Survival, dignity and well-being

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43) We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.

– Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sets out minimum standards for the “survival, dignity and well-being” of Indigenous peoples around the world. The United Nations adopted the Declaration after more than two decades of negotiations led by Indigenous peoples from around the world as experts on their own rights. I was invited to go and represent the Grand Council of the Cree, and ultimately, I spent 23 years in those discussions. The Declaration honours the tenacity and knowledge of our ancestors by reaffirming our inherent rights.

The UN Declaration provides guidance to governments, a roadmap for non-Indigenous peoples to better understand the rights of Indigenous peoples, and a powerful tool to advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples. Today, courts in Canada and around the world use the Declaration to interpret law and human rights bodies are using the Declaration to interpret state obligations.

Key provisions of the Declaration – such as the right of Indigenous peoples to refuse unwanted development on their lands – are even being adopted by some investors, corporations and international lending agencies. The time has come to formally adopt this Declaration into legislation and bring Canada in line with international conventions.

Legislation will provide clarity on jurisdiction and process. It will be a catalyst to repeal the Indian Act, formally reject discriminatory doctrines of “discovery” and terra nullius, and will explicitly reject colonialism in favour of a contemporary approach based on justice, equality, respect for human rights and good faith.

I believe that Bill C-262, which I introduced in Parliament on April 21, will ensure that impacts such as intergenerational trauma, severe impoverishment, epidemics of suicide, impairment of mental and physical health, and profound loss of hope will receive the attention they deserve.

I think there is a lot of talk of reconciliation, of a new nation-to-nation relationship in this country. I have heard all the words that have been spoken by the Liberal government. With my bill, I am proposing cooperative, concrete action to back up those words. I think the political and public will exists to propel this bill through the House and into law. So far, besides my own party’s support, two Liberal MPs have voiced their support, and I have spoken with members from all parties to work together on the issue of adoption and implementation of the UN Declaration.

I am inspired and compelled by the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC listened to our collective experiences with each individual testimony, and the Calls to Action offer another way we can honour our communities and ancestors. The commissioners have been clear that reconciliation on the part of the government is only possible if the federal government fully adopts and implements the UN Declaration.

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