Indigenous activist joins MP Saganash on national tour to promote UNDRIP bill

Academic Leah Gazan has been taking a break from the classroom to travel across the country with MP Romeo Saganash.

Bill aiming to make UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples part of Canadian law

Leah Gazan has joined NDP MP Romeo Saganash on a national tour to promote Bill C-262. (Leah Gazan / Facebook)

Academic Leah Gazan has been taking a break from the classroom to travel across the country with MP Romeo Saganash.

The university instructor and activist has been meeting with Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups, students, unions, legal experts and religious groups — in Winnipeg, Ottawa and Montreal — trying to drum up support for Bill C-262.

That's the private member's bill tabled by Saganash, calling on Canada to to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), into Canadian law.

"It's not OK that our fundamental human rights as Indigenous people are always up for debate. The Liberal government promised to implement all calls to action coming out of the TRC report and this bill provides a way forward to do that," Gazan said.

Gazan, Lakota from Wood Mountain Lakota Nation, Sask., is an Indigenous studies instructor at the University of Winnipeg.

Saganash had already been travelling quite extensively, meeting with leadership, religious, and grassroots groups. And according to Gazan, the bill has been "receiving overwhelming support" on the tour.

In a speech last week at the Assembly of First Nations' Annual General Assembly, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that UNDRIP was "unworkable."

And then later said the government supports all articles of the declaration "without reservation." 

Gazan is hoping that the government takes a stronger stance.

"They don't seem to have a clear position. They need to clarify their position," she said.

"I think they certainly made the Indian Act, which violates human rights and Indigenous rights, workable. For over 100 years, they've made communities living in destitute poverty workable. I think what's unworkable is continuing to allow Indigenous people to live at rates of poverty that has been noted by the international community. I think that's unworkable."

'Canadians want to see a better Canada'

"[Canadians] need to know that much of UNDRIP is already in Canadian law. Many Canadians are unaware of it. It's a document that protects fundamental human rights of Indigenous people — but just basic human rights that most Canadians already enjoy," said Gazan.

"Things like protection of culture and language. Access to education, protection of Indigenous rights, but also an honouring of historical agreements, upon which this country was founded."

Gazan believes that this country is changing.

"Canadians want to see a better Canada where human rights are enjoyed and certainly this bill will ensure that that happens moving forward as recommended by the TRC."

'Priority is the end result' says Saganash

Saganash hopes to keep the federal government accountable on their election promises.​
NDP MP Romeo Saganash hopes to be able to work with government on adopting UNDRIP. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"They need to be clear on Bill C-262 because the Liberals have promised to adopt and implement UNDRIP as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended under calls to action 43 and 44."

He also sees the bill as less of a partisan issue, and hopes to be able to work with the government on adopting UNDRIP into Canadian law.

"In the spirit of collaboration, I proposed that the Liberals co-sponsor the bill. I don't mind if it's somebody [else's] bill, my priority is the end result of what this bill is going to do in this country."

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit for three years. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

With files from Canadian Press