Northern leaders slam Canada's rejection of UN native rights declaration

Aboriginal and northern leaders say Canada's opposition Thursday to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has marred the country's reputation in the international community.

Aboriginal and northern leaders say Canada'sopposition Thursday to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has marred the country's reputation in the international community.

Canada was one of four countries that opposed the non-binding declaration, which recognizes indigenous peoples' basic human rights and rights to self-determination, language, equality and land, among other rights.

It passed in the UN General Assembly on Thursday afternoon with only Canada, New Zealand, the United States and Australia dissenting. Eleven countries abstained.

"It was a very happy occasion, on the one hand," said Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who was in New York for Thursday's vote.

"But, also as a Canadian, there was also a sense of disappointment because Canada voted against."

Simon, whose organization represents Canada's Inuit, worked with other indigenous groups at the United Nations to draft the declaration during the mid-1980s and early '90s.

She described Thursday as a proud day for Inuit and indigenous peoples around the world, but said the negative votes puts a black mark on Canada and the other three dissenting governments.

'No sense of balance' in declaration: Strahl

Speaking to CBC News Thursday afternoon, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said Ottawa opposed the declaration because it lacks clear guidance for implementation and it does not recognize the need to balance indigenous rights with those of other groups.

"There's no sense of balance between other rights of other people, of governments' obligations, of … existing treaties. None of that is acknowledged in the document," Strahl said.

As for why Canada didn't sign onto a declaration that is non-binding, "it either means something or it doesn't," he said. "You don't sign on to something if you don’t mean it."

Canada also opposed the declaration because it believes it conflicts with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which the government believes already protects the rights of aboriginals.

Federal government selling out, MP accuses

But Western Arctic NDP MP Dennis Bevington said now that the majority of UN member countries approved the declaration, he will push Ottawa to support it as well.

"For us not to stand up for aboriginal people around the world is really unfortunate," Bevington said.

"It harms our international reputation and it puts in doubt the sincerity of our government in dealing with our own internal claims, agreements and arrangements with the aboriginal people of this country."

Bevington also accused the federal government of selling out to multinational businesses that want access to resources on aboriginal lands around the world.

Canada may also be afraid of giving aboriginal Canadians control over themselves, suggested Beverley Jacobs, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada.

"I think they're afraid of indigenous people having some measure of control of our own processes, of our own institutions, and dealing with our own laws within our own territories," said Jacobs, who recently met with Strahl over the issue.

"I really believe that they're afraid of that."

Jacobs said the newly passed UN declaration can be used to advance First Nation self-government within Canada. Simon said Inuit will use it to promote the ongoing enjoyment of indigenous people's fundamental rights and the betterment of living conditions in the Arctic.