Since Canada officially agreed to support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2016 (after initially voting against it), little has been done to actually implement the Declaration.
Romeo Saganash’s Bill C-262 would change that. The bill is short and to the point. It would simply legislate a responsibility for the federal government to adopt and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as it has promised to do. Specifically the bill would require the federal government, in cooperation with Indigenous peoples, to:
- Make sure Canadian laws are in harmony with UNDRIP,
- Develop and implement a national action plan to achieve UNDRIP’s objectives, and
- Report annually to parliament on progress made on points 1 and 2.
The bill had its first reading in April 2016, and the second reading is expected in Fall 2017. In order to move on to more rigorous debate and a third reading where it could become legislation, the Bill needs a majority vote from the House of Commons at the second reading.
Churches all across Canada have voiced support for the Bill, some have even joined marches calling on MPs to vote in favour at the second reading. Our own Jodi Spargur, who founded a CBWC affiliated ministry, Healing at the Wounding Place, has come up with an overview of the Bill and its importance, and suggestions on what our churches can do to be part of it. Following is an adapted FAQ for those interested in the issues.
What is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)? Why is it important?
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a human rights instrument adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007—after more than two decades of negotiations between representatives of Indigenous peoples and UN member states. The Declaration is an opportunity to deepen and expand conversation about how we make decisions and about how we live well in this land together.
The Declaration describes “minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.” It covers a lot of aspects of life, particularly where Indigenous peoples’ ways of living, spiritual practices and distinct culture intersect with States and industry. The Declaration articulates their rights, and suggests ways for States and other organizations to interact with Indigenous peoples. It applies to the 350 million Indigenous peoples around the world, including the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada.
After initially voting against the Declaration, in 2016 Canada officially agreed to support it, “without qualification.”
At our 2017 Assembly, CBWC delegates voted to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in response to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
- Does the UN Declaration give Indigenous peoples new rights?
No. It affirms Indigenous peoples’ inherent, or pre-existing, collective human rights, as well as the individual human rights of Indigenous women, men and children. It applies existing human rights standards to the specific historical, cultural and social circumstances of Indigenous peoples.
While it does not automatically change Canadian law, courts (and Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments and human rights bodies) often rely on declarations to interpret human rights. The Declaration is an authoritative instrument to clarify, interpret and expand the meaning and scope of domestic laws.
- What is Bill C-262?
Bill C-262 is a private member’s bill, currently in draft form, that would ensure Canada’s laws are in harmony with the UN Declaration.
The bill affirms that adhering to the Declaration is central to Canada’s nation-to-nation reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for.
We believe that Bill C-262 is valuable encouragement for the Government of Canada to move forward on achieving the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- How will the UN Declaration help mend the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada?
The TRC calls the Declaration a framework for reconciliation and is “convinced that the UN Declaration provides the necessary principles, norms, and standards for reconciliation to flourish in twenty-first century Canada.” Of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action, no less than 16 lift up the Declaration, summoning governments, churches, businesses, law societies, libraries, and more to learn, adopt, comply with and/or implement its minimum standards.
In other words, if we desire the health, dignity, and well-being of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, implementing the UN Declaration is a critical way forward.
The UN Declaration can be considered a blueprint for justice, reconciliation, healing and peace. Throughout history, Indigenous peoples’ human rights have repeatedly been denied – the direct cause of the broken relationship that needs to be reconciled. To create a better future, Indigenous peoples human rights must be respected, promoted, and protected. The UN Declaration is an essential tool for governments, institutions and leaders to work in cooperation with Indigenous peoples to change the existing paradigm, reject colonialism, and ensure Indigenous peoples’ rights are honoured without discrimination.
- What does “free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)” mean?
Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) comes from Indigenous peoples’ inherent right to self-determination by affirming their right to say “yes” or “no” to resource projects that impact their lives and futures. FPIC requires that Indigenous peoples have access to all relevant information and sufficient time to make decisions based on their own forms of decision-making while free from coercion. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the “full consent” of Indigenous peoples is required on “very serious issues.”
Articles 10, 19, 27, 28,29.2, 30, 32.2 refer directly or indirectly to FPIC. In the Declaration, the term “veto” is not used. The facts, law and the rights of all concerned must be duly considered in all cases. When, after due process, Indigenous peoples say no to a development project, the project proponent has the option of judicial review, as would happen in any other type of similar situation. Projects may be stopped, changed, revised, rerouted – the options depend on the facts and the law in each case.
If a resource development project has support from some Indigenous communities and not others, companies must not exploit divisions by, for example, offering inducements to some communities. (Which is common practice currently.) In essence, if different Indigenous communities have different positions on a pipeline, for example, the route may need to be changed or the project otherwise modified to address concerns. Twenty-five yesses do not mean that five nos are not valid.
- What does it mean for churches to affirm the rights of Indigenous Peoples to their spiritual traditions?
