Rights of Indigenous Peoples Supported by the United Nations General Assembly!

Canada, along with three other countries (Australia, New Zealand and the United States) were the only countries to vote AGAINST this UN Declaration! See the Canadian explanation below ...

AFN Press Release ... 

AFN National Chief Applauds Today's Passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - Recognizing 30 Years of Work in the Making

OTTAWA, Sept. 13 - The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations called today an important day for Indigenous people around the world, including First Nations in Canada.

"While the Declaration is not perfect, it is a step toward setting minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous people everywhere. It's a day to celebrate.

"This recognition was a long time coming," National Chief Phil Fontaine said. "The Declaration recognizes our collective histories, traditions, cultures, languages, and spirituality. It is an important international instrument that supports the activities and efforts of Indigenous peoples to have their rights fully recognized, respected and implemented by state governments."

However, the National Chief said he is gravely concerned that the Government of Canada chose to vote against the UN Declaration and, in effect, opposes fundamental human rights protections for Indigenous peoples. Canada lobbied hard to convince other countries to not support the Declaration. It is the first time Canada voted against an international human rights instrument. Despite Canada's efforts, many countries decided to vote in favour of the United Nations Declaration.

"The Assembly of First Nations and other representatives of Indigenous peoples in Canada offered to work with the government to address the concerns it had and to come to a solution, but that offer was refused," National Chief Phil Fontaine said. "Canada prides itself as a protector of human rights. It is a member of the UN Human Rights Council, yet it is disappointing today to see this government vote against recognizing the basic rights of Canada's First Peoples. This is a stain on the country's international reputation."

First Nations Chiefs and First Nations representatives invested an enormous amount of work into the Declaration over the last 30 years.

The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.

For further information: Nancy Pine, Communications Advisor, Office of the National Chief, (613) 241-6789, ext 243, cell (613) 298-6382, npine@afn.ca;. Josee Bellemare, Bilingual Communications Officer, (613) 241-6789, ext. 336, cell (613) 327-6331, jbellemare@afn.ca;. Bryan Hendry, A/Director of Communications, (613) 241-6789, ext. 229, cell (613) 293-6106, bhendry@afn.ca.


Rights of Indigenous Peoples Supported by the United Nations General Assembly!
Regional A.F.N. of Treaties 6, 7, 8 (Alberta)

United Nations, New York – September 13, 2007

Today the UN General Assembly passed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a declaration that sets the minimal standards of rights for Indigenous peoples around the world, including First Nations of Canada. This Declaration which was passed last year by the Human Rights Council has been in the works for nearly a quarter of a century; our own champion that has been working on the document every step of the way is Dr. Wilton Littlechild, IPC as one of its authors and advocate was on hand personally to see its adoption.

“I feel so overjoyed with the decision that the United Nations has taken today”, stated Willie. “I was excited when it was passed by the Human Rights Council last year and to finally have it recognized at the General Assembly of the UN level is beyond words!”

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples proclaims Indigenous Peoples have the right to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law. It also proclaims among other rights that Indigenous peoples are free and equal to all other peoples and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination. These are very important for the Indigenous Peoples who did not all have these recognized rights.

“The impact of this Declaration will be tremendously positive for our peoples” according to the Regional Chief, “there is no need to fear a Declaration that brings our people to a level of equality with other nationalities, its an international framework which we can build better and more positive relationships - it will be a win-win situation for all peoples of the world”.

The Regional A.F.N. of Treaties 6, 7, 8 (Alberta) is the political advocacy organization representing forty-eight First Nations in the three Treaty territories. Regional Chief Littlechild represents the Chiefs at the national and international levels.


For More Information Contact:

Bobbi Herrera, CEO
Regional A.F.N. of Treaties 6, 7, 8 (Alberta)
780 585-2570 (office)
780 360-9026 (cell)


Harper Government Fails Canada with UN Vote
September 13, 2007

OTTAWA - The Harper government has failed Canada's Aboriginal peoples and embarrassed Canada internationally by voting against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Liberal Opposition Leader Stéphane Dion and Liberal Critic for Aboriginal Affairs Anita Neville said today.

