This year marks the fifth anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and First Nations chiefs are ready to take it to the next level—bringing the UNDRIP message to communities to play out on the ground.
This was one of the takeaways that Ghislain Picard, Innu, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, had from the 11th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), which ended May 18.
“It’s a great achievement, and it has been difficult to obtain, but at the same time I think it ensures us a place within the UN system, and that’s what needs to be applauded,” he said of UNDRIP in a recent interview with Indian Country Today Media Network outside U.N. headquarters.
“At the same time this is the international scope,” he said. “The next challenge will be how these achievements at the international level will help in changing policies at the domestic level.”
Step one toward that goal is the organization of a major celebration of the five-year anniversary in Montreal in September.
“We’re already promoting the event with social networks. People on the ground are wanting to get involved. We want to organize the event not as a protest but just as an expression of who we are as Indigenous Peoples,” he said. “That’s one way of making sure that people feel that the declaration is theirs, so it’s up to them what happens to it and how meaningful it becomes to governments.”
A cornerstone of the festivities would be holding readings of the declaration, article by article, in various aboriginal languages. Aboriginal leaders are also working to organize an international gathering of the world’s indigenous to take place in 2014.
“It’s important to keep the momentum,” he said. “Despite all the progress that we see at the international level, what’s sad is the fact that people on the ground, in the communities, are not really able to see all of this happening.”
Someone mired in the problems that UNDRIP implementation needs to see that play out on the ground he said. And that entails getting people involved and educating them about what the declaration means for their daily lives.
“We have probably come to a point where it is important for us to promote the declaration within our own nations and peoples and communities,” Picard said. “Because really I think governments and states will not feel pressure unless people on the ground mobilize. And I think that’s the next step. Because as leaders we can only make so much headway as elected people, elected individuals.”
Bringing the message to the people and translating that into action, he said, “is where our challenges are as leaders.”