Article 12 affirms that, “Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.”
Affirming rights to spiritual traditions speaks to two concerns. First, a need to respect other spiritual traditions especially in light of our history in Canada. Churches and governments in Canada criminalized Indigenous spiritual ceremonies like the Sundance and Potlatch, and used Indian Residential Schools to aggressively indoctrinate cultural and spiritual beliefs. Violating the rights of Indigenous Peoples access to their spiritual traditions is part of the colonial legacy. Respecting rights means sharing one’s faith, but not imposing one’s faith.
Secondly from a Christian perspective this right is also concerned with creating room for Indigenous cultural expressions of Christian faith for those who are converts to Christianity, remembering and defending the idea that Christian faith is not limited to a single cultural expression. The church is enriched through the diversity of all tongues, tribes and nations bringing their unique contributions to worship.
The right to practice spiritual traditions is an inherent right and is essential to the reconciliation process. It is one of the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world.
- Will implementing the Declaration be difficult?
Yes. The legacy of colonialism is deep and painful. Reconciliation is hard work emotionally, mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. We will need to learn history and spend time building relationships. We will have our assumptions challenged and be forced to face our fears. It takes courage to offer your voice and your action to the work of reconciliation, justice and peace-making. At the same time, the gifts of forgiveness, healing, hope and community are rooted in the God’s promises to be with us and to guide us.
8. How do I talk to my MP about this?
Meeting with your MP is an important part of participatory democracy. The aim of this meeting is to convince your MP, regardless of their party, that implementing UNDIRP is essential to reconciliation, and that Bill C-262 begins the process of making Canadian laws consistent with the Declaration. All MPs can and should be open to dialogue regarding the Declaration. If yours is already in support, you can affirm this action. If your MP has concerns about the Bill, it’s an opportunity to discuss their concerns and let them know they have constituents who support Bill C-262.
Plan a meeting
- Find out who your MP is. (Enter your postal code in the search bar)
- Phone their local office and request a meeting regarding Bill C-262.
Prepare for your meeting
- Get a few people together. Read the UN Declaration and Bill C-262 together.
- Discuss the parts that are particularly important to you, or which you have questions about. It is important that you address these together before your meeting. Write down the questions and discussion points you wish to raise with the MP. Make sure everyone who will be at the meeting is comfortable with these points.
- Assign speakers to address each point; this ensures everyone participates, the messaging is clear and no one on your team is surprised by what is being said.
- Prepare a half page document that summarizes your position to give to your MP. This summary should include: The names of the people on the delegation. The name of the church you attend. Why do you feel strongly about this issue? Why is the faith community involved in this matter?
Suggested Speaking Notes
- Acknowledge the territory you are from, and you are meeting on (if different).
- Explain your commitment to reconciliation.
- What is your understanding of Bill C-262? Make sure you really understand it. Here’s a video of Romeo Saganash talking about the Bill. His speech includes parts of his own story, which might add to your understanding of why UNDRIP and reconciliation are important.
- If your MP raises questions about the Declaration’s consistency with law, explain that your understanding of Bill C-262 is to address these concerns and establish a legislative point of entry for these issues to be resolved.
- If your MP raises questions about FPIC or the economy, address with the Q&A point #5 above.
- I support UNDRIP and its implementation. Do you?
- It is my understanding that private member’s bill C-262 implements the UNDRIP. Will you support this bill at second reading?
- If other members of your party do not support this bill, will you vote in support of it?
Tips for your meeting
- Arrive at least 15 minutes before your appointment.
- Always be polite and remain calm. Your MP is a person with hopes, fears, gifts and challenges just like you. Your MP may or may not agree with you, but becoming annoyed or confrontational will never achieve a positive meeting outcome. Respond to friendliness if it is offered. Be a strong but composed advocate.
- Be prepared for questions you haven’t anticipated. Decide as a group ahead of time who is best suited to field these kinds of questions.
- Do not take up the entire meeting time. After presenting your statement, and addressing your questions, allow your MP time to ask questions and express his or her views.
- If your MP doesn’t know the issue well, he or she may ask “What do you want me to do? Or What role can I play? Be prepared to suggest that he or she support Bill C-262 when it comes to a second reading. Ask him or her to raise questions about the bill at meetings with his or her party.
- Do not run longer than the time allowed for the meeting.
- Thank your MP for taking the time to meet with you. Make sure you give your MP the half page statement about who you are and what you have asked for.
- Take a photo with those who met with you. Send the photo and copies of responses to your church community and to CBWC.
- Tweet and do a Facebook post about your meeting.
- Send your MP a follow up email or letter: 1) reminding them who you are and when you met. 2) Thank them for meeting with you. 3) If your MP has made any commitments about the Bill, remind them of what they said.
This article was published in Volume 13, Issue 10 of Making Connections. Subscribe to the Making Connections monthly newsletter here