The 2010 Federal Throne Speech of the Canadian government hinted at a shift in Canada’s position on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It reads: “We are a country with an Aboriginal heritage. A growing number of states have given qualified recognition to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Our Government will take steps to endorse this aspirational document in a manner fully consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws.”
The UNDRIP adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1992, was signed by all member countries except 4: New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States. These countries have the most indigenous peoples in their territories, and certain language (such as “peoples” and “self-determination”) left these States’ governments feeling skiddish about implementing the Declaration. Since then, Australia and New Zealand have changed their position from “no” to “yes,” leaving Canada and the United States in the spotlight as the 2 that won’t sign on.
That’s why the recent throne speech in Canada is so exciting to some: if Canada signs, then the U.S. will not want to be the sole refuser of the Declaration (so the logic goes). However, we shouldn’t jump the gun just yet. The wording of the speech itself is vague at best. It calls the Declaration an “aspirational” document and that it will “take steps” to endorse it. These things, unfortunately, can mean nothing. Endorsing and supporting a declaration is a far cry from implementing those standards in policy decisions.
My colleague Tiffany Waters and I attended the North American Indigenous People’s Caucus to the UN Permanent Forum in Edmonton, Alberta earlier this month at the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. In preparation for the 9th Session of the Permanent Forum next month in New York, participants discussed the policy obstacles in both the U.S. and Canada with regards to the UNDRIP. Members of the Caucus were not wholly impressed with the wording of the Throne speech, but did hope that it would urge the Obama administration to move more quickly in formulating a position on the Declaration.
Tribal nations in Canada have been rallying the federal government to adopt the Declaration. Other than applying that kind of pressure, what really needs attention are the “government-to-government” by which federal and tribal governments communicate with each other. Tribal governments need to initiate the creation of an intergovernmental framework with the federal government which will be the means to negotiation mutually-beneficial policies, instead of consultation policy (which essentially means “we talk, you listen”).