Another small cautious step toward reconciliation

by Fiona Joy Green

The Senate of Canada building and Senate Chamber are pictured in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick)

Today, the Senate of Canada in a vote of 61-10, approved a bill C-15 to implement UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

It’s been a long time coming. The UN declaration, endorsed by Canada in 2010, affirms the rights of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination and to their language, culture and traditional lands. Passing the bill means that “Canada must now take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” noted Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde. It also spells out the need for free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from Indigenous Peoples on anything that infringes on their lands or rights.

It has taken THREE attempts since 2014 to pass, with Conservatives in both the House of Commons and the Senate raising concerns about potential negative impacts of the legislation. Conservative MPs voted against the bill, arguing it would give Indigenous people a “veto” over natural resource projects.

Bellegarde is hopeful for the future of Indigenous peoples in Canada, stressing the necessity of Canada to develop the mandated action plan in consultation and co-operation with Indigenous Peoples. He further notes, “UNDRIP will help right the injustices of past, and ensure that Indigenous Peoples have a bright and prosperous future in Canada.”

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is cautious, noting the bill is “the very beginning of a process where Indigenous Peoples are at least afforded the same … very important starting point as part of a very difficult (process) and along the linear path of reconciliation.”

The passage of this bill to include UNDRIP is only a small step of many needed to decolonize Canada. Another is for Canada’s government to treat the response to the TRC’s Calls to Action as a national priority, given the alarming farewell speech given only yesterday in the House of Commons by Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the New Democrat MP for Nunavut, detailing how she was racially profiled during her time in Ottawa and was constantly reminded that she didn’t belong there.

Ta[l]king care is paramount in moving forward in the difficult and necessary work toward decolonization.

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