Crees help draft UNDRIP strategy at national meeting

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A daylong strategy and dialogue session regarding the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) preceded the Assembly of First Nations’ (AFN) Special Chiefs Assembly that gathered under the theme “Advancing Reconciliation” in Gatineau December 6-8.

UNDRIP took 24 years to create, involved countless Indigenous nations from across the globe, and stands as one of the longest negotiated human rights instruments ever developed by the UN. Paul Joffe spoke on behalf of the Grand Council of the Crees.

The session was convened to deepen understanding around UNDRIP’s potential to support Indigenous efforts in exercising rights, jurisdiction and sovereignty; developing strategies to implement it at the communal, provincial, national and international levels; and provide clarity on how to participate in the complex structures of the UN.   

Joffe has worked as legal counsel to the Crees around their participation in UNDRIP from the beginning. “There are over 370 million Indigenous people in over 70 countries around the world,” said Joffe. “The only way it could have worked is by building up large consensus between many Indigenous peoples and nations.”

And while there’s an abundance of fingerprints on UNDRIP, the Grand Council of the Crees played an intricate role in its inception. “The Crees were fundamentally involved in the UN Declaration,” said Joffe. “The Crees started their involvement in the early 1980s and have participated throughout the history of the development of the UNDRIP. Every Nation brought their experience of injustice and discrimination to the table. This not only created the need for but also shaped UNDRIP. For the Crees, part of their experience was the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.”

Minister Carolyn Bennett and Perry Bellegarde at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly Honouring Gord Downie at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly

Since Justin Trudeau’s election promise to adopt and implement UNDRIP as Canadian law, nothing has been done to make good on the pledge.

“UNDRIP is the most comprehensive, universal, international human rights instrument addressing, specifically, the rights of Indigenous peoples,” said Joffe. “It includes political rights, social rights, but also spiritual and environmental rights. It’s meant to deal with and eliminate the discrimination that has taken place throughout history and that continues to happen today.”          

On a community level, the Cree Nation has been doing its part to see that UNDRIP is practiced. “All the rights and principles mentioned in the UNDRIP, we bring them home and apply them. We use them in our relationship with Quebec and Canada and how we manage the Cree Nation Government,” said Bill Namagoose, Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees. “You have to incorporate those concepts and enforce them while seeking Cree autonomy in the new relationship we’re developing at the provincial and federal levels.”

Overall, the commitment to UNDRIP and the education surrounding it, has to be a continuous process if it is to succeed in creating a fair and equitable world for all Indigenous people. “There was a time when human rights were seen as individual rights and not collective rights. But Indigenous people are now recognized to hold collective rights. The Cree Nation, it’s not just an individual that has these rights,” said Joffe.

“Human rights are dynamic. The meaning is always growing and it can never be done in one meeting, no matter how long we spend on it. It has to be an ongoing process of education because UNDRIP is so expansive. The more people learn about it, the more they can use it effectively.”

Perry Bellegarde AFN QuebecAutumn Peltier presentation to Justin Trudeau AFN Quebec

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