UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

On December 3rd, 2020 – after years of advocacy by the First Nations, the National Chief, Regional Chiefs, and the Assembly of First Nations – Minister of Justice David Lametti tabled Bill C-15, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. If passed by Parliament, Bill C-15 will require this government – and future governments – to work collaboratively with First Nations to implement the UN Declaration through concrete changes to law, policy and programmes. Bill C-15 builds on the implementation model set out in Romeo Saganash’s private Member’s bill, Bill C-262, which was passed by the House of Commons in 2018 before being blocked by stalling tactics in the Senate.

As mandated by the AFN Executive in Motion #5-2020 the AFN held a two day National First Nations Leadership Forum on Bill C-15 on February 10-11, 2021.  Over the two half-day sessions hundreds of First Nations leaders discussed this important legislation from a diversity of perspectives.  First Nations leadership was clear that the proposed legislation can and should be improved.  First Nations will continue to hold governments accountable in respecting our human rights, our inherent jurisdiction, and our inherent right to self-determination and our right to self-government.

A recording of the Forum is available here: (English Only)

On February 17, 2021 Bill C-15 officially entered second reading in the House of Commons.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee (INAN) has started hearing witnesses on Bill C-15.

INAN Committee information is here:

AFN Resolution 86-2019

Support for Federal Legislation to Create a Framework to Implement the UN Declaration

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AFN Resolution 97-2017

Support for Bill C-262

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AFN Resolution 37-2007

Ratifying the Declaration

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Information and Discussion Guide-Bill C-15

January 2021

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Implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Myths and Misrepresentations

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“We need to be clear that while federal legislation is very important, it is not the end goal. The end goal is realization of our inherent rights. Passing Bill C-15 is how we get to a process with real potential to change the way the federal government operates in respect to our rights. As First Nations, it will be up to us to determine how we want to engage with this implementation process, and what we want to accomplish at the national level and in each of our Nations.”

National Chief Perry Bellegarde , February 10, 2021

Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a critical priority for First Nations.

In December 2019, the AFN Annual General Assembly gave the AFN a clear mandate to ensure that Bill C-262, Romeo Saganash’s private Member’s bill, would be the floor for any new federal implementation legislation. In other words, any new bill should follow the model of C-262 and be at least as strong or stronger than C-262 in its protection of First Nations rights.

Bill C-262 (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act) 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.

In a public statement responding to the tabling of Bill C-15, National Chief Perry Bellegarde stated that while AFN Chiefs and legal experts would need time to examine the new Bill in detail, it was clear that the proposed federal implementation legislation met the test of building on the ‘floor’ of Bill C-262.

Canadians widely support the UN Declaration

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 numerous 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. For example,

“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 86/2019, 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 explained that Canada must embrace the UN Declaration to ensure an inclusive, and human rights-based, approach to 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

  • Bill C-15 will be referred to House of Commons Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs for study. The Committee process provides and opportunity to strengthen and clarify Bill C-15.

  • More information about the INAN study of Bill C-15, including links to submit a brief to the Committee and watch previous Committee Meetings are here: https://www.ourcommons.ca/Committees/en/INAN/StudyActivity?studyActivityId=11156647

  • The AFN will continue providing regular updates and analysis as the Bill progresses through the Parliament and the Senate.

Government of Canada 2020 Engagement Materials

Resource Materials

The following resources have been developed to support First Nations in discussions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and efforts to ensure its full and meaningful implementation.

“…. 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


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Administrative Assistant


Laila Kasuri
Sr. Policy Analyst


Lisa Smith
Senior Policy Analyst


Natasha Beedie
Senior Policy Coordinator


Vivian O’Donnell
Special Advisor


Celso CercadoImplementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples