Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug opposes federal government's proposal to implement UNDRIP
First Nation says Bill C-15 relies on 'false and racist premise' that Canada 'discovered' the lands
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) is urging the Canadian government to begin dialogue with the First Nation in northwestern Ontario about its plans to implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), saying the current proposal outlined in Bill C-15 is "based upon a false and racist premise."
Chief Donny Morris, who went to jail in 2008 along with five others from KI for protesting mineral exploration on their lands, sent a letter outlining his concerns to the Prime Minister on January 20, adding his voice to a number of Indigenous leaders across the country that have opposed the federal government's long-awaited attempt to implement UNDRIP.
"KI asserts that the proposed Bill is simply a new form of distraction to cloak the failure of Canada to address the land question in a just and honourable way, and frankly KI is fed up with the false promises Canada has offered us," the letter reads.
UNDRIP was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly back in 2007, laying out a framework that sets out minimum standards "for the survival, dignity and well-being" and guarantees the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people around the world. At the time, the Canadian government was one of four countries to vote against the declaration.
In December 2020, federal ministers of justice and Crown-Indigenous relations stood alongside the national leaders of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and the Metis National Council to introduce Bill C-15. The government said the proposed legislation would guide them to change laws and develop action plans to implement the declaration, thereby protecting the rights of Indigenous people to non-discrimination and self-government.
Bill C-15 based on 'racist' doctrine of discovery
But Chief Morris says the Bill is based on the mistaken assumption that Canada has ownership over the land and has the authority to hand out title and rights to the land because European settlers discovered unoccupied land.
But the chief says this idea that the lands were empty when settlers arrived, commonly referred to as the concept of terra nullius, is wrong.
"I know my roots are here. We have findings of skeletons dating for 5,000 - 7,000 years old, which we have in our possessions. So there's no doubt we were here."
He adds the doctrine of discovery, or the idea that the Canadian government has authority over Indigenous lands just because the Pope "proclaimed it," is racist and presumes the superiority of the Catholic religion over that of Indigenous peoples.
"In my culture, our Creator is Kitchi Manitou, which is the same thing as God. [Kitchi Manitou] gave us the land, so [another] God cannot give man our land," Chief Morris said in an interview with CBC.
His letter adds, "Kitchi Manitou the Creator put our people on our Homelands prior to any other peoples or Nations, and upon this basis we claim a superior right than Canada."
Chief Morris' letter adds that these "racist premises … provide that our inherent rights to our Homelands, and the accompanying natural resources, are subservient to the Crown's presumed underlying title to our Homelands and natural resources."
"Ontario is, and remains stolen land, and the proposed UNDRIP legislation does nothing to change that."
Proposed legislation 'domesticates' Indigenous rights in Canada
Chief Morris says one of his biggest concerns is the way Bill C-15 waters down the significance of UNDRIP.
"There's a whole lot of land that we believe is ours, and that's what we want the government to clear up," Chief Morris said.
He added that the United Nations declaration holds a lot of promise for his First Nation when it comes to guaranteeing self-governance, rights to their traditional territory and a meaningful role in decisions about the land as well as natural resource development and protection.
But "to really support this declaration, [the government can't] just impose it's laws and policies on KI."
Terence Sakohianisaks Douglas, a lawyer who worked with KI to draft the letter to the Prime Minister, says the letter essentially domesticates the rights set out in UNDRIP.
Governments can set aside such rights or can infringe on such rights if they can show a justification for doing so.- Terence Sakohianisaks Douglas, legal counsel for KI
"Taking these rights from the international perspective, where these are supposed to be universal human rights, and then putting them into the box of Section 35 is very much watered down, because they can still be manipulated. They can still be controlled by the government and the courts."
Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution recognizes and affirms the rights of "Aboriginal peoples."
But Douglas explains that there are a series of court cases setting out rules about how those rights — some of which include rights to logging, fishing, hunting, culture and land title — are to be understood and applied under Canadian law.
"And one of the major things I find disturbing is that governments can set aside such rights or can infringe on such rights if they can show a justification for doing so," said Douglas.
Chief Morris asking feds to meet with KI, not just AFN
The chief of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug also said that conversations with the Assembly of First Nations to shape Bill C-15 is not good enough and called for the federal government to meet with KI leaders to discuss the governance of their land.
"The Assembly of First Nations … they're not right holders. They're supposed to be advocating, not making rules with a bureaucratic system to get a document ready that is going to be suitable for everybody," said Chief Morris.
"The government doesn't want to sit down with us, within our own homelands, to really finalize how we should govern ourselves, he added. "And this is what it's all about … governing our territory ourselves."
Neither the Ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations nor the Ministry of Justice responded to a request for comment.