Whether or not you support Bill C-15, Canada passing it would be an important time in our history
This is about Canada ensuring its own laws align with international human rights standards
This Opinion piece was written by Andre Bear, the former youth representative of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and co-chair of the Assembly First Nations National Youth Council.
For another take on Bill C-15, see Wendy Lynn Lerat's piece here.
It is an exciting but controversial time for Indian country. Many are split on whether they support Bill C-15, An Act Respecting the Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or whether they believe it is just another tool to colonize and assimilate their peoples under Canadian law.
Bill C-15's stated purpose is to begin the process of aligning Canadian law with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
UNDRIP was developed over the span of 20 years by Indigenous peoples from around the world, including "Treaty Indian" leadership in Canada. In fact, many of the people who reject Bill C-15 today are the same ones who used UNDRIP to hold Canada accountable to Indigenous peoples' right to free, prior and informed consent.
Many First Nations support Bill C-15, because in accepting UNDRIP it recognizes the international status of Indigenous sovereignty, something that was included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action. However, nearly every First Nation in Alberta has openly rejected the Bill, along with many Conservative governments across Canada.
There's a stark difference between people who have real-life concerns based on facts, and those fear-mongering and spreading conspiracy theories.
Valid concerns remain on both sides, especially for those who have treaties with the Crown yet to be honoured.
Treaty Indians hold a distinct relationship with the Crown. This relationship allowed Canada to exist today, because our ancestors agreed to share the land. But Canada holds a legacy of ignoring Treaty agreements and imposing legislation that has left our nationhood fragmented.
WATCH | Andre Bear talks about international law and UNDRIP
A violent colonial legacy
There is a long, dark history of colonialism that can still be mitigated by honouring our original Treaty agreements.
One of the most destructive pieces of legislation is the Indian Act, which has breached our treaty and inherent rights since its implementation in 1876.
The Indian Act is the current legal relationship between Canada and First Nations. It was created to assimilate Indigenous peoples into Canadian society and assume total control over our nationhood. The Indian Act remains one of the most racist laws in the world. It still controls First Nations citizenship, governance and land in Canada to this day.
Let's hope that Bill C-15 will entirely contradict the Indian Act, and reset the relationship with Indigenous peoples to the original spirit and intent of the treaties.- Andre Bear
Many Treaty Indians are still traumatized by the violent colonial legacy of Canada. They will reject any policy that gives any impression of changing their environment, and rightfully so.
As self-determining nations, Treaty Indians have every right to reject colonial legislation. However, the Indian Act legally binds our nationhood as wards of the Crown. Before we realize true sovereignty or self-determination, we must get out of the Indian Act.
One way of doing that is through implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian law. Canada can take a step in the right direction by implementing Bill C-15 — which recognizes Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination — and then stepping out of our way.
Putting an end to assimilation and colonization
Bill C-15 is only the first step toward UNDRIP's implementation into Canadian law. This is about Canada ensuring its own laws align with international human rights standards. If we as Indigenous peoples are truly sovereign, we should not be threatened by that.
When you actually read Bill C-15, the preamble is about preparing government for the process of putting an end to assimilation and colonization.
"Whereas the Government of Canada rejects all forms of colonialism and is committed to advancing relations with Indigenous peoples that are based on good faith and on the principles of justice, democracy, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and respect for human rights," it says.
We would hope that Canada rejecting colonialism would mean rejecting the Doctrine of Discovery, Terra Nullius and the Indian Act. Maybe these should be specifically named in the legislation.
Whether you support Bill C-15 or not, Canada passing it would undeniably be an important time in our history. At one time Canada was against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Today it wants to implement UNDRIP into Canadian law.
Most importantly, let's hope that Bill C-15 will entirely contradict the Indian Act, and reset the relationship with Indigenous peoples to the original spirit and intent of the treaties.
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