Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Celebrating Aboriginal Day, Conservative style

Canada under its new Conservative leadership is making mischief on the world stage again, standing up this time in bold opposition to indigenous rights. Along with three other settler states--New Zealand, Australia and the U.S.--Canada is celebrating National Aboriginal Day by announcing its intention to scuttle a UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that has been twenty years in the making. This will be our first official act as a member nation of the new United Nations Human Rights Council.

Hard on the heels of the shelving of the Kelowna Accord, Indian Agent Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, who did not provide details to justify his astounding claims, has announced that the wording of the draft Declaration will contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Constitution Act, and, perhaps more to the point,
"It's quite inconsistent with land-claims policies under which Canada negotiates claims."

We shall have to wait for the flesh to be put on these bones, but in the meantime it would be permissible, I think, to speculate. In Canada, Aboriginal rights have to be negotiated. Just ask the Lubicon how the process can work. The proposed UN Declaration might get in the way:

Article 7: Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;
(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.

Article 10: Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.

So much for negotiation. Our First Nations would simply have their rights. What a concept!

The passage of this Declaration might, for example, be welcome not only to the Lubicon but also to the Inuit of Nunavut. Their original land claims agreement envisaged a transition to Inuit control of their own territory. Take, for example, Article 23 of the Agreement:

Article 23.2.1: The objective of this article is to increase Inuit participation in government employment in the Nunavut Settlement Area to a representative level.

That was in 1993. Today, 45% of the Nunavut public service is Inuit, a number achieved early on, Inuit filling primarily the low-level positions. Inuit are 85% of the population. The language of government is--English.

No wonder the Cons are up in arms. One can imagine how, if it were taken seriously, the passage of the UN Declaration might kick quite a hole in the Indian Affairs department. (Not to mention causing a light sweat to break out on the brows of some of our favourite anti-Aboriginal blogagandists.) The Liberals, whose record is every bit as dismal on Aboriginal issues as that of the party in power, supported the Declaration in a parliamentary committee earlier this month. But--forgive my cynicism--this may not be the issue that takes us back to the polls.

Not much strategic sense, these Harper folks. Why not just do what we (and other countries I could name) have always done--sign on and ignore it? How many divisions does the UN have?

Happy Aboriginal Day, everyone. O Canada, our home on native land.

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