On Friday Nov. 12, 2010, the Canadian government announced that it had endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but without the abolishment of the Indian Act, will anything really change?
UNDRIP was first adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during its 62nd session at UN Headquarters in New York City on September 13, 2007, and Canada was one of the last hold-outs, along with the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
While as a General Assembly Declaration it is not a legally binding instrument under international law, according to a UN press release, it does “represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and it reflects the commitment of the UN’s member states to move in certain directions”; the UN describes it as setting “an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet’s 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalization.
In a statement issued Friday from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, John Duncan said, “Canada has endorsed the Declaration to further reconcile and strengthen our relationship with Aboriginal peoples in Canada.”
Duncan added, “Canada’s Aboriginal leadership has spoken with passion on the importance of endorsing the Declaration. Today’s announcement represents another important milestone on the road to respect and co-operation.”
I’m still trying to make sense of this because to me, in contrast to my people – the Saami – who are also covered by this very same UN Declaration, it seems that First Nations are still in a position of having to fight tooth/nail for the eradication of the Indian Act and fight for treaty and land rights.
First let me bring you back to 2007 when the Declaration was first drafted and Canada’s UN ambassador, John McNee, said Canada had “significant concerns” over the declaration’s wording on provisions addressing lands and resources, as well as another article calling on states to obtain prior informed consent with indigenous groups before enacting new laws or administrative measures. Article 26 of the UN declaration states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.”
McNee said the provision is “overly broad, unclear and capable of a wide variety of interpretations” that could lead to the reopening of previously settled land claims and existing treaties.
I’m still waiting on news on how exactly this discourse will be rectified.
In 2010, Grand Chief Ron Evans, speaking on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a release issued to journalists, “While I am encouraged by the endorsement, it is unfortunate that in Island Lake , for example, 50% of our people live without running water. A third world country in need of aid exists right here in Manitoba. It is my deepest hope that the federal government will take action to raise.”
The Assembly of First Nations’ National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo released the following statement, “Canada’s apology for the residential schools in 2008 was a critical moment to acknowledge the pain of the past. Endorsing the Declaration is the opportunity to look forward and re-set the relationship between First Nations and the Crown so it is consistent with the Treaties and other agreements with First Nations upon which this country was founded. In endorsing the UN Declaration, Canada is committing to work with us as a true partner to achieve reconciliation as instructed by the courts in Canada.”
Now three years later, Canada, today, has endorsed the Declaration. While this in itself doesn’t address our urgent needs, it does say that Canada is listening and that Canada is willing to work with us to achieve the standards set out in the UNDRIP. Furthermore, the UNDRIP will inform and guide the discussion regarding the meaning and implementation of treaty and aboriginal rights as guaranteed in the Constitution Act, 1982.”
Regarding the ‘re-setting’ of relationships between First Nations and the Canadian government, the first step has be to the eradication and replacement of the Indian Act.
The Indian Act was enacted in 1876 by the Parliament of Canada under the provisions of Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provides Canada’s federal government exclusive authority to legislate in relation to “Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians”. The Indian Act is administered by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. [Let me be clear, in 2010 First Nations are under the direction of an ACT created in 1867. Certain portions of the Act regarding status, especially concerning the status of First Nation women who marry non-Indian men, have been amended but the body and spirit of the Act have not changed.]
A friend of mine and and an Indigenous rights activist put why Canada wants to hold onto the Indian Act in blunt simple terms when he told me, “Canada wants to keep the Indian Act so it can control.” I agree. The Indian Act is all about control, the ability for the Federal government to control the First Nations peoples it has colonized.
Here is a list of points about the Indian Act from the Assembly of First Nations.
–It is the only legislation in the world designed for a particular race of people.
–It was made by Parliament and not by Indian people.
–Because Parliament is supreme in Canada, it can therefore change the Act without consultation with Indians.
–Indian peoples’ weapons against revision without their input is through provincial and national Indian organizations.
–The Act is basically not the source of substantive or basic Indian rights; it merely tells how to administrate.
–The Act has, however, been used through the courts, to erode substantive Indian rights.
–The Act does, however, have certain provisions which preserve Indian rights.
–There have been various other Federal Acts dealing with Indians since the early 1800’s.
–All these Acts down to the present one have been consistent in their goals of assimilation, integration and eventual abolition of reserves and of special rights for Indians.”
In the early 1900s, South African officials came to Canada several times to study the colonial and reserve system set out in the Indian Act. Borrowing what they needed from these approaches, South African officials retuned to implant these highly racist tools in their own systems of segregation and apartheid.”
British Columbia First Nations activist, Sharon McIvor announced a new lawsuit against Canada, being filed to the UN, will claim the country discriminates against aboriginal women when it comes to granting Indian status.
So far to address the ruling, the federal government introduced Bill C-3 in March, 2010. The bill is an amendment to the Indian Act that will ensure eligible grandchildren of women who have lost status after marrying non-Indian men become entitled to Indian status. But McIvor said on Friday that the bill does not go far enough to and will still exclude descendants of unmarried Indian women.
“Canada continues to discriminate against aboriginal women and their descendents in the determination of eligibility for registration as an Indian,” McIvor said in the statement. “Despite amendments made to the Indian Act when the charter came into effect in 1985, aboriginal women are still not treated equally as transmitters of status, and many thousands of descendants of aboriginal women are denied status as a result.”
Before Canada can celebrate, there is a lot more work to be done.