anything, before you try to build a pipeline, before you try to build a mine, you build a respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples, one that respects inherent rights and Indigenous people’s rights.”

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