UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a critical priority for First Nations. The Assembly of First Nations has successfully advocated for a federal commitment to introduce implementation legislation in 2020. That commitment was reconfirmed in the Throne Speech that opened the current session of Parliament.

The UN Declaration affirms the pre-existing individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, including the right to self-determination. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada stated the UN Declaration provides “the necessary principles, norms, and standards for reconciliation to flourish in twenty-first-century Canada”. Federal legislation is crucial to ensure that implementation can move ahead in a coordinated, collaborative, and principled way.

“I won’t be happy until I hear two words: Royal Assent.”

National Chief Perry Bellegarde, September 23, 2020

Implementation legislation must be consistent with the essential elements of former private Member’s Bill C-262 (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act). Bill C-262 was passed by the House of Commons in 2018. It would be part of Canadian law today except that time ran out while the bill was still before the Canadian Senate.

The AFN is calling for federal legislation to follow the model of C-262 and contain, at minimum, the same essential provisions. This includes requiring the government to work with First Nations to create a national implementation plan and to review federal laws and policies to ensure that they uphold the Declaration.

First Nations successfully advocated for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act to be adopted by the provincial government in British Columbia in 2019.

AFN Resolution 86-2019

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AFN Resolution 37-2007

Ratifying the Declaration

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Canadians strongly support the UN Declaration
and support legislation for its implementation.

Background

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the UN Declaration) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007.

States and Indigenous peoples from around the world worked together for decades to achieve this success. First Nations played a key role. Many of our people are acknowledged globally as international law experts.

The UN Declaration does not create new rights. It affirms pre-existing or inherent rights of Indigenous peoples. These human rights include the collective right to self-determination. The UN Declaration sets out minimum standards that are necessary to uphold these rights and ensure ‘the dignity, survival and well-being’ of Indigenous peoples around the world.

Canada is now part of nine consensus resolutions of the United Nations affirming the UN Declaration and calling on states to work with Indigenous peoples to develop national action plans and other measures to support implementation.

In addition, Call to Action 43 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) calls on federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the UN Declaration as the framework for reconciliation. Call to Action 44 calls on Canada to develop a national action plan and other measures to support the implementation of the UN Declaration. The federal government has expressed its support for all 94 Calls to Action of the TRC.

The National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also called for implementation of the UN Declaration as part of a rights-based response to the horrific violence faced by First Nations women, girls and two spirit persons.

Every day, First Nations are exercising rights affirmed in the UN Declaration, including the right to self-determination. First Nations also frequently reference the UN Declaration in decision-making, policy statements and in exercising inherent and Treaty rights.

The Declaration already has legal effect in Canada. The AFN has used the Declaration in litigation to ensure that domestic laws are interpreted consistently with the provisions of the Declaration. In critical cases concerning issues such as services to First Nations, Canadian courts and tribunals have looked at Canada’s Constitutional obligations and the interpretation of other domestic laws through the lens of the Declaration.
The AFN has passed numerous resolutions in support of the full and meaningful implementation of the UN Declaration including development of a federal legislative framework to support implementation (e.g.AGA Resolution 28/2016, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 10 Year Anniversary, AGA Resolution 97/2017, Support for Bill C-262).

“The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.”

Principles of Reconciliation, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

The AFN’s Advocacy for the UN Declaration

The drafting of the UN Declaration and its adoption by UN General Assembly was the result of decades of work by Indigenous leaders from around the world. The AFN was part of that long struggle. The AFN has continued to work for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration in all jurisdictions in Canada.

In Honouring Promises, the AFN’s agenda for the 2019 federal election, the AFN urged the next government to act within two years to “introduce a government Bill supported by First Nations to implement the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples that is at least as strong as Bill C-262.” After the election, new mandate letters for the federal Minister of Justice and the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations included the commitment to introduce co-developed legislation to implement the UN Declaration by the end of 2020.

At the December 2019 Special Chiefs Assembly, the AFN adopted Resolution 86/19, resolving to pursue a collaborative process with the federal government to ensure implementation legislation “fully respects the intent of the Declaration, and establishes Bill C- 262 as the floor, rather than the ceiling.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has given even greater emphasis and urgency to the need for effective protection and implementation of First Nations rights. As part of the AFN’s advocacy to press for early tabling of UN Declaration implementation legislation, the National Chief has engaged with government and industry to explain why, rather delaying introduction of implementation legislation, Canada should embrace the UN Declaration as a crucial part of its pandemic response and recovery plans.

“The United Nations Declaration doesn’t create any new rights. These rights are inherent, and they’re pre-existing. The UN Declaration affirms Indigenous peoples’ human rights. What we’re talking about now is realizing those rights, implementing those rights, enforcing those rights, and finding a better way to work together so that we don’t have to spend millions of dollars and waste years fighting in courts instead of advancing reconciliation. Closing the socio-economic gap for First Nations and building a stronger economy and a better Canada for us all is what this means.”

National Chief Perry Bellegarde Testimony before the House of Commons Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, March 2018

Next Steps

  • The AFN expects the federal government to introduce implementation legislation as a top legislative priority in this session of Parliament.

