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Implementing the UN Indigenous declaration

Will conscience rule the day?

By Dennis Gruending


It took 23 years of effort and negotiation by Indigenous peoples before their inherent rights were recognized in the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Its common and recurring theme is that Indigenous peoples have the right to dignity and self-determination, and that no actions regarding their persons or lands should be taken without their “free, prior and informed consent.” 



In 2007, the Harper Conservatives opposed the declaration, making Canada one of only four countries to do so. The country became a signatory in 2014, but the Conservatives provided no legislative machinery to ensure that laws and regulations would adhere to the declaration’s principles. The government resisted in large part because it believed that prior and informed consent by Indigenous Peoples might put in jeopardy various proposed pipelines and resource extraction projects involving their lands. 



When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated residential schools and their aftermath, reported back in June 2015, it called on Ottawa to “fully adopt and implement” the UN declaration and to use it “as the framework for reconciliation.” And the federal Liberals responded by promising that they would “move forward urgently” to implement the declaration. But once in office, they resisted putting forward legislation that would provide a framework for such implementation. 



Into this void, Roméo Saganash — now an MP but formerly an Indigenous leader from northern Québec — has introduced a private members bill in the House of Commons. Bill C-262, which is scheduled for debate on Dec. 4., sets out the key principles that Saganash says should guide the implementation of the UN declaration. Most importantly, it states that the standards set out in the declaration must have “application in Canadian law.”

Bill C-262 already has support from organizations that represent more than 90 per cent of Indigenous peoples in Canada, including the Assembly of First Nations. And civil society groups are urging their elected representatives to support Saganash’s bill. After all, private members bills like this are supposed to be voted upon freely by MPs and senators.

But it remains to be seen if conscience will rule the day.


Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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