Nunatsiavut brings issues to world stage at U.N. meetings on Indigenous rights

Nunatsiavut brings issues to world stage at U.N. meetings on Indigenous rights

Labrador is making its presence felt at the United Nations this week in New York City.

A number of delegates including nine youth from Nunatsiavut are taking the opportunity to share issues they are facing with Indigenous representatives from all over the globe.

"We have to take every opportunity we can to speak up and to share our stories," Lianna Rice, a delegate from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, told the CBC.

Rice was part of a Canadian delegation that included Labrador MP Yvonne Jones and Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett at the 16th session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. 

"Before coming to something like this you don't realize Indigenous people across the world are dealing with the same issues but just to a different degree," Rice said. 

Rice has been working to combat suicide in her community. Recently, she spoke publicly about the loss of her brother to suicide, as well as her own struggles with depression.

"I got really emotional when I heard the number of countries talking about Indigenous suicides," Rice said. 

"In a way it's nice to know that we're not alone ... there's space for me to speak to other Indigenous peoples to see what's working for them and what's reducing suicide rates in their parts of the world."

More work needed

Minister Bennett addressed the forum on Tuesday, at an event marking 10 years since the signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Liberal government signaled it was adopting the declaration last year, a departure from the Conservative government's position.

Rice said there has been a lot of talk at the event about how governments treat Article 32 of UNDRIP​, which speaks about the need "to consult and cooperate in good faith with Indigenous peoples ... in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources."

She pointed towards the Muskrat Falls project as a way the Canadian government has been failing at this.

"I think it's our job as Canadians to hold [the prime minister] accountable and hold the government accountable like the Labrador land protectors have been doing," Rice said. "It's unacceptable for them to ignore our rights that they've signed on to."

The fact Canada formally dropped its objections to aspects of the declaration dealing with consultation and consent is a step in the right direction for Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed. But he said more work is needed.

"We haven't had any substantive progression from the government of Canada in implementing the United Nations declaration but we do feel though there is the environment for it," Obed told CBC's Labrador Morning.

"This will be a difficult process and will take time, energy and resources but it can't be dismissed."