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So, Canada Endorsed the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights?


By John Schertow November 23, 2010 On November 12, 2010, Canada became the 148th country to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). That leaves only the United States which is still reviewing its position on the declaration.

Photo by Barriere Lake Solidarity

The endorsement is a fairly important milestone for Indigenous Rights, even though the declaration is considered to be legally non-binding. After all, Canada has been one of the most vocal opponents of the

declaration. In fact, few people realize that they even tried to bribe some African states in 2006 to delay the declarations passage. At least, that was the rumour. Since then, a lot of people have come to look at Canada as, shall we say, a huckster doofus. Its a pretty morbid joke though, like when a UN report revealed that Canada wasnt really 8th on the United Nations human development scale Its real rank was 48th, placing it somewhere between Argentina and Kuwait. Why did Canada suddenly rank so low? Because the economic and social well-being of Indigenous People was factored in. That said, Canadas endorsement of the declaration seems like a bit of joke too, as Mohawk Activist Ben Powless has pointed out. For starters, Canada decided to make the announcement on a Friday afternoon, right after they announced major plans with the Afghanistan war, says Powless. But it was only posted online. [There was] no press conference where people could ask clarifying questions, no informing Indigenous Peoples, just a passive admission on a website. Adding injury to insult, Canada tried to portray itself in the announcement as some sort of noble champion; as if theyre doing everything in their power to right historical wrongs and build a new relationship with Indigenous People based on good faith, partnership and mutual respect. The rhetoric just doesnt sit with the reality. For instance, there are five ongoing blockades in four Provinces right now, because Canada wont respect Indigenous Peoples right to consent or consultation and accommodation. On top of that, there are at least a dozen other hot spots where blockades could be on the way, again, because of Canadas suppression and avoidance of those basic rights. And lets not

forget dozens upon dozens of blockades, protests and lawsuits that have been aimed at Canada and the Provinces in recent years. On top of that, the economic and social well-being of Indigenous People hasnt improved at all in recent years. In fact its probably getting worse, especially since Canada decided to cut their funding to 134 indigenous healing centres which were largely dedicated to helping residential school survivors. Then theres the waste problem in Canada. For instance, how there arent any laws to stop companies from dumping their toxic waste onto reserve landsor how Canada wont remediate the 4,464 toxic sites on reserve. According to the Auditor General of Canada, it would cost under $200 million to clean these sites. But Canada chooses not to spend the money. Finally, theres the matter of physical health in Canada. Even though Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canadas Chief Public Health Officer, downplayed it in his 2008 Annual Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, there is a major gulf between the health of average Canadians and Indigenous Peoples in Canada. From youth suicide to Infant mortality rates, homelessness to substandard housing, unsafe water to obesity, chronic diseases to infectious diseases and the list goes on. The numbers are all higher for the Indigenous population. Its all pretty daunting, like a dam that could burst at any moment. And despite the pronouncements, the reality is that Canada seems more interested in stuffing paper into all the little cracks than actually fix the damor better yet, take it down completely. Only, were not talking about dams or pieces of paper or numbers or even words on some website. Were talking about human beings. Thats what makes Canadas endorsement a little difficult to accept. But even so, it is an important milestone. And more importantly, it gives us

another tool to compel Canada to respect Indigenous Rights and to treat Indigenous People as friends and equals rather than enemies and subordinates. Organizations like Amnesty International Canada, the First Nations Summit, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the First Peoples Human Rights Coalition have already started the push, along with the Chiefs of Ontario, the Council of Canadians, the Dene Nation, Samson Cree Nation, Treaty 4 Chiefs, Treaty 6 Medicine Chest Task Force and others. As long as they keep it atand many others join inthan its only a matter of time before Canada starts walking it talk and respecting all the basic rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.