Why the UN's declaration on Indigenous rights has been slow to implement in Canada.

Author:Labbe, Stefan

While a decision on Indigenous participation at the United Nations General Assembly was postponed in Geneva [in July 2017] , some groups in Canada point to a number of ways to move forward on the issue at home. Independent Indigenous participation at the United Nations General Assembly--a critical application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)--was thrown into uncertainty [earlier in July 2017] after several member states insisted they should be the ones to decide who is "Indigenous."

"Those states--India, China, Russia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, to name a few--are deeply concerned about this because they each have a group they don't want to have an independent voice on the world stage," Sheryl Lightfoot, a Vancouver-based expert on global Indigenous rights, told OpenCanada from the UN's annual Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples held in Geneva [in July 2017].

Speaking on behalf of a coalition of Canadian Indigenous and human rights groups--including Amnesty International, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and the Grand Council of the Crees--Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild chided the opposing bloc for not providing any legal justification for their decision.

"There continues to be an erroneous presumption, by some states, that they each can determine which peoples are Indigenous within their respective states," Littlechild told the session during its final days.

Opposition to Indigenous enhanced participation contradicts several international agreements, including UNDRIP.

"It's a challenge to the right of self-identification," said Paul Joffe, an attorney who represented the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) in Geneva. "That's the way it's been throughout history: you deny someone their status in order to deny them their rights."

As implementation of UNDRIP faces a backlash at the international level, Canada has also been struggling to find its footing with what it means at home. And while various groups have been asking for movement on the file since its adoption in 2007, wider awareness of the declaration in Canada has only come about with the focus on reconciliation in recent years.

With that in mind, here's a primer on what you need to know.

What is UNDRIP?

After over 20 years of negotiation, the UN adopted the landmark declaration in 2007. The document spells out the minimum individual and collective rights of Indigenous people and covers everything from access to...

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