Canada: Canada Endorses The United Nations Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples

The Government of Canada today formally endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a manner fully consistent with Canada's Constitution and laws. Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. John McNee, met with the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Joseph Deiss, to advise him of Canada's official endorsement of the United Nations Declaration.


"We understand and respect the importance of this United Nations Declaration to Indigenous peoples in Canada and worldwide," said the Honourable John Duncan, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-status Indians. "Canada has endorsed the Declaration to further reconcile and strengthen our relationship with Aboriginal peoples in Canada."


"Canada is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples," said the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs. "Canada's active involvement abroad, coupled with its productive partnership with Aboriginal Canadians, is having a real impact in advancing indigenous rights at home and abroad."


The United Nations Declaration describes the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples. It sets out a number of principles that should guide harmonious and cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and States, such as equality, partnership, good faith and mutual respect. Canada strongly supports these principles and believes that they are consistent with the Government's approach to working with Aboriginal peoples. While the Declaration is not legally binding, endorsing it as an important aspirational document is a significant step forward in strengthening relations with Aboriginal peoples.


"Canada's Aboriginal leadership has spoken with passion on the importance of endorsing the Declaration. Today's announcement represents another important milestone on the road to respect and co-operation," added Minister Duncan.


Canada's endorsement builds upon numerous other government initiatives for Aboriginal peoples on education, economic development, housing, child and family services, access to safe drinking water, and the extension of human rights protection and matrimonial real property protection to First Nations on reserve.


Canada's Statement of Support on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Today, Canada joins other countries in supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In doing so, Canada reaffirms its commitment to promoting and protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples at home and abroad.


The Government of Canada would like to acknowledge the Aboriginal men and women who played an important role in the development of this Declaration.


The Declaration is an aspirational document which speaks to the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, taking into account their specific cultural, social and economic circumstances.


Although the Declaration is a non-legally binding document that does not reflect customary international law nor change Canadian laws, our endorsement gives us the opportunity to reiterate our commitment to continue working in partnership with Aboriginal peoples in creating a better Canada.


Under this government, there has been a shift in Canada's relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, exemplified by the Prime Minister's historic apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools, the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the apology for relocation of Inuit families to the High Arctic and the honouring of Métis veterans at Juno Beach.


These events charted a new path for this country as a whole, one marked by hope and reconciliation and focused on cherishing the richness and depth of diverse Aboriginal cultures.


Canada continues to make exemplary progress and build on its positive relationship with Aboriginal peoples throughout the country, a relationship based on good faith, partnership and mutual respect.


The Government's vision is a future in which Aboriginal families and communities are healthy, safe, self-sufficient and prosperous within a Canada where people make their own decisions, manage their own affairs and make strong contributions to the country as a whole.


The Government has shown strong leadership by protecting the rights of Aboriginal people in Canada. The amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act, the proposed Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act and the proposed legislation concerning matrimonial real property rights on reserve are just a few recent examples.


This government has also taken concrete and viable actions in important areas such as education, skills development, economic development, employment, health care, housing and access to safe drinking water. These are part of a continuing agenda focused on real results with willing and able partners.


At the international level Canada has been a strong voice for the protection of human rights. Canada is party to numerous United Nations human rights conventions which give expression to this commitment.


Canada has a constructive and far-reaching international development program that helps to improve the situation of Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world. Canada's active involvement abroad, coupled with its productive partnership with Aboriginal Canadians, is having a real impact in advancing indigenous rights and freedoms, at home and abroad.


In 2007, at the time of the vote during the United Nations General Assembly, and since, Canada placed on record its concerns with various provisions of the Declaration, including provisions dealing with lands, territories and resources; free, prior and informed consent when used as a veto; self-government without recognition of the importance of negotiations; intellectual property; military issues; and the need to achieve an appropriate balance between the rights and obligations of Indigenous peoples, States and third parties. These concerns are well known and remain. However, we have since listened to Aboriginal leaders who have urged Canada to endorse the Declaration and we have also learned from the experience of other countries. We are now confident that Canada can interpret the principles expressed in the Declaration in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution and legal framework.


