National Inuit leader says government's UN announcement 'concerning'

'To start this new path forward in support of the implementation of the declaration in Canada, without having considered how the Government of Canada would do that with Inuit, is still a sign that things have not changed as much as we might hope,' says Natan Obed.

'Things have not changed as much as we might hope,' says Natan Obed

'To start this new path forward in support of the implementation of the declaration in Canada, without having considered how the Government of Canada would do that with Inuit, is still a sign that things have not changed as much as we might hope,' says Natan Obed. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed is concerned about how exactly Canada will implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

He was in New York City for Monday's announcement, where Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the declaration would fit within Section 35 of Canada's Constitution Act — which recognizes existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Obed said implementing international law within existing Canadian laws could be tricky.

"People generally consider international laws and domestic laws to work together. It isn't as if one cites the other, and one wins," Obed said.

"Still a sign that things have not changed"

Obed is concerned the government made the announcement without talking to ITK about the ramifications.

ITK represents roughly 55,000 Inuit across Canada.

"To start this new path forward in support of the implementation of the declaration in Canada, without having considered how the Government of Canada would do that with Inuit, is still a sign that things have not changed as much as we might hope," he said.

"For Inuit, we have no understanding of how the Government of Canada came to this position, and why it was so important for them to announce it in New York at the time they did, when they could have just said that they are full supporters and they pledge to work with Indigenous peoples in Canada to implement the declaration, and just left it at that."

Obed said the government did inform ITK they were going to make the announcement and what was going to be said, but he says there's a difference between that and having a discussion about the impact the declaration would have on Indigenous people.

He says he expects those conversations to happen at some point.

Impact on Nunavummiut

​While Nunavut already has a solid foundation for many of the rights outlined in the declaration — namely the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement — Obed said the declaration will help bolster other considerations for the territory.

"The limitations for funding and the way in which Indigenous language is considered within the territory, are all things that the declaration might allow for enhancement of, or provide a clear perspective of the Government of Canada's obligations to provide services or opportunities for Inuit" Obed said.

About the Author

Nick Murray

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.