Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde urged chiefs to explore "all options" when pressing the Canadian government to adopt the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, two days after the country's attorney general said it could not be adopted into Canadian law in its current form.
"We need to look at all options when it comes to our rights and title. We need to continue to look at ways of adopting and enforcing the UN declaration which also may include legislation," Bellegarde said in his closing remarks to the 37th annual general assembly in Niagara Falls, Ont., Thursday.
Bellegarde said the issue will be on the agenda when the Assembly of First Nations meets with Canada's provincial and territorial leaders in Yukon next week.
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Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's spoke about moving beyond the Indian Act when she addressed First Nations chiefs earlier in the week.
"As much as I would tomorrow like to cast into the fire of history the Indian Act so that Nations can be reborn in its ashes — this is not a practical option. Which is why simplistic approaches, such as adopting the UNDRIP as being Canadian law are unworkable and, respectfully, a political distraction to undertaking the hard work required to actually implement it back home in communities," Wilson-Raybould said on Tuesday.
The justice minister, who represents the B.C. riding of Vancouver Granville and is a former AFN regional chief, said the UN declaration would be implemented "through a mixture of legislation, policy and action initiated and taken by Indigenous Nations themselves."
Wilson-Raybould said the transition would be "controversial" but also "absolutely necessary."
Unworkable 'for whom?'
The Trudeau government committed to adopting UNDRIP when it removed its objector status at the UN in May.
But NDP MP Romeo Saganash, who has been pushing the Trudeau government to back his own private members bill on UNDRIP, wondered whether Wilson-Raybould's remarks signalled an about-face.
"So the statements at the UN in May was just smoke and mirrors?" Saganash asked Wilson-Raybould in a post on Twitter.
"Unworkable! For whom?" Saganash said.
Trudeau government on notice
On Thursday, Bellegarde put the Trudeau government on notice.
"We have a good working relationship but we will not sit back if we hear the ministers of the Liberal government saying something that is contrary to our understanding about our rights and title."
"I want to make that statement very clearly here to the chiefs in assembly and to our colleagues on the executive and to the government: we're going to work in partnership and collaboration, no question. But we will call you out as well if you're not respecting that partnership," Bellegarde said in his closing remarks on Thursday.
A government official told CBC on Friday that the minister did not backtrack on the Trudeau government's commitment to support the adoption of the UN declaration.