Inuit call for real action in Canada on anniversary of UN Indigenous rights declaration

Canada's Inuit are looking for concrete action from the Canadian government on the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

A year after Canada announced it would adopt the declaration without qualifications, the Inuit delegation spoke to their concerns at the 16th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which runs until the end of next week.

Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Commission Okalik Eegeesiak addressed the General Assembly on April 25 on behalf of the Arctic Caucus. 

"Canada adopting it without qualifications is quite a big thing across the world," Eegeesiak told CBC, but now she wants to see that stance reflected in actions.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed agrees.

National action plan first step

"The government of Canada has pledged to create a national action plan and we would like to do that together. We would like to participate in the creation of it with other Indigenous peoples and other governments."

Right now, Obed says how Indigenous people avail themselves of their rights is a patchwork process that includes reaching for land claim agreements, Section 35 of the Constitution and various Supreme Court rulings.

He would like to see an act created to deal specifically with implementing the UN declaration, as the international instrument fills in gaps in Canada's domestic legislation.

While there have been discussions about whether the government working group reviewing Canadian legislation that relates to Indigenous peoples could manage this, he says Inuit have not yet seen a mandate for the committee.

But he says he is hoping it would be a more participatory process, involving Indigenous people at the table and using the bilateral Inuit-Crown agreement Inuit signed with Trudeau in February. 

He would like the participation to extend to the national action plan as well as the legislative review of laws that affect Inuit, such as the Environmental Assessment Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the proposed Canadian Indigenous Languages Act.

"We want to make sure the rights that have been upheld within the declaration are systematically entrenched within the federal legislation and then we can exercise our rights based on that legislative base."

That base would replace the patchwork that Indigenous people currently rely on.

To that end, he also suggests creating an independent Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Commission.

"If there was a specific Indigenous peoples human rights commission we would be able to systematically work within a mandate that was created for the types of concerns that would come forward to them."

He says it would also serve as a symbol to Canada's Indigenous people and the world that the country is serious about its commitments to complying with the declaration.