The Crees have been active in international politics for many years. Most prominent of these actions was the fight against Hydro-Quebec’s proposed Great Whale project.
As a result of this confrontation, we are known in the United States, Europe, South American countries and Japan, among others. The Crees have also made numerous submissions to the United Nations, the World Court and have seen legislation in other countries that affect our lives.
Ted Moses, the Cree foreign Ambassador, is a recognized non-voting member of the United Nations. Billy Diamond, when he was Grand Chief, met with the Pope against the wishes of the Canadian government. This visit to the Vatican was important because only heads of sovereign states are called to meet with this religious leader.
The International Year of the Indigenous Peoples in 1993 has passed and gone. Nothing of real importance came out of it. At least nothing we as natives could see.
Now indigenous peoples are about to be given an entire decade starting this December 10,1994. That’s right, 10 years in which something better for indigenous peoples will hopefully happen. But this isn’t the only thing planned for Natives this year at the United Nations.
At the United Nations there is a document you should be aware of. It is the Draft Declaration As Agreed Upon By The Members Of The Working Croup At Its Eleventh Session.
This is a draft declaration of the international rights of indigenous peoples. This is something that will affect you as a Native.
We all know there will be attempts to water the declaration down by non-Native governments. However since they are writing this with Natives in mind, you should be aware of what they presently consider your international rights. At least for now.
It is highly probable that this will be presented in the United Nations General Assembly this year.
Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
AFFIRMING that indigenous peoples are equal in dignity and rights to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such,
AFFIRMING also that all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage of humankind,
AFFIRMING further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating the superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin, religious, ethic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust,
REAFFIRMING also that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights, should be free of discrimination of any kind,
CONCERNED that indigenous peoples have been deprived of their human rights and fundamental freedoms, resulting, inter alia, in their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests,
RECOGNIZING the urgent need to respect and promote inherent rights and characteristics of indigenous peoples, especially their right to their lands, territories and resources, which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies,
WELCOMING the fact that indigenous peoples are organizing themselves for political, economic, social and cultural enhancement and in order to bring to an end to all forms of discrimination and oppression wherever they occur,
CONVINCED that control by indigenous peoples over developments affecting them and their lands, territories and resources will enable them to maintain and strengthen their institutions, cultures and traditions, and to promote their development in accordance with their aspirations and needs,
RECOGNIZING also that respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to a sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment,
EMPHASIZING the need for demilitarization of the lands and territories of indigenous peoples, which will contribute to peace, economic and social progress and development, understanding and friendly relations among nations and peoples of the world,
RECOGNIZING in particular the right of indigenous families and communities to retain shared responsibility for the upbringing, training, education and well-being of their children,
RECOGNIZING also that indigenous peoples have the right freely to determine their own relationships with States in a spirit of coexistence, mutual benefit and full respect,
CONSIDERING that treaties, agreements and other arrangements between States and indigenous peoples are properly matters of international concern and responsibility,
ACKNOWLEDGING that the Charter of the United Nations, the International Convent on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights affirm the fundamental importance of the right of self-determination of all peoples, by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,
BEARING in mind that nothing in this declaration may be used to deny any peoples their right to self-determination,
ENCOURAGING States to comply with and effectively implement all international instruments, in particular those related to human rights, as they apply to indigenous peoples, in consultation and cooperation with the peoples concerned,
EMPHASIZING that the United Nations has an important and continuing role to play in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples,
BELIEVING that this declaration is a further important step forward for the recognition, promotion and protection of the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples and in the development of relevant activities of the United Nations in this field,
SOLEMNLY proclaims the following United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples…
But what does it mean?
THE Declaration continues on and has 45 articles. These articles spell out the specifics and expand on the rights and freedoms outlined above.
But just what do they mean to indigenous peoples?
Does this give indigenous peoples the right to self-determination?
Yes, the draft says it outright, as well as saying that by virtue of the right to self-determination, we have other rights. Indigenous peoples may freely determine their political status. Native peoples may determine their our own citizenship within accordance with custom and tradition.
Natives may also freely pursue their education, social, political and economic development. Natives are allowed
to retain their indigenous identities as individuals, communities or nations.
No disadvantage should arise because of the exercise of those rights.
Indigenous peoples have the right to fully participate at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives and destinies through representatives they chose themselves.
Can non-Natives (including the government or corporations) take control of Native lands and resources without indigenous peoples’ permission?
No, indigenous peoples cannot be forcibly removed from their lands or territories, according to the Declaration.
In fact, even religious and burial sites are under Native control. This means Natives can say yes or no to archeologists. The draft declaration also deals with ownership, development, control and use of the lands or territories that Native peoples occupy. There is even an article that discusses the return of lands that have been used, damaged, occupied or confiscated.
Native peoples have the right to conservation, restoration and protection of the environment and productive capacity of the lands, territories and resources they occupy.
What about compensation?
Indigenous peoples who have been deprived of their means of subsistence and development are entitled to just and fair compensation.
Indigenous peoples have the right to restitution (return) of the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used and which have been confiscated, occupied, used or damaged without our free and informed consent.
Compensation can be in the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status. This, unless otherwise agreed upon by all peoples concerned.
What about protection of indigenous methods of education, languages and other traditional practices?
Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to the future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literature, among other things.
As well, no Native child can be forced into a residential school system. Natives have the right to privacy in ceremonies as well as the use and control of ceremonial objects. Native peoples have the right to determine their own judicial systems in accordance with internationally recognized human-rights standards.
Who determines our membership?
Indigenous peoples have the collective right to determine their own citizenship in accordance with their customs and traditions. These rights are granted to both male and female indigenous members.
What about Treaties and Agreements?
Yes, they are protected and will be submitted to an international body if conflicts between the parties cannot be resolved.
Who would make sure this Declaration is carried out?
A new body will be created at the United Nations to monitor indigenous rights This body will be created with the participation of indigenous peoples.