OTTAWA—There’s nothing frightening about adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said May 9 at the U.N.
Bennett earned a standing ovation from a U.N. forum in New York by announcing that Canada is now a full supporter of the 2007 declaration, “without qualification.”
UNDRIP, as it is known by its acronym, describes a global set of collective and human rights covering indigenous issues including language, identity, culture and traditions, health and education, and free, prior, informed consent over resource extraction. The declaration is not considered legally binding.
Bennett said Canada is uniquely placed because it is one of the few countries in the world that has already incorporated indigenous rights in its constitution.
“We intend nothing less than to adopt and implement the declaration in accordance with the Canadian Constitution,” she told the UN’s permanent forum on indigenous issues.
Canada was one of four countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the United States, that voted against the declaration when it was first passed in 2007—even though Canadian diplomatic officials had helped draft the original declaration.
The former Conservative government initially argued that the free, prior, and informed consent provisions amounted to a de facto indigenous veto on major resource projects, and questioned how UNDRIP could be accommodated within existing Canadian constitutional protections.
Bennett did not directly address those concerns, but said the declaration fits within Canada’s long history of treaty and constitutional rights.
“Let’s be honest: implementing UNDRIP should not be scary,” said the minister.
“Recognition of elements of the declaration began 250 years ago with the Royal Proclamation, which was about sharing the land fairly. UNDRIP reflects the spirit and intent of our treaties.”
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers released a discussion paper on April 9 that says the industry backs the U.N. declaration and will work with governments and Aboriginal Peoples to see that it can be accommodated within Canadian law.
CAPP began circulating its discussion paper among provincial and territorial governments and indigenous communities late last month and was caught off guard by the Liberal government’s U.N. announcement this week.
There is still some concern about how exactly the declaration will be implemented.
Bennett acknowledged in her U.N. address that discussions are only beginning.
“What does this mean for Canada now?” she asked.
“It means nothing less than a full engagement on how to move forward with adoption and implementation, done in full partnership with First Nations, the Metis nation, and Inuit peoples.”
From The Canadian Press