Political leaders in the NWT welcome the federal Liberals’ introduction of a bill seeking to align Canadian law with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The Liberals introduced on Dec. 3 the first reading of Bill C-15, a piece of legislation that urges the Canadian government to “take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with UNDRIP, and must prepare and implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of the declaration.”
The Dene Nation hailed the draft bill as representing a “historic moment,” with National Chief Norman Yakelaya saying in a statement that it’s a significant step forward in reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples.
“For too long, the human rights of First Nations people have been discarded by Canada – and our people have suffered immensely because of it,” he said. “The implementation of UNDRIP charts out a future for First Nations that puts their dignity at the forefront of the relationship with Canada. It sets us on a path to true reconciliation – one where First Nations are not simply surviving, but are healing, growing, and are carving out a future for the next seven generations.”
Yakeleya said the Dene Nation expects the adoption of UNDRIP into law to lead to changes in justice in areas such as the reform of the child and family welfare system; the full implementation of Jordan’s Principle, which ensures Indigenous children full access to government-funded services; actioning the Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls; developing distinctions-based Indigenous health legislation; and the finalization of compensation for victims of Canada’s Day and residential schools.
“The Dene Nation is committed to working together with Canada to ensure the success of Bill C-15 and to further ensure that the GNWT remains accountable to its commitment to UNDRIP at the territorial level,” said Yakeleya.
Michael McLeod, MP for the NWT, said a lot of people have been waiting a long time for a bill like C-15 to come forward.
“One-hundred-and-forty-three countries supported the UNDRIP and Canada should do the same. (The declaration) sets out minimum standards for the survival and well-being of Indigenous people,” he said.
Addressing concerns raised by some critics that the bill’s legislation could “change Confederation” or could give Indigenous peoples a veto over resource projects, McLeod said the bill doesn’t mention vetoes.
In November, Indigenous relations ministers from Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick sent a joint letter to Justice Minister David Lametti and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett that criticized the six-week window they said they were given to provide input on the draft bill, the National Post reported.
“A hasty adoption of ambiguous legislation that could fundamentally change Confederation without the benefit of the widespread and necessary national and provincial consultation and consensus not only risks undermining reconciliation, but will create uncertainty and litigation and risk promoting deeper and broader divisions within our country,” the letter said.
McLeod said such concerns aren’t coming from the NWT and that critics can spin the legislation how they want.
“The Government of Canada already has a constitutional duty to accommodate Indigenous governments and people when it comes to measures that will impact Aboriginal or treaty rights, including resource projects,” he said. “The bill doesn’t create new regulatory measures. It supports the government’s implementation of its constitutional duty.”
McLeod believes the legislation will be good for Canada and for the North, where already in the NWT “50 per cent of the seats on the regulatory boards under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act are held by Indigenous people.”
From the GNWT’s perspective, the territorial government is ahead of the Liberals’ move, having already pledged in its mandate to implement UNDRIP.
“The legislative protocol we announced alongside nine other Indigenous governments as part of the Intergovernmental Council (on Dec. 3) is an example of our government’s commitment and support of the implementation of the United Nations declaration,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane. “It’s about respecting, consulting, and collaborating with Indigenous governments on land and resource management.”
Cochrane said the success of the government and future prosperity of the NWT depends on productive partnerships with Indigenous, community and municipal governments.
The GNWT’s decisions must reflect its commitment to reconciliation and the advancement of Indigenous rights and self- determination, the premier added.
McLeod is confident the bill will eventually be passed, though he foresees there could be challenges such as from Conservative senators who “will try to derail the process.”