  • The National Chief continues to meet with Ministers, Members of Parliament and Senators, and encourage the Canadian public to express support for the passage of implementation legislation in the current session of Parliament.

  • The AFN is ready to work the Government of Canada on the crucial next step of developing a National Implementation Plan.

  • The AFN encourages all Canadians and civil society to learn about, respect, and uphold the rights set out in the UN Declaration.

Assembly of First Nations Resource Materials

“…. a crucial step towards reconciliation was taken as Bill C-262 passed second reading in Canada’s Parliament. Reconciliation is a non-partisan issue. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a central part of reconciliation. First Nations and Canadians support legislation to implement the UN Declaration. All parliamentarians should be part of this act of reconciliation as a matter of human rights. Bill C-262 would require the federal government to take concrete action with First Nations to co-develop a national action plan and work together to ensure the laws of Canada are consistent with the Declaration. Bill C-262 is about working together to build a stronger country for all of us. We look forward to ongoing dialogue with First Nations and Canadians as we work towards the adoption of this Bill.”

National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Background: Bill C-262

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act

Bill C-262 was tabled by then NDP MP Romeo Saganash for first reading on April 21, 2016. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act was intended to ensure that Canada works with Indigenous peoples to make federal law consistent with the UN Declaration and to develop a National Action Plan for implementation of the Declaration.

To much applause, Bill C-262 passed third reading in the House of Commons (with 206 voting in favour and 79 against) on May 30, 2018. Unfortunately, that session of Parliament ended before the Senate could vote on the Bill and it could be passed into law.

History of AFN’s Work to Support and Advance UN Declaration Implementation

In 2016, following a request from National Chief Bellegarde to Prime Minister Trudeau, Canada expressed its unqualified support for the UN Declaration at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Under the Canada-AFN MOU on Joint Priorities, signed on June 12, 2017, Canada committed to “work in partnership on measures to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including co-development of a national action plan and discussion of proposals for a federal legislative framework on implementation”.

In 2017, AFN brought these implementation issues to the attention of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). In August 2017, CERD recommended that Canada adopt a legislative framework, a national action plan and also reform national laws, policies and regulations to bring them into compliance with the UN Declaration.

In September 2017, in an unprecedented address to the United Nations, the Prime Minister acknowledged Canada’s shortcomings in meeting its obligations to Indigenous peoples while re-stating Canada’s commitment to the implementation of the UN Declaration. The Prime Minister acknowledged the Declaration is not merely an aspirational document. He said, “We know that the world expects Canada to strictly adhere to international human rights standards – including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – and that is what we expect of ourselves, too.”

In September 2017, National Chief Perry Bellegarde wrote to the Minister of Justice to urge the government to express its support for Bill C-262. In November 2017, National Chief Perry Bellegarde wrote to each Member of Parliament and Senator requesting their support for Bill C-262.

On November 20, 2017, then Minister Wilson-Raybould announced government support of Private Members Bill C-262.

In 2019 the House of Commons passed a unanimous motion calling Bill C-262 a “critical” piece of legislation that had been “duly passed by the House of Commons” and which “should be passed into law at the earliest opportunity.”

Despite this urging, Bill did not come to a vote in the Senate before that session of Parliament ended. As a result, Bill C-262 ‘died on the Order Paper’ meaning that the process to pass that specific bill into law had come to an end.

In 2019 and 2020, the Trudeau government has publicly committed to introducing government legislation that based on C-262 and which will take the provisions of C-262 as the ‘floor.’ December 2019 mandate letters for the Federal Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and the Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations to introduce co-developed legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the end of 2020.

Meanwhile, in November 2019, the British Columbia legislature adopted – by consensus – its own implementation legislation, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, based to a large extent on Bill C-262. The Assembly of First Nations BC supported this legislation being brought forward.

Statements of Support for Bill C-262

Coalition on the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples

“The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.” (Principles of Reconciliation, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada)

“Advancing reconciliation requires bringing Canadian law and policy into line with international human rights law, which has condemned doctrines of superiority, including discovery and terra nullius, as colonial and racist. Yet the racist assumptions and impacts of these doctrines live on in aspects of Canadian law and policy. They are evident in underlying assumptions that assume First Nations are “claimants” in our own lands and that treat First Nations as somehow lacking sovereignty. The assumptions and impacts of these racist doctrines must be uprooted. The path forward will require Canada to acknowledge the truth of our pre-existing and continuing sovereignty as self-determining peoples.”

National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Contact Policy Staff

Amber Potts
Director


Bertina Lou
Policy Analyst


Daniel Wilson
Associate Director


Jordan Fischer
Senior Research and Policy Analyst


Kalyne Beaudry
Junior Policy Analyst


Khamarie Desjarlais
Administrative Assistant


Laila Kasuri
Special Advisor


Lisa Smith
Senior Policy Analyst


Natasha Beedie
Senior Policy Coordinator


Vivian O’Donnell
Special Advisor


Sid LeeImplementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples