Ellen Gabriel’s speech at the Roll with the Declaration event on Parliament Hill, June 20, 2011

Ellen Gabriel, Mohawk, Turtle Clan, Longhouse from Kanehsatà:ke

(Ellen speaks on the Hill with Families of Sisters in Spirit in accompaniment.)

I am very honoured to be here today upon the invitation of Kairos and their wonderful initiative “Roll with the Declaration”.

I would like to thank Ed Bianchi and Kairos for organizing this event.

It is also important to have a special acknowledgement to one of the members of Kairos, the Quakers, in particular Jennifer Preston and Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International, who worked hard and diligently during the negotiations of the UNDRIP. It is exactly this kind of unconditional solidarity that is required in the implementation of the Declaration here in Canada and throughout the world.

To many community members, and indeed throughout Canadian society, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples is somewhat an abstract theoretical concept because of the continuous and systemic effects of colonization. The implementation requires much dialogue and education to achieve an understanding on how to successfully implement its principles. It is a post-colonial framework necessary to protect Indigenous peoples’ collective and individual human rights, fosters social justice and reconciliation. It is a framework to re-institute Indigenous governance, self-determination and revitalize our languages, culture and customs that have been devastated by colonialism.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that the Declaration is a “visionary step in towards addressing the human rights of Indigenous peoples.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated in October 2006, “…the declaration is not a treaty…It is in many ways a harvest that has reaped existing fruits from a number of treaties and declarations, and guidelines and bodies of principle, but, importantly also from the jurisprudence of the Human Rights bodies that have been set up by the UN and charged with monitoring the implementation of the various treaties…there are not new rights in the Declaration.1

However, the Declaration is a tool to situate discussions for self-determination on a nation to nation level, and it is the foundation upon which to rebuild a peaceful co-existence between Indigenous peoples and Canada.

The Declaration is a comprehensive human rights instrument that does not create new rights but places into context the historical injustices implemented by colonial states through various doctrines of superiority like the Doctrine of Discovery and Papal Bulls.

The Declaration affirms, protects and promotes the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples. It contains political, social, cultural, spiritual and environmental rights necessary to prevent the further dispossession and marginalization of Indigenous peoples which remain under current laws and policy practices of the Government of Canada.

It is the basis of reconciliation and self-determination that requires resources, infrastructure and must be solidly based upon international human rights norms.

Contained within the Declaration are existing international human rights norms that do not contradict the Canadian Constitution. And like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration will one day become a norm in human rights standards of states to help guide them in their relations with Indigenous nations on a range of issues.

In every aspect of our lives, colonialism is implemented and practiced by Government policies and laws. It is time for Canada to let go of archaic practices and embrace the spirit and principles of the UNDRIP. A key element to its implementation is to eliminate and halt existing colonial structures that continue to dispossess and marginalize Indigenous peoples.

The implementation requires that the Government of Canada and all Crown actors undertake effective consultations and dialogue with nations and their communities, not solely with national Aboriginal organizations. If not, it will be perpetuating the further marginalization and dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands and resources.

One of the important aspects of the Declaration is the restoration of Indigenous women’s roles in governance, cultural heritage and in decision making processes. Equality of Indigenous women is paramount in the successful implementation of the UNDRIP as their participation is the foundation of future efforts in nation building.

As demonstrated by various international human rights jurisprudence, like the Sandra Lovelace case which addressed the gender discrimination faced by Aboriginal women in Canada, it was necessary for Indigenous peoples to take our historical and contemporary grievances to the international level as there were no indications by Canada that they intended to respect and implement their own Constitution Act, 1982 that recognizes the inherent rights of Aboriginal peoples.

The socio-economic and health problems of Aboriginal peoples in Canada are rooted in colonialism. In 1994 the Canadian Medical Association recognized “the importance of self-determination in social, political, and economic life improves the health of Aboriginal peoples and their communities. Therefore, the CMA encourages and supports the Aboriginal peoples in their quest for resolution of self-determination and land use.”

In my humble opinion, the false statements by the Government of Canada that the Declaration contradicted the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 was misleading and is in contradiction of Article 8.2 (e) “Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.”

So it was disappointing that when Canada announced its endorsement of the Declaration with qualifications. The discretionary judgements by the Government of Canada imply that they are intentionally ignoring international obligations and norms that will continues the further dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their identity and land.

The qualified endorsement also belies the fact that UNDRIP is guided by the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations of which Canada is a member of and which states the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.

It is important then that human rights education, in particular, education on the UNDRIP be mandatory to all federal and provincial government officials, especially the Prime Minister of Canada, Canadian institutions like human rights commissions, secondary and primary schools be informed on the instruments that deal with the collective rights of Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples should not have to enter into litigation to protect their collective rights.

The times are changing. I hope for this generation and those yet to come that we can create an awareness that brings about peace and true reconciliation without delay.

Skén:nen – in peace

Ellen Gabriel

Mohawk Turtle Clan

Longhouse from Kanehsatà:ke

Filed in: Indigenous Rights, UNDRIP Blog Updates

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