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All Canadians Should Champion Indigenous Rights And Bill C-262

When the government fails to fulfill its duty, citizens and people-led movements must hold it accountable

12/04/2017 16:18 EST | Updated 12/04/2017 16:31 EST

Every single one of us has a role to play in reconciliation, and tomorrow gives us that opportunity. Greenpeace has been trying to do its part by embedding a commitment to Indigenous rights in all we do. We are aware of the great potential for environmental justice as a result of meaningful alliances between environmentalists and Indigenous Peoples, and that such alliances can strengthen our collective capacities to advance the regeneration and protection of the water, oceans, forests and other species that we are all interdependent with.

For us, and all Canadians, reconciliation also means guaranteeing that First Nations, Inuit and Metis have the right to self-determination and free, prior, and informed consent, as embedded in the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP.)

On December 5, Bill C-262 will be debated in Parliament during its second reading. This important private member's bill is defined as "an Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." Championed by Abitibi-Baie James-Nunavik-Eeyou Member of Parliament, Romeo Saganash, the Bill would commit the government to respect UNDRIP regardless of changing governments and priorities. If adopted, it would be history-making.

ROGERIO BARBOSA/AFP/Getty Images
Romeo Saganash gives a speech to members of the Nation of Mistassini in Mistassini on April 21, 2011.

A few weeks back, all signs pointed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government voting against the bill, having previously said that this same Bill C-262 was "unworkable" in Canadian law, preferring a made-in-Canada approach. In May 2016, Canada officially removed its objector status to the UN Declaration, but has yet to adopt it.

Yet, on November 20, 2017, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced that the Liberals will be supporting this bold move to formally implement UNDRIP.

This past September, ahead of the 10-year anniversary celebration of the United Nations Declaration, the federal government implemented changes to the Federal bureaucracy handling Indigenous and Northern Affairs. This well-timed point-scoring move is what Trudeau described as "helping to move toward a real nation-to-nation partnership instead of a 'paternalistic, colonial' approach to service delivery."

It's safe to say that these changes can only become meaningful in the process of reconciliation if UNDRIP is fully adopted and reflected by Canadian legislation. Only then could Trudeau claim that Canada is stepping away from its colonial approach.

The protection of our natural habitat is essential to the cultures and ways of life of Indigenous Peoples, and should be of concern to all Canadians.

Adoption of the Declaration into law should not be seen as onerous. Quite simply, the Declaration reaffirms that Indigenous peoples have all the collective and individual rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in existing long standing international human rights laws. By applying UNDRIP, Canada would finally be required to update our legislation in line with internationally recognized human rights obligations.

Last summer's mitigated decision of the Supreme Court of Canada (Hamlet of Clyde River et al. v. Petroleum Geo-Services Inc. (PGS) et al.) may have shaped a positive step forward in the respect of Indigenous Peoples' rights for recognizing the right to self determine what types of development happen on their lands and in their waters. The protection of our natural habitat is essential to the cultures and ways of life of Indigenous Peoples, and should be of concern to all Canadians.

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The inherent link between our ecological health and well-being with our shared environmental future is irrefutable. Unfortunately, when the government fails to fulfill its duty, citizens and people-led movements must hold it accountable. But this could now change.

True reconciliation — which must go beyond loose consultation, compensation and accommodation — requires true consent. We are hopeful that on December 5, Canada will take a meaningful step in the right direction, and adopt Bill C-262, to recognize, respect and reinforce Indigenous Peoples' rights, and ensure that free, prior, and informed consent is an integral part of our democracy.

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