“If we don’t show up then they will do what they want and do it anyway, regardless,” said Chief Kelly LaRocca of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.
Certainly not a ringing endorsement for chiefs to be actively involved in the creation of the federal government’s action plan to implement the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but it was enough to pass a resolution.
Bill C-15, the UNDRIP Act, became law on June 21. The Liberal government has set June 2023 as the date by which an action plan is to be developed. That plan is to include measures that ensure federal laws are consistent with UNDRIP.
“I think we need a representative. We need representation at that table. I would worry if we weren’t present and I think we should, at least, have a seat at the table,” said LaRocca, who moved the resolution Dec. 9, the final day of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) virtual three-day Special Chiefs Assembly.
Although Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band seconded the motion, he noted that hundreds of favourable court rulings provided “more advancement” than what could be achieved under UNDRIP.
“We don’t need, basically, Canada or any other government operationalizing something that is already there,” said Louis.
“We have to move forward with great trepidation,” said Chief R. Don Maracle of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.
He pointed out that in Article 46 of UNDRIP, Canada can limit the rights of First Nations if those rights run contrary to what Canada feels is in the best interest of the country.
Maracle amended the resolution to have Canada referred to as a “state” and not a “nation.”
“The only nations really are the Indigenous nations,” he said.
The resolution was also amended to ensure the AFN made no final decisions when it came to the national action plan. AFN was directed to bring any plan developed back to the full assembly for chiefs to vote on it.
Whatever role First Nations play in the development of the national action plan, Chief Fabian Head of Red Earth Cree Nation said it would not matter because “at end of day, (Canada) will still have control.”
“Canada has always been very cunning in terms of dealing with our people,” said Head.
The day after the resolution was passed, Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti announced that funding was available for consultation, cooperation and the engagement process for developing the national action plan.
Indigenous governments and organizations had to respond to Canada’s call for proposals to access those funds in order to have the opportunity to share their views and priorities for the implementation of the act over the coming months.
“This process is about taking action to uphold human rights and advance reconciliation in a tangible way,” said Lametti in a statement. “Together, we must ensure that the rights of all Indigenous peoples are recognized, honoured, and respected. We look forward to hearing more from Indigenous partners on their priorities for the action plan.”
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the upcoming work would lead to putting UNDRIP into action.
“This is a critically important opportunity to work together on concrete measures to address injustices, combat prejudice, and end systemic racism and discrimination. We will work together to promote and uphold Indigenous rights, which are the roots from which justice, equality and respect will grow," said Miller in a statement.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com