Aboriginal and treaty rights are protected in Canada through a unique framework. These rights are enshrined in our Constitution, including our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are complemented by practical policies that adapt to our evolving reality. This framework will continue to be the cornerstone of our efforts to promote and protect the rights of Aboriginal Canadians.


The 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games were a defining moment for Canada. The Games instilled a tremendous sense of pride in being Canadian and highlighted to the world the extent to which Aboriginal peoples and their cultures contribute to Canada's uniqueness as a nation. The unprecedented involvement of the Four Host First Nations and Aboriginal peoples from across the nation set a benchmark for how we can work together to achieve great success.


In endorsing the Declaration, Canada reaffirms its commitment to build on a positive and productive relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples to improve the well-being of Aboriginal Canadians, based on our shared history, respect, and a desire to move forward together.


Backgrounder: Canada's Endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


On November 12, 2010, Canada issued a Statement of Support endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This endorsement offers an opportunity to strengthen relations with Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and to support our ongoing work on Indigenous issues internationally.


The Declaration describes the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, taking into account their specific cultural, social and economic circumstances. The Declaration also encourages harmonious, cooperative relationships between States and Indigenous peoples, based on the principles of equality, partnership, good faith and mutual respect. Canada strongly supports these principles and believes that they are consistent with the government's approach to working with Aboriginal peoples.


Aboriginal Rights in Canada


Canada's Constitution recognizes and affirms the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. Historical and modern treaties signed with the Crown (Canada), as well as other legislation, guarantee certain rights and benefits to Aboriginal peoples living in Canada.


The Government of Canada continues its efforts to improve its relationship with Aboriginal peoples in Canada. This includes through its historic apology in 2008 to former students of the residential school system, the subsequent establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the recent Apology for relocation of Inuit families to the High Arctic. In addition, a legislative amendment passed in 2008 ensures that First Nations people living on reserves have full access to, and protection under, the Canadian Human Rights Act. These important steps build on progress that has been made in negotiating Aboriginal self-government and land claims agreements; and, partnership approaches to economic development, education, health and other issues.


Canada's International Role on Indigenous Issues


Canada has always been a strong supporter of United Nations mechanisms devoted to Indigenous issues, recognizing that the challenges facing more than 370 million Indigenous people around the world warrant concerted and concrete international action.


Since 1985, when the United Nations Expert Working Group on Indigenous Populations decided to produce a declaration on Indigenous rights, Canada has been an active participant in its development. Canada has strongly supported the establishment and ongoing work of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As well, Canada promotes the consideration of Indigenous issues within a variety of international venues. Canada has a far-reaching international development program that improves the situation of Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world.


The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


On September 13, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly held a vote on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States voted against adopting the Declaration. Many States, including some who voted in favour of the Declaration, delivered statements to explain their votes, emphasizing that the Declaration is non-binding and that its provisions are subject to varying interpretations.


In Canada's Explanation of Vote, Canada's Permanent Representative to the United Nations stated Canada's concerns with the wording of some of the Declaration's provisions, noting that these provisions failed to give clear, practical guidance to States. In particular, Canada made reference to the issues of:
• lands, territories and resources;
• free, prior and informed consent when used as a veto;
• self-government without recognition of the importance of negotiations;
• intellectual property;
• military issues; and,
• the need to achieve an appropriate balance between the rights and obligations of Indigenous peoples, member States and third parties.


While Canada's concerns regarding the text of the Declaration remain, we have endorsed this aspirational document because it has the potential to contribute positively to the advancement of Indigenous rights around the world. Although the declaration does not reflect customary international law nor change Canadian laws, in endorsing the Declaration, Canada reaffirms its commitment to build on a positive and productive relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples to improve the well-being of Aboriginal Canadians, based on our shared history, respect, and a desire to move forward together.




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