Former Mi'kmaq UN ambassador hopes Canada's UNDRIP bill not an election ploy

·2 min read
'Reconciliation means that you make amends for what you've done, and the government hasn't made amends. Canadian society certainly hasn't made amends,' said Keptin John Joe Sark, who in the 1990s was a Mi'kmaq UN ambassador helping draft the Indigenous rights declaration. (Laura Chapin/CBC - image credit)
'Reconciliation means that you make amends for what you've done, and the government hasn't made amends. Canadian society certainly hasn't made amends,' said Keptin John Joe Sark, who in the 1990s was a Mi'kmaq UN ambassador helping draft the Indigenous rights declaration. (Laura Chapin/CBC - image credit)

A bill confirming Canada will align its laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that received royal assent this week is being called a landmark piece of federal legislation.

But a Prince Edward Islander who helped draft the resolution says he hopes the move is more than an election ploy.

Decades ago, Keptin John Joe Sark spent two weeks each summer for seven or eight years in a row, in Geneva, Switzerland in the 90s. He did that work after being named a UN ambassador by the Mi'kmaq Grand Council.

"There was Indigenous people from New Zealand and Finland, and Norway and everywhere," he told CBC's Laura Chapin in an Island Morning interview.

Sark described UNDRIP as "a declaration of all the rights of Indigenous people," saying it "expresses some of the hardships they went through… through systemic racism and the loss of their resources, their lands and their culture."

'Look at what you're doing to your Indigenous people'

Canada was one of four nations that initially wouldn't agree that UNDRIP should be adopted. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States voted against the motion at the United Nations back in 2007, while 144 state representatives voted in favour and 11 abstained.

"Years later the four countries that voted against have reversed their position and now support the UN Declaration," says a description of UNDRIP on the United Nations site. "Today the Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples."

Canada formally adopted Bill C-15 in support of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on Monday — which was National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Still need to make amends: Sark

Sark said that knowing about the initial opposition, it was hard for him over the years to hear countries like Canada tout themselves as global defenders of human rights.

"People in glass houses shouldn't throw rocks," he said. "Look at what you're doing to your Indigenous people."

Although Sark was pleased to see the bill supporting UNDRIP receive royal assent in Canada this week, he said the federal government has a long way to go when it comes to Indigenous people.

"Reconciliation means that you make amends for what you've done, and the government hasn't made amends, Canadian society certainly hasn't made amends, to what has been done to the Indigenous people, in Canada or in P.E.I.," he said.

"They're still acting like colonial governments yet."

Sark believes the federal government felt pressure to pass Bill C-15 because of the commitment Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made to reconciliation — which Sark, at this time, considers to be little more than a buzzword.

He told CBC News he is worried passing this bill could simply be an election ploy, with Trudeau heading a minority government and facing a possible federal campaign in the fall.

More from CBC P.E.I.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting