“Tuesday, November 28, 2006 will be a day Indigenous people from around the world will remember for decades to come. It was the day we were denied the rights the rest of the world takes for granted,” said Bruce Curlis, former Nipmuc Tribal Councilor from the United States.
Many expected the long awaited United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to finally reach the United Nations Assembly and be adopted. It was not to be. Duane Smith, the president of the Canadian section of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) said, “It is a dark day for aboriginal Canadians and all indigenous peoples worldwide.”
It took two decades to compose the present declaration and for the past few years Canada had worked hard to bring the document to the UN. In a surprising turnaround Canada joined with other nations to ensure the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples did not make it to the floor of the UN. Many Indigenous Peoples felt betrayed.
Indeed many Indigenous groups felt the declaration contained the bare minimum for the survival, well-being and dignity of Indigenous Peoples. Many have said it never even met expectations and needs of Indigenous Peoples but after debating for over 20 years they urgently needed something so they had compromised as to see it pass.
The Assembly of First Nations said when Canada became a member of the UN Human Rights Council they promised to support human rights for all. The AFN said Canada failed to live up to their promises. “It undermines the credibility of the new body,” said AFN Regional Chief Rick Simon in New York.
Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice defended Canada’s actions as a form of vigilance. “Canada has a strong record of supporting and advancing Aboriginal and treaty rights at home and aboard, and we take our commitments very seriously,” said Prentice.
Prentice went on to say the current text did not meet Canada’s objectives. He said Canada wanted a declaration that would promote partnerships and harmonious relationships between Indigenous Peoples and states, strike a balance between the rights of various parties, clarify the commitments and responsibilities and provide practical guidance to states.
Prentice stated Aboriginal rights are entrenched in the Canadian Constitution and Canada is one of the few nations to do so.
Prentice points out that Canada is not alone in its concerns. The “non-action” motion on the resolution had 82 voting in favour, 67 states voting not in favour and 25 states abstaining.
This means at minimum another year before the declaration can be looked at for adoption by the United Nations.
First Nations say Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia have been the most vocal in trying to change the language of the declaration.
“Canada’s disgraceful and disgusting conduct against Indigenous People at both the national and international levels is being noted,” said Grand Chief Stewart Philip, President of the BC Indian Chiefs.
A number of other organizations have condemned the nonaction motion. The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Centre for Organization Research and Education said, “We view this latest development as a deplorable setback to the struggle for the rights of the Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized groups in particular and to the struggle for the realization of human rights for all worldwide.”
Craig Benjamin, Amnesty International’s Campaigner for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, said it was a deplorable decision and a terrible loss the Declaration didn’t make it to the UN Assembly. “Human rights are unfittingly sacrificed because of politics at times,” he said. Benjamin also wondered why after working so hard to become part of the UN Human Rights Body it would then lobby so hard against the decisions of that body. He added Indigenous Peoples should not give up hope.