The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), is a monumental human rights instrument. I remember the optimism felt by Indigenous communities worldwide when the declaration was brought to the UN General Assembly in 2007.
It was a disheartening setback when Canada was among four nations to vote against adopting UNDRIP at the United Nations. Indigenous peoples in Canada had to wait nearly a decade for the federal government to endorse the UN declaration. Even then, this commitment has had little impact without domestic legislation — that’s why we need Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We know that most Canadians support reconciliation as a concept, but what does “reconciliation” really mean? Bill C-15 is Canada’s opportunity to uphold human rights and move forward with reconciliation in a tangible way. The declaration affirms existing Indigenous rights — it does not create new rights. It recognizes the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples.
If passed, Bill C-15 will require the Canadian government to take all measures necessary to ensure that our federal laws are aligned with the UN Declaration. In other words, it will provide a framework for reconciliation.
Bill C-15 is built on years of advocacy, research, and discussion. In fact, this is not the first time that a bill to implement the UN declaration has been introduced in Canada. Bill C-262 was put forward by former Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash in 2016. Unfortunately, it was stopped by the Senate — and we’re at risk of that happening again with Bill C-15.
But the public discussion of Indigenous rights has evolved because of the work of C-262. And, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed many systemic problems in Canada’s laws and policies. We have witnessed abuses by police forces across Canada and racism in health care, justice and commerce.
Bill C-15 will benefit both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across the country. Building free prior and informed consent into resource management and decision-making will create predictability in economic development. This means better decision-making, better governance, and better competitiveness.
First Nations aren’t opposed to resource development. We have a right to make decisions and share in benefits from our lands, resources, waters and air. These benefits are not always about money either — the intrinsic value of protecting, conserving, and enhancing is part of the responsibility Indigenous peoples hold to our homelands.
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