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.
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 declaration’s 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”. It’s a pretty morbid joke though, like when a UN report revealed that Canada wasn’t really 8th on the United Nations human development scale“… It’s 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, Canada’s 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 they’re 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 doesn’t sit with the reality. For instance, there are five ongoing blockades in four Provinces right now, because Canada won’t 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 Canada’s suppression and avoidance of those basic rights. And let’s 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 hasn’t improved at all in recent years. In fact it’s 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 there’s the waste problem in Canada. For instance, how there aren’t any laws to stop companies from dumping their toxic waste onto reserve lands—or how Canada won’t 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, there’s the matter of physical health in Canada. Even though Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s 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.
It’s 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 dam—or better yet, take it down completely.
Only, were not talking about dams or pieces of paper or numbers or even words on some website. We’re talking about human beings. That’s what makes Canada’s 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 at–and many others join in–than it’s 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.