Canada officially adopts UN declaration on rights of Indigenous Peoples

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The Justin Trudeau government was lauded for officially embracing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) during a presentation before the world body’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

There were cheers in the United Nations as Canada officially removed its objector status to the UN Declaration.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett officially indicated Canada’s decision to fully embrace UNDRIP during a speech at the permanent forum in New York City.

“I am here to announce on behalf of Canada, that we are now a full supporter of the declaration, without qualification,” said Bennett, during her speech.

“We intend nothing less than to adopt and implement the declaration in accordance with the Canadian Constitution.”

The declaration recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ basic human rights, as well as rights to self-determination, language, equality and land, among others.

First Nation leaders were quick to praise Bennett’s declaration.

“Canada is sending an important message to Indigenous peoples, to all Canadians and the international community that Indigenous rights are human rights,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a statement. “(UNDRIP) is a framework and essential tool to guide the work of reconciliation that will move us all forward.”

Signed in 2007 by 144 countries — excluding Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand — UNDRIP recognizes Indigenous peoples’ rights, including language, identity, culture, health, education, as well as the right to free, prior and informed consent to development on Indigenous lands. It’s a non-binding declaration that cannot be enforced.

Despite being involved in its creation, Canada initially voted against signing the declaration, citing concerns that the informed consent provisions amounted to giving Indigenous people veto power.

“By signing on, you default to this document by saying that the only rights in play here are the rights of First Nations. And, of course, in Canada, that’s inconsistent with our Constitution,” Chuck Strahl, then minister of Indian Affairs, had said at the time.

“It was a very emotional moment for me,” said Chief Wilton Littlechild, a Cree lawyer and former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada who was at the UN on Tuesday. Littlechild has been involved with the UN for nearly 40 years and said he’s rarely seen anyone receive a standing ovation.

Littlechild has been involved with the UN for nearly 40 years and said he’s rarely seen anyone receive a standing ovation.

“Let’s be honest — implementing UNDRIP should not be scary,” Carolyn Bennett said.

“Recognition of elements of the declaration began 250 years ago with the Royal Proclamation, which was about sharing the land fairly. UNDRIP reflects the spirit and intent of our treaties.”

Vice reports that despite the initial praise to the announcement, there are those who are skeptical that declaration will bring about real change.

Some experts and Indigenous groups say embracing the declaration doesn’t mean much in a practical sense unless the concept of free, prior, and informed consent on development of Indigenous lands is implemented in its purest form — and they’re not sure Bennett’s words have indicated that this will happen.

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