National Inuit leader wants Indigenous rights commission to accompany promised UNDRIP bill
Indigenous leaders say they want a seat at the table of the federation
The federal government should create an Indigenous human rights commission as part of its proposed bill on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, says the leader of the national Inuit organization.
The Liberal government announced in December's throne speech that it hoped to pass legislation on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by the end of 2020.
The UN declaration sets minimum standards for how states interact with Indigenous Peoples.
The bill is one of several major promises on the reconciliation file made by the Trudeau government, along with holding a First Ministers meeting on Indigenous issues, implementing the Indigenous languages and child welfare laws and closing the infrastructure gap between Indigenous communities and the rest of Canada.
On the UNDRIP bill, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed said Indigenous people need a body that can rule on complaints when faced with violations of Indigenous rights that would be affirmed by the UNDRIP bill.
"We are hoping this legislation will be more ambitious than the previous iteration of the UNDRIP bill and that it will contain the creation of an Indigenous human rights commission or body that would ensure there is redress or recourse for Indigenous people in this country and a place to go where they are certain to be put as a priority," said Obed.
The previous Liberal government supported passage of a private member's bill on UNDRIP, tabled by former NDP MP Romeo Saganash. It died in the Senate.
Obed said the creation of an Indigenous human rights body would lead to real changes from the passage of the UNDRIP bill.
"Until we actually understand how we utilize that in Canada and how Indigenous peoples can use those rights on a day-to-day basis … then we are going to continue to have this empty debate about whether or not UNDRIP is a worthwhile tool," said Obed.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he hoped the federal government's proposed UNDRIP bill would build on the model recently passed by the British Columbia government and Saganash's failed bill.
"We need to see that co-operative process, working together with the Crown so we get it right," said Bellegarde.
"We have some tools and models to build on."
Métis National Council vice-president and national spokesperson David Chartrand said UNDRIP legislation should add clarity when it comes to addressing free, prior and informed consent "in the context of making it clear Indigenous and Métis governments have a role to play when we talk about Section 35 rights and natural resources that affect our citizens and our future," he said.
"Indigenous governments have a role to play in all sectors. When we talk about ... the future of our country, Indigenous governments need to have a role to play in how we intercede with each other's ideas and positions and at the same time find solutions to work together."
First Ministers meeting promised
All three Indigenous leaders are also eyeing a promised meeting between the prime minister and premiers on reconciliation in the coming year as an opportunity to bring Indigenous representatives as equal partners to the table of the federation.
In their mandate letters, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett were tasked with preparing for a First Ministers meeting on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
"I'm looking at reconciliation where the day will come when premiers will recognize and admit that we're not a lesser government, that we have governments that they must respect," said Chartrand.
Bellegarde said it's time for First Nations jurisdiction to be respected alongside federal, provincial and territorial jurisdiction and the promised First Ministers meeting would be a good place to start.
"That inherent right to self government, self determination has to be respected and there has to be room and space in Canada to respect our laws, our jurisdiction as well," said Bellegarde.
Issues at the table
Obed said he has little faith in getting any real work done on Indigenous issues at these types of meetings.
"Unfortunately, up until now, within these inter-governmental processes that really hasn't [made] a dent in the way we work together," said Obed.
"We are still summoned, brought to a table, told we have a certain amount of time and then excused. That is just an outdated way of thinking about Indigenous governance and leadership."
Obed said he'd like the promised First Ministers meeting to discuss the Calls for Justice by the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. The inquiry required all the provinces and territories to participate and its Calls for Justice cross jurisdictional lines.
"It is interesting there has not been a First Ministers meeting considered in relation to the MMIWG inquiry," said Obed.
Bellegarde said he hoped the promised meeting would include a discussion around the implementation of Bill C-92, the Indigenous child welfare law which is currently facing a legal constitutional challenge from Quebec.
"Some provinces are working well with First Nations leaders, others aren't," said Bellegarde.
"You have 12 months to work together to outline the program and plan and the strategy for our jurisdiction to be respected as well."
Leaders expect progress
Obed said he will be watching closely how the federal government implements the Indigenous languages law, which would create an Indigenous languages commissioner.
The final version of the law left out many Inuit concerns around support and protection of the Inuktut language, he said.
"There are certain provisions within the act … that we hope will bring back some of the level of ambition that was there at the beginning of the initiative," he said.
Bellegarde and Obed said the next year would be critical to gauge how the federal government fares on some major promises it has made already — like closing the infrastructure gap between Indigenous communities and the rest of Canada by 2030.
"When you deal with poverty and overcrowded housing and black mould and proper education and health, that is not only good for our people, that is good for Canada as a country," said Bellegarde.
"And that huge socio-economic gap that exists will start to close."
Obed said he's also looking to see some significant gains on the infrastructure front. He said 50 of 51 Inuit communities still rely on diesel power and he hoped to see some major progress on the federal government's commitment to get communities on cleaner energy.
"If we have not done something significant to that end by the end of this upcoming year, I will be quite concerned," said Obed.
The Métis National Council said developing health legislation is high on its agenda with Canada.
"Both governments deny who's responsible to deal with the Métis when it comes to health care," said Chartrand.
"Our people have been denied for decades on decades for services and now it's coming to roost where chronic illnesses cost a fortune in the health care system because now we're forced into hospitals instead of preventative care."