(May 10, 2016) – Canada is now a full supporter, without qualification, of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. On May 10, 2016 the Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs made the announcement at the 15th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) underway in New York, NY.
At the same time she reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to adopt and implement the Declaration in accordance with the Canadian Constitution.
“Today’s announcement that Canada is now a full supporter of the Declaration, without qualification, is an important step in the vital work of reconciliation,” stated Minister Bennett. “Adopting and implementing the Declaration means that we will be breathing life into Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution, which provides a full box of rights for Indigenous peoples.”
This announcement confirms Canada’s commitment to a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples – a relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. According to Minister Bennett, Canada will engage with Indigenous groups on how to implement the principles of the Declaration. This engagement will include provinces and territories whose cooperation and support is essential to this work and to advancing the vital work of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde and AFN Regional Chief for Quebec-Labrador Ghislain Picard welcomed the Government of Canada’s unqualified support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Today, Canada is sending an important message to Indigenous peoples, to all Canadians and to the international community that Indigenous rights are human rights,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “Canada’s commitment to work with First Nations to fully adopt and implement the Declaration is a crucial step in reconciliation, rebuilding the relationship and honouring the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. The UN Declaration is a framework and an essential tool to guide the work of reconciliation that will move us all forward.”
The UN Declaration sets out minimum standards for ensuring Indigenous peoples enjoy fundamental human rights, including the collective right to self-determination and rights in their traditional territories. The Government of Canada formally adopted the Declaration in 2010, but this was accompanied by statements outlining several qualifications. Similar statements were made by Canada in 2007 at the UN General Assembly (where Canada actually voted against the Declaration) and again in 2014 when Canada issued an Explanation of Vote at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
“First Nations will continue to press at every level for the full implementation of the Declaration which is good for Indigenous peoples and all Canadians,” said AFN Regional Chief Ghislain Picard. “The Declaration sets a strong foundation for the way in which we should work together – respectfully, nation-to-nation and in the spirit of reconciliation.”
The AFN has been pushing for full and unqualified support for the UN Declaration. On April 15 of this year National Chief Bellegarde wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to utilize the UNPFII as an opportunity to express unqualified support for the Declaration to “…signal to the international community that Canada is a human rights leader rather than an obstacle respecting this key UN human rights instrument.”