On June 21, 2021, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act was passed into law. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UNDRIP) consists of 46 articles recognizing the basic human rights of Indigenous people including rights to self-determination. The Declaration includes articles affirming the right of Indigenous people to create their own education systems, receive restitution for stolen lands, and participate in all decision-making that affects their interests. Canada has ratified UNDRIP, indicating its consent to be bound by its provisions.
The new Federal legislation is another important step forward, in that it now provides concrete means for implementing UNDRIP into Canadian laws, and giving substance to Canadian ratification. It binds the federal government, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples, to take all measures necessary to ensure federal laws are consistent with UNDRIP, to develop an action plan for achieving the goals of UNDRIP, and to report annually on progress.
“From an international perspective, Canada’s implementation legislation is a landmark achievement. Since the global adoption of the Declaration, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly re-affirmed the obligation of all states to fully implement its provisions. This Act provides an important example to the international community of how to fulfill this obligation in a way that is concrete, practical, and wholly consistent with the rights framework of the Declaration itself.” (Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot, Canada Research Chair of Global and Indigenous Rights and Politics; 2021 appointee to the United Nations Expert body on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).
The Act also responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #43 and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girl’s Calls for Justice.
The centre piece of the legislation, the action plan, must include measures to address injustices, combat prejudice, and eliminate all forms of violence, racism, and discrimination against Indigenous peoples. It must also include steps to advocate for and promote mutual respect and understanding through human rights education.
The action plan is to be developed within two years after Section 6 of the Act comes into force. The Federal government has committed to broad and inclusive engagement with Indigenous people in its development. It must be tabled in Parliament and be made available to the Canadian people. The plan is to include measures for monitoring its implementation, including any review or amendment of the plan.
While the full implications of this new legislation remains unclear, it at least provides a clear mechanism for accountability and implementation for the federal government’s obligations under UNDRIP. This is another advancement towards recognition of treaty rights and the preservation of language, culture and control over matters relating to all aspects of decision making affecting Indigenous peoples.
“Indigenous peoples have worked, over the course of many decades, to advance the UN Declaration. It will be crucial going forward that we set aside myths and misrepresentations about the Declaration and its implications and instead draw on the considerable expertise that has been developed over these long years of advocacy.” (Grand Chief Abel Bosum, Grand Council of the Crees of Northern Quebec (Eeyou Istchee) and President of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government)
Submitted by Lauren Bates and Marion Roberts