Saturday, 24 November 2007

Indigenous rights letter sent to the Canadian government by Simcoe-Muskoka MM

We are saddened that the present Canadian government was one of four governments voting against the United Nations General Assembly's adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Eleven governments abstained, but one hundred and forty three voted in support of the adoption.

The Declaration has been twenty years in the making, and some of those who worked on it are Canadians, some with indigenous and some with settler origins. Many are members of Canadian Human Rights Groups, including our own service organization, Canadian Friends Service Committee. We know personally with what dedication these diligent, well-informed and conscientious fellow-citizens have laboured, and we regret that our government has paid so little attention to their findings.

The Declaration provides guidance on the measures needed to ensure the dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples, and recognizes their rights to the natural resources essential to their ways of life. It states clearly that the rights of indigenous peoples are an inseparable part of a universal system of human rights. Nothing in this contravenes Canada's existing policies on the matter, and it cannot overturn treaty rights already affirmed in Canada 's constitution. We remind you that Canada is a signatory to the earlier UN Declaration on Human Rights, with which this new Declaration is wholly compatible.

Perhaps for these reasons, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been supported not only by all three opposition parties in Parliament but also by senior officials in the departments of Foreign Affairs and Indian Affairs.

From our research we understand that our government's opposition to the Declaration has no basis in any real threat to the human rights of non-indigenous peoples. The human rights of any group exist, not as an absolute, but in a healthy balance with the human rights of others. Nothing in the Declaration would have damaged this balance – indeed it would have improved it – as was clearly seen by the one hundred and forty three countries who voted in favour of it.

The likely consequence of our government's action in this matter is that harmonious relations between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada will be further strained. We hope that our government will in the future discard its unfounded fears and, drawing on the accumulated wisdom of Canadians who have worked in this field for many years, will proceed with greater boldness, intelligence and foresight than is shown in this recent decision.

For the Harper government's motives and methods, see the Mik'maq-Maliseet report, Shunpiking magazine fall 2007.

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