It’s the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples as well as the tenth anniversary of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. With promising developments in relations between Indigenous Peoples and the Canadian government, officials from all sides commemorated the day, August 9—while marking what still needs to be done.
“Today, First Nations stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples everywhere to revitalize and restore our collective rights as peoples and to support one another in that goal,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a statement. “This is a day for all governments to recommit to work with us to fully implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration affirms Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination and sets out minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being. Implementing the U.N. Declaration will promote peace and help close the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and Canadians. Canada has stated its unqualified support for the U.N. Declaration and, as we approach the tenth anniversary of its adoption by the U.N. General Assembly, it is time to work together to give life to the Declaration in Canada and around the world.”
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously promised after winning the Liberal majority in October 2015 that his government would incorporate the U.N. Declaration into federal law. That goal has yet to be reached. But on August 9 he reiterated his commitment to working with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
“No relationship is more important to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples,” he said in a statement. “We are taking concrete steps to create a renewed relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation—based on recognition of rights, respect, collaboration, and partnership.”
The government, in concert with Indigenous Peoples, is reviewing federal laws and policies so as to balance them equitably with constitutional obligations and international standards, such as those spelled out in the U.N. Declaration, he said. The government is also working on legislation that would revitalize and preserve indigenous languages and “making progress to address the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Trudeau said. “We are also creating a new space for Indigenous Peoples near Parliament Hill, which will honor our nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, and government-to-government relationship with Indigenous Peoples and recognize their importance to this country’s foundation and its future.”
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) said that progress toward this end has been too slow, though it also acknowledged the achievements of Indigenous Peoples thus far.
“Indigenous peoples continue to lead the global fight for the protection of our lands, territories, and the environment for future generations,” the group said in a statement. “The UBCIC remains frustrated that, despite the adoption of the Declaration in 2007, Canada has yet to make significant and tangible progress, politically and at the community level, on the implementation of Indigenous Title and Rights, as affirmed in the Declaration.”
Worldwide, though similar progress has been made, the story is not much different, U.N. officials said.
“The Declaration, which took more than twenty years to negotiate, stands today as a beacon of progress, a framework for reconciliation and a benchmark of rights,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Chairperson of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in a joint statement. “But a decade on, we need to acknowledge the vast challenges that remain. In too many cases, indigenous peoples are now facing even greater struggles and rights violations than they did ten years ago.”