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Canada Should Back Up Words With Action on Indigenous Rights

National Indigenous Peoples Day a Reminder to Implement UN Declaration

Women march in during the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, June 3, 2019.  ©REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, a day to reflect on progress made but also the work still needed to address past and present abuses faced by Indigenous communities in Canada.

Earlier this month, a nation-wide inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls over the past decades issued its final report, including 231 recommendations aimed at stemming the epidemic of violence against this vulnerable population. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has agreed to implement them all, but this is not the first time that promises have been made to address the concerns of Indigenous people.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the residential school system, a system that forcibly removed Indigenous children and youth from their communities, made 94 calls to action. Four years later, monitoring indicates that only 10 of these recommendations have been completed.

Meanwhile, Indigenous communities continue to suffer systemic discrimination and violence. Indigenous women and girls are far more likely to be victims of abuse and homicide – including at the hands of law enforcement. Indigenous peoples are significantly overrepresented in the prison system and many communities don’t have access to clean drinking water in one of the most water-rich countries in the world.

Canada is often put on a pedestal when it comes to upholding human rights, but it needs to do much more to protect and fulfill the rights of Indigenous populations – and to provide redress. The government has issued numerous apologies, but actions speak louder than words.

The most recent inquiry echoed a key call made in 2015: to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  A proposed law -  Bill C-262 – seeks to ensure the objectives of UNDRIP are achieved in Canada and is in its third and final reading on the Senate floor.

Successive governments have been hesitant to bring Canadian legislation in line with the UNDRIP, in part because of the requirement of free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous communities in regard to any policies or decisions that would impact their lands, resources, or rights. There is no accepted definition of this clause, which has raised the issue of whether or not it provides Indigenous communities a veto over government projects.

At the end of this month, the Senate will adjourn. By passing Bill C-262, lawmakers can demonstrate that they are ready to turn words into action and provide Indigenous communities the respect and support they deserve.


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