The federal government has endorsed a United Nations declaration that recognizes global human rights standards for indigenous populations, reversing its initial opposition to the document.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a non-binding document, recognizes indigenous people’s basic human rights and rights to self-determination, language, equality and land, among other rights.
Canada was one of four countries, along with Australia, New Zealand and the U.S., to vote against the declaration when it was adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007. Australia and New Zealand have since reversed their stance, and the U.S. has said it will review its position.
At the time the declaration was passed, the Harper government had expressed concerns about its wording on provisions addressing land and natural resources, saying it was overly broad and could lead to the reopening of previously settled land claims.
In its March speech from the throne, the government indicated it wanted to “take steps to endorse this aspirational document in a manner fully consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws.”
But on Friday, the government released a statement saying it has formally endorsed the declaration.
On the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada website, it stated that: “after careful and thoughtful consideration, Canada has concluded that it is better to endorse the UNDRIP while explaining its concerns, rather than simply rejecting the overall document.
“Although the UNDRIP does not reflect customary international law or change Canadian laws, Canada believes that the UNDRIP has the potential to contribute positively to the promotion and respect of the rights of indigenous peoples around the world.”
In a statement, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo praised Canada’s endorsement of the document as a positive development.
“Today marks an important shift in our relationship, and now, the real work begins,” he said. “Now is our time to work together towards a new era of fairness and justice for First Nations and a stronger Canada for all Canadians, guided by the Declaration’s core principles of respect, partnership and reconciliation.”