As we mark the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, let's explore how Canada contributed to shaping the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and how it's now being woven into Canadian law. But before we dive in, let's first understand what it means to be Indigenous and the remarkable struggles they've faced while advocating for their rights.
Who are Indigenous People?
Indigenous Peoples are the original inhabitants of specific lands, often with distinct cultures, languages, and ways of life that have evolved over thousands of years. Despite their rich histories, they've endured historical injustices, colonization, and ongoing struggles to preserve their rights, cultures, and lands.
What is UNDRIP?
The struggles of Indigenous Peoples are intricately woven into the story of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). For generations, Indigenous communities around the world have fought to have their rights recognized and respected. These struggles range from protecting their lands and resources to preserving their languages, cultures and spiritual beliefs in the face of colonization and discrimination.
UNDRIP, a declaration that took nearly 25 years to develop, was created through discussions among UN member countries and Indigenous communities around the world, as a response to these challenges, aiming to provide a comprehensive framework that outlines the rights of Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP was adopted by the United Nations on September 13, 2007, to ensure that both the Indigenous communities as a whole and each individual within that group are treated fairly and have their rights recognized.
Non-Signatories (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United States)
Concerned about autonomy and sovereignty, these nations initially refused to sign UNDRIP due to their shared colonial histories.
Now, let’s take a look at the timeline of events that unfolded to finally get to the point we are at today:
1982: The United Nations investigates global unfair treatment mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, launching the "Study of the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations."
1985: The Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) forms, comprising five experts and Indigenous advisors. They focus on addressing Indigenous community issues and propose ideas to the Human Rights Commission via a Sub-commission.
1993-1994: WGIP collaborates with Indigenous representatives worldwide, crafting a Rights declaration over eight years. The draft gains approval from the subcommission in 1994.
2006: After reviews aligning with existing human rights, the UN Human Rights Council accepts the draft.
2007: The UN General Assembly adopts the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
2010: Canada officially changes course and endorses UNDRIP, marked by an announcement from Governor General Michaëlle Jean.
2016: Canada fully endorses UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
June 21, 2021: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UN Declaration Act) becomes law, promoting federal implementation of UNDRIP.
A complete history of how the process to draft, adopt and evolve UNDRIP took place, can be found here: https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/un_declaration_on_the_rights_of_indigenous_peoples/#_ftn1
Implementing the UNDRIP
Canada consulted Indigenous peoples and made plans aligned with UN Declaration Act and in 2021, broad consultation began, identifying priorities, and modifying measures. Finally, in March 2023, Canada released a draft action plan and a What We Learned to Date Report.
Since March 2023, Canada has been working intensively with Indigenous peoples, to ensure alignment with the UN Declaration. In line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, Canada is dedicated to promoting education and learning on:
Indigenous rights as human rights
Indigenous history, stories, and values
the role of treaties, agreements and alliances as foundational to our ongoing nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown and government-to-government relationships
the truth about the grave harms against Indigenous peoples committed as part of settler colonialism and extensively documented by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
the strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples in the face of those harms and their unwavering determination to steward their traditional territories and rebuild their languages, cultures, spirituality, laws and prosperity.