An act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is being prepped to go “under” Canadian law. Across this land, First Nation Indigenous are hotly debating what this means. Clearly, the only thing these debates show is that non First Nations, mainstream media, and some of our own Indigenous people do not understand the distinct arguments being pushed into one federal act.
First of all, UNDRIP was a good concept – argued and written at the UN level. But if you read Charmaine Whiteface’s, “Indigenous Nations’ Rights in Balance: An Analysis of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, you will see the haggling that emerged when Indigenous voices were diminished in the final document.
The inclusion of Section 46 in the UNDRIP negates all other words. Section 46 is the veto of the Western World.
Why then, is there such a debate about Bill C-15? Different First Nations have distinct arguments but Canada keeps trying to put all First Nations, Metis, and Inuit under one pan-Indigenous approach.
The historic Treaty groups (Treaties 1-11) continue to argue that their treaties pre-date Canada. From the eastern door, the peace and friendship treaties also argue from a pre-existing Canadian stance. This is why the Mi’kmaq are currently having issues with fisheries. Their treaty stipulates that their people have a right to trade. Canada knows this. Canada argued against Donald Marshall Jr. all the way to Supreme Court. But the pre-existing relationship and contractual agreement held.
Canada does know there are First Nations who have a higher standing in whiteman’ made law then the little state of Canada. Canada recognizes that their existence is predicated on a contract between Britain and the original peoples that were “here first”. Canada has been trying to erase this contractual agreement that made “Canada” possible.
Canada drew up the Indian Act to “control and manage” their international treaty obligations. Canada attempted to break the relationship by controlling every aspect of Indian lives through this Act. The Indian Act was, is, and continues to be Canada’s legislation that breaks the spirit and intent of the treaties or the intended international relationship between nations.
The Indian Act forced residential school attendance, controlled elections on reserve, forced economic underdevelopment, and set membership rules for who is and who is not an Indian. For decades, Indian Agents controlled who was allowed to leave the reserve for specific purposes for a limited time.
Through the Indian Act, Canada disallowed traditional practices and made it illegal to hire a lawyer if the Indians felt Canada was breaking treaty promises. Canada had the Indian Act in place to exonerate and extinguish what John A. MacDonald called “the Indian problem”.
Similar to MacDonald, Pierre Elliot Trudeau believed all Canadians are “equal”. So he wanted to legislate out the “special status” of Indians. Pierre Trudeau used the 1969 White Paper to begin this process. When First Nation leaders fought back, Pierre Trudeau publicly retreated.
Then Pierre Trudeau wanted Canada to stand on its own with a Canadian constitution. Some Indian leaders lobbied the British Crown. After significant Indian and public pressure, Pierre Trudeau had to stand down and allow Section 35 into the Canadian Constitution. At this time, First Nations were split on their inclusion into the constitution with a Coalition of First Nations opposing the patriation process.
Canada included a Section 37 process of First Ministers’ Conferences on Aboriginal Matters: the First Ministers and national chief/ indigenous groups attended First Ministers’ Conferences in the 1980s to discuss an agenda about the meaning of Aboriginal and Treaty rights in Section 35 of the new constitution. The main issue discussed was whether “self-government” is an “Inherent right” or a “conditional right” dependent on reaching agreements with the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. The First Ministers’ ran out the clock on these conferences. Since 1987 Canada has done nothing.
Periodically Canada tries to introduce some legislation that alters the nation-to-nation relationship but Treaty First Nations are quick to strike back with their international standing.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s son, Justin Trudeau is now Prime Minister. Over the past few years, Justin has already passed similar deceptive legislation for Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations. A new federal UN Declaration Bill C-15 now purports to bring in a framework of “affirmation” of UNDRIP through a federal “Action-Plan” over a three-year period that will use a domestic law definition of UNDRIP to lower UNDRIP international standards. Doesn’t this delay tactic sound familiar? Doesn’t Bill C-15 echo the failed First Ministers conferences timeline and process? Trudeau the younger can once again “run out” the clock. He has given even less time than his father did in the 1980s!
Meanwhile mainstream media reports federally funded organizations like the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), mainstream provincially and federally elected “Indigenous” politicians (MLAs and MPs), and some “Indigenous” lawyers, Human rights groups, religious orders, and the Unions represented by the Canadian Labour Congress – all support Bill C-15. All of these voices work under Canadian systems whether as an incorporated lobby group, non-government organization, or as members of a primarily non-native government or political party, or as legal society members upholding mainstream law. Where is the Indian voice?
Mainstream reporting of the Wet’suwet’en, Secwépemc blockades, 1492 Landback Lane in Haudenosaunee Territory or the Mi’kmaq fishing crisis, was not able to distinguish that different First Nations have different agreements. In Wet’suwet’en and Secwépemc Territories there are no treaties but there are Aboriginal Title and Rights issues of representation that Canada does not want to acknowledge. In Mi’kmaq territory, Canada does not want to have its own federal department of fisheries follow through on its own Supreme Court decision to protect Mi’kmaq fishermen.
Canada knows that various original treaties predate the existence of their state. Canada’s solution is to ignore these agreements and force all First Nations and other Indigenous groups into one pan-Indigenous approach where Canada narrowly defines their rights. Canada continues to bully First Nations into settling for fourth level types of ethnic local governments.
The speaking voice matters. Metis, Inuit, or non-historic treaty holders cannot speak for Treaty First Nations. To this end, mainstream media, non First Nations, and our own people are failing to critically look at the voice that is speaking and who they represent. The AFN is merely a lobby group.
There is no such thing as a chief or leader of fifty-eight different linguistic groups and nine hundred thousand Indians. Perry Bellegarde cannot speak on the collective rights held by each individual First Nation person. MLA’s and MP’s are speaking from within a compromised system where their token offerings are encouraged. “Indigenous” lawyers had better be treaty lawyers from historic treaty nations if they want to speak, and even then, they have to answer to their peers in whiteman’ made law societies.
First Nations who are sovereignty thinkers are questioning Bill C-15. Simply stated, we are nations, we agreed to share the land and resources. We did not and will not agree to Canada defining our rights. It is clear from the Indian Act, the failed talks at the constitutional level, the federal legislation directed at Indians (First Nations), and now at “Indigenous Peoples”, including the federal UNDRIP Bill C-15 that Canada wants to uphold the appearance of reconciliation, not reconciliation itself.