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The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007 after 25 years of dialogue and negotiation between Indigenous peoples and UN member states. Inuit should be proud of the role we have played as active participants in this process since it began in 1982. The UNDRIP affirms the wide range of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous peoples. It provides a framework for action aimed at the full protection and implementation of the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Canada was one of four countries that initially voted against the UNDRIP in 2007 but in November 2010 reversed its position and announced its conditional endorsement of the document. Despite this “partial” endorsement, the past Conservative government did not take steps to implement the UNDRIP.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) mentions the UNDRIP in 16 of its 94 Calls to Action. Call 43 calls upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the UNDRIP as the framework for reconciliation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, instructs her to prioritize implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

On May 10, 2016, Minister Bennett announced in a speech to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York that Canada is “now a full supporter of the Declaration without qualification.” However the speech includes statements about Canada’s responsibilities under the UNDRIP that suggest no departure from the past Conservative government’s position of inaction.

The Minister went on to state that Canada believes that its existing constitutional obligations under section 35, the section of the Constitution that protects Inuit land claims agreements and other treaties and Aboriginal rights, “serve to fulfill all of the principles of the Declaration.” These statements misrepresent the scope of section 35 as being the same as the international human rights affirmed by the UNDRIP. This interpretation suggests that Canada will not take action to implement this important human rights instrument despite calls to do so by Indigenous Canadians.

The UNDRIP is significant for Inuit because it affirms rights that are not explicitly affirmed or clarified within our land claims agreements, such as the right of Indigenous peoples to establish and control our own educational systems and institutions.

ITK has written a position paper outlining Inuit concerns to the Government of Canada that will be released in November. It insists that a federal legislative framework, drafted in collaboration with Inuit and other Indigenous peoples, is needed to begin the process of implementing the UNDRIP. We are urging Canada to work in partnership with Inuit to create the specific mechanisms or pathway by which to implement the UNDRIP.

ITK will continue doing all we can to ensure that Canada’s words of support translate into actions that help move our society toward reconciliation for Inuit while implementing our hard-fought human rights.

Natan Obed
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami