Canada retracts objection to indigenous peoples rights to consent

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Canada’s objection to articles concerning indigenous consent within the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been formally rescinded during a speech by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Minister Carolyn Bennett at UN headquarters in New York on April 24.

Minister Carolyn Bennett made a public retraction at the UN Headquarters on April 24 of Canadian objection to implementing articles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that speak to indigenous rights of free, prior, and informed consent. She is pictures here with Grand Chief Ed John, left and National Chief Perry Bellegarde. - photo courtesy of INAC
Minister Carolyn Bennett made a public retraction at the UN Headquarters on April 24 of Canadian objection to implementing articles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that speak to indigenous rights of free, prior, and informed consent. She is pictured here with Grand Chief Ed John, left and National Chief Perry Bellegarde. – photo courtesy of INAC

The retraction was made during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). The theme of the annual forum covered implementation of the indigenous rights declaration known as UNDRIP, to mark its ten-year anniversary.

Indigenous leaders requested the public retraction during a preparatory meeting for the forum, held in Canada. The retraction addressed paragraphs three and 20 of a 2014 outcome report from the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

“These paragraphs – which are about Free, Prior and Informed Consent – go to the heart of the declaration,” reads the transcript of Bennett’s speech, provided to Nunavut News/North.

The article in the declaration providing indigenous peoples with informed and timely consent over use of their lands for projects, such as mineral development or oil extraction, has been critiqued as also providing indigenous groups with veto.

At last year’s forum, Canada announced it was a full supporter of UNDRIP.

In her speech, Bennett called the declaration a call to action towards reconciliation and decolonization for governments globally.

“This has to feel like a partnership. This has to feel like a shared journey,” she said.

“We can no longer only hear from governments … the voices of opposition parties and indigenous leadership are imperative to getting this right … and making sure that progress is sustained.”

Presidents of Canada’s Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), Assembly of First Nations, and Metis Nation led an April 25 panel discussion on implementing UNDRIP in Canada.

ITK also released a discussion paper on the implementation of UNRIP on April 24.

The paper follows up on a position paper released by the national Inuit organization in January.

The discussion paper recommends developing legislation that affirms all aspects of the declaration, as well as the creation of a national action plan for implementing the declaration, and establishing an independent indigenous peoples human rights commission.

Examples of how the declaration is already exercised in Canada can be seen in existing land claim agreements, the creation of self-government in Nunatsiavut, and co-management processes for land and water use, said ITK president Natan Obed.

“But we also have inconsistent realities where we have vast social inequity, where there are too many court cases and fights about respecting indigenous rights,” he said.

Issues faced by Inuit peoples in Canada – such as low access to health care, housing, education and cultural preservation – are all addressed within articles of the declaration.

Obed noted full implementation of UNDRIP will enhance access to existing rights and ensure these rights are recognized in a systematic and consistent way instead of on a case-by-case basis through the judicial system.

“In the absence of a legislative framework, only those provisions which have been adjudicated by courts are likely to be implemented in the policy and program arena,” the paper reads.

“Such a piecemeal and incremental approach to implementation undermines the UN declaration because proper interpretation of any article of the declaration can only be achieved through an examination of the instrument as a whole.”

Legislation, an action plan and a commission would also protect efforts spent on implementing the declaration from being lost in subsequent elections, stated the paper.

Minister Bennett closed her speech at the UN by telling a story of a three-hour paddle she took on the North Saskatchewan River with a group of indigenous youth.

“We hit a huge rock, we got into water so shallow we had to get out and walk our canoes to deeper water … but the current was with us … and we got to our destination,” read Bennett’s speech.

“We can do this,” it read.

Obed said he applauded Bennett for efforts to recognize indigenous rights on an international stage.

“Now we need to translate that sympathy and support into concrete action within Canada,” he said.

Obed said implementation of UNDRIP will also be discussed at the first working meeting of the Inuit Crown Partnership Committee scheduled for May 18. The working group was established in February through the signing of an Inuit to Crown Partnership Agreement when Justin Trudeau made his first visit to Nunavut since coming to office.