by Cassandra Blondin-Burt
Northern News Services
The Dene Nation voted to reject the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and now Kele Antoine, who is leading this call to action, is speaking out about what motivated him to make the recommendation.
At the Dene Nation Special Assembly, convened this past July at the Akaitcho’s Wiliideh Site (Yellowknife River), Dene Nation leaders voted to pass a historic motion renouncing the Canadian government’s support for UNDRIP. Antoine, chief of the Liidlii Kue First Nations in Fort Simpson, brought Dene Nation leadership’s attention to article 46, wherein the 2007 declaration states that no activity from any Indigenous group may challenge or disrupt the “political unity” or “territorial integrity” of any independent states.
“What they added in article 46 is a big problem,” said Antoine in an interview with News/North. “For us, it is a big problem because it clearly places the territorial integrity, and political unity of the state, as the only consideration. And for us, you know, we’re thinking, ‘What about Dene territorial integrity and political unity? How come that isn’t even considered? We were not engaged properly… and we did not give our free, prior and informed consent to that legislation.”
Dene Nation leaders and their proxy discussed the motion for more than three hours at the July assembly.
“I remember all these stories about our Elders,” Antoine said, “how they would talk for days and days and days. And sometimes all through the night – just trying to come to a solution that was good for everybody.
“I just didn’t want to table the motion and deal with it later because it was uncomfortable. Like I had said at the meeting: all great things are just on the other side of fear.”
Dene National Assembly Resolution 21 stated that “it therefore be resolved that the Dene National Assembly rejects the Canada Act respecting the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in its entirety,” and calls for Canada and the UN to engage in processes that respect Dene treaties and rights to free, prior and informed consent.
“By rejecting Canada’s legislation, we’re not saying we don’t have rights,” Antoine explained. “We’re rejecting Canada’s presumption that it has the right to legislate our sovereign rights, and, especially, the presumption that our territory belongs to Canada.”
A pair of Canadian scholars have also taken issue with article 46.
In a presentation at McGill University in Montreal in September 2017, the Indigenous Law Association and the Faculty of Law of McGill University held a discussion concerning Canada’s implementation of UNDRIP. The event featured guest speakers Dr. Hayden King, an Anishinaabe scholar from the Beausoleil First Nation of Gchi’mnissing, Huronia, and Dr. John Burrows, research chair in Indigenous law at the University of Victoria Law School in British Columbia.
Burrows directly addressed article 46, stating, “UNDRIP’s strong language concerning the assertion and protection of Indigenous rights was significantly diluted with article 46. Article 46 allows states subject to UNDRIP to place certain limitations on the ‘the exercise of the rights set forth in this declaration.’ The addition of article 46 allows states to disregard their obligations to their Indigenous populations on the basis of territorial integrity and defence of sovereignty.
As quoted in The McGill Daily, King added, “(Article 46) is effectively a backdoor out of the declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples … the declaration allows states to evacuate the previous 45 articles if they so choose. From 2010 to present, we’ve had minister after minister of Indian Affairs, when asked for comment on the declaration, say that it is aspirational. (They say) we’ll work toward implementing (it), but in a Canadian version, through the Canadian constitutional framework.”