Image retrieved from https://muskratmagazine.com/undrip-2/.
As we progress through this week’s posts on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), we thought it helpful to give a quick overview for those thinking, “what is UNDRIP?” and explain its importance in our discussions of reconciliation.
UNDRIP is a declaration of international law, and took over 20 years to negotiate and work its way through the United Nations (UN) system. It was finally adopted through a majority vote of the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007. On November 12, 2010, Canada issued a Statement of Support endorsing UNDRIP, despite having voted against the UN Declaration at the General Assembly 3 years earlier. This marked a significant turning point for our country in recognizing and protecting Indigenous peoples rights within the UN and international law.1
The negotiations that led to the final draft of UNDRIP included involvement from the the UN Member States, UN Agencies, and Indigenous peoples from across the world. Before being approved by the UN General Assembly, drafts of the Declaration were approved by the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Commissions on Human Rights, and finally the Human Rights Council. When voted upon at the General Assembly, 144 States voted in favour of UNDRIP, while four states opposed: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States (although all four later issued their support for the UN Declaration), and 11 states abstained (did not vote in favour or against).2
In terms of UNDRIP’s application to Canadian law, international law is not actually ‘binding’. However, Canada’s support for the UN Declaration lends itself to the expectation that Canada’s laws and policies will uphold the rights set out in the Articles of UNDRIP.3 It is understood that in supporting the UN Declaration, Indigenous-government relations should improve as we move towards reconciliation, and is emphasized in the preamble of UNDRIP:
“Convinced that the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples in this Declaration will enhance harmonious and cooperative relations between the State and indigenous peoples, based on principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, non-discrimination and good faith”4
Furthermore, Canada’s governments have been specifically called on to implement UNDRIP by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action #43 and #44, which read as follows:
“43. We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.
44. We call upon the Government of Canada to develop a national action plan, strategies, and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”5
Although the current Liberal government has acknowledged its support of both UNDRIP and the TRC’s Calls to Action, it continues to be emphasized that both only serve simply as “guides” for Canada in its review of law and policies concerning Indigenous people.6 It seems like the most the government is willing to do regarding efforts in reconciliation, is to make mere “puff” statements of their endorsement of UNDRIP and the TRC, but deny their application on issues and matters where they are needed in order to respect Indigenous rights. Until we see these statements translate into real-world application, they remain empty meaningless promises -- something that seems to be the Canadian government’s specialty.
Until next time,
Team ReconciliAction YEG
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 Indigenous Bar Association, Brenda Gunn, Understanding and Implementing the UNDRIP: An Introductory Handbook (Winnipeg, 2011), online: https://www.indigenousbar.ca/pdf/undrip_handbook.pdf at 6.
 Ibid at 7.
 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, GA Res 61/295, UNGAOR (2007), online: www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf.
 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Calls to Action (Winnipeg, 2015), online: https://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf.
 Government of Canada, Principles Respecting the Government of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples (Department of Justice, 2017), online: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/principles-principes.html.
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