APTN National News
OTTAWA –Six months after a promise in the Speech from the Throne and three years after it was adopted, First Nations leaders in Canada continue to call on the Stephen Harper government to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
First Nations leaders chose Monday to again issue their pleas on the third anniversary of the international document which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on Sept. 13, 2007.
Canada, along with New Zealand, Australia and the U.S., initially refused to sign the declaration on the types of rights countries should afford their indigenous populations. Australia and New Zealand have both signed the document, while the US has said it would review the position.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised in the Speech from the Throne on March 3 that Canada would give a qualified endorsement of the declaration.
The Conservatives are facing pressure from the Assembly of First Nations to endorse the declaration unconditionally.
“Canada’s full endorsement of the UN Declaration will be important not as the culmination of our efforts, but as the beginning of a new era where we work together as true partners to chart a new approach, new laws, policies and practices and a new path,” said Atleo, in a statement. “This is the relationship affirmed in our original treaties, in our inherent rights and Aboriginal title and it is the relationship that will guide us to a better future.”
At least one First Nations leader expressed frustration with the Harper government.
“We have been repeating the same message for three years. It is a shame that Canada has lost its international reputation as a major defender of human rights by its failure to respect the rights of the First Peoples within its own territories,” said Ghislain Picard, who heads the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador. “We are still waiting to see this commitment become reality.”
The government is concerned with Section 26 of the declaration. It states that indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan’s office issued a statement saying the government would sign onto the declaration.
“Canada supports the overall aspirations of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and believes endorsement will build on our commitment towards a stronger and more respectful relationship with Aboriginal peoples,” said the statement.
Last April, during question period in the House of Commons,Duncan, then-parliamentary secretary for Indian Affairs, said that the declaration went against the country’s laws.
“We are not prepared to sign on to this non-binding document because it is inconsistent with our Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the National Defence Act, Supreme Court rulings, policies under which we negotiate treaties, and does not account for third party interests,” said Duncan, at the time. “This declaration does not balance the rights of all Canadians. Canada is a world leader on this issue and one of the few nations which provides for constitutionally entrenched aboriginal rights.