PONOKA NEWS STAFF
Canada’s declaration of its unreserved support and acceptance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) received a cautious welcome from Alberta First Nations.
Craig Makinaw, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief of Alberta issued a statement expressing both satisfaction and some reservation with the federal government’s announcement, in particular with regard to comments on changes to Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. First Nations believe Section 35 requires clearer definitions to ensure full recognition of of the treaty rights.
“Real change, ‘reconciliation’ and unqualified support will come from change to government policies, practice and laws. A legislative framework is needed to implement UNDRIP, and it must be developed in full and meaningful consultation with Indigenous Peoples,” said Makinaw.
The declaration describes individual and collective rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world and offers ways of creating co-operative relationships with states, the United Nations and various international organizations. Among the guidelines are ways of dealing with culture, identity, religion, language, health, education and community.
UNDRIP is based on specific principles of equality, partnership, good faith and mutual respect. It contains 46 articles, developed by Indigenous Peoples around the world that preserve cultural identity, free prior and informed consent, and addresses the life and liberty of Indigenous Peoples, explained Makinaw.
It also provides clarification on not allowing military activity on indigenous lands and provides guidelines on the importance of communication between states and Indigenous Peoples.
Makinaw was clear that this has been a long time coming. “Canada has prospered while First Nations children and families on reserve ranked 63rd on the Human Development Index. First Nations have to go to the courts to have our constitutionally protected Aboriginal and Treaty rights upheld.”
“The road has been long,” he added.
Makinaw praised Chief Wilton Littlechild, Canada’s first MP of First Nations origin, for working tirelessly with the group that began drafting the declaration in 1985.
Almost 10 years after the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) document was adopted at the General Assembly, Canada removed its objector status and offered full, unequivocal support for it.
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, made the announcement Tuesday, May 10 with the intention to work with First Nations people across provinces and territories in Canada on how to implement all the provisions in the document.
“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. 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,” said Bennett in a press release.
In 2010 the ministry supported UNDRIP but stated concerns over the land and territory rights.
Federal government’s opposition to full exercising of their treaty rights by First Nations may still be a contentious issue despite Ottawa’s adoption of the declaration. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking in an interview with an international news agency last week, said First Nations would have no veto power over plans to build pipelines in various parts of the country.