"By opposing this Declaration the Conservative government has signaled to Aboriginal Canadians that their rights aren't worth defending," said Mr. Dion. "The government has also dramatically weakened the leadership role Canada has long enjoyed in the global human rights movement."

Today in the United Nations General Assembly, Canada was one of only four countries to vote against the non-binding UN Declaration which focuses on Indigenous peoples' collective rights, including land rights, essential to their survival, well-being and way of life.

The Declaration passed by a vote of 143 to four. Voting with Canada were the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Eleven countries abstained, including the Russian Federation and Columbia.

For over two decades Canada played an important role in the development of the UN Declaration, including the drafting of the document's current text. The Declaration as it now stands is the result of extensive negotiations between member states and Indigenous peoples from around the world.

Canada's role in this cooperative international effort ended shortly after the Conservatives took office in 2006, when the Harper government withdrew its support.

"Today's vote marks the first time Canada has opposed a major human rights document," said Ms. Neville. "Supporting this Declaration and standing up for the rights of Indigenous people would have represented a much-needed and long-delayed fresh start in the relationship between this government and Canada's Aboriginal communities."

"By arguing against the text it helped draft, and ultimately trying to defeat it, Canada has lost credibility among the community of nations concerned about the protection of human rights," said Mr. Dion. "Is this the legacy Mr. Harper wishes for his government and his country?"


Statement by Ambassador McNee to the General Assembly on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Statement by Ambassador John McNee
Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations
to the 61st Session of the General Assembly on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

New York, September 13, 2007

Madam President,

Canada has long demonstrated our commitment to actively advancing indigenous rights at home and internationally.  We recognize that the situation of indigenous peoples around the world warrants concerted and concrete international action.  We have strongly supported the establishment and ongoing work of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of the fundamental freedoms and human rights of indigenous peoples and have promoted consideration of indigenous issues within a variety of international conferences.  We have a constructive and far-reaching international development program, targeted specifically at improving the situation of indigenous peoples in many parts of the world.  Canada continues to make further progress at home, working within our constitutional guarantees for Aboriginal and treaty rights, and with our negotiated self-government and land claims agreements with several Aboriginal groups in Canada.  Canada also intends to continue our active international engagement, both multilaterally and bilaterally. It is therefore with disappointment that we find ourselves having to vote against the adoption of this Declaration as drafted.

Since 1985, when the United Nations expert Working Group on Indigenous Populations decided to produce a Declaration on indigenous rights, Canada has been an active participant in its development.  Canada has long been a proponent of a strong and effective text that would promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of every indigenous person without discrimination and recognize the collective rights of indigenous peoples around the world.  We have sought for many years, along with others, an aspirational document which would advance indigenous rights and promote harmonious arrangements between indigenous peoples and the States in which they live.

However, the text that was presented at the Human Rights Council in June 2006 did not meet such expectations and did not address some of our concerns. This is why we voted against it. We also expressed dissatisfaction with the process.

Canada’s position has remained consistent and principled.  We have stated publicly that we have significant concerns with respect to the wording of the current text, including the provisions on lands, territories and resources; free, prior and informed consent when used as a veto; self-government without recognition of the importance of negotiations; intellectual property; military issues; and the need to achieve an appropriate balance between the rights and obligations of indigenous peoples, member States and third parties.

For example, the recognition of indigenous rights to lands, territories and resources is important to Canada.  Canada is proud of the fact that Aboriginal and treaty rights are given strong recognition and protection in its Constitution. We are equally proud of the processes that have been put in place to deal with Aboriginal claims respecting these rights and are working actively to improve these processes to address these claims even more effectively.  Unfortunately, the provisions in the Declaration on lands, territories and resources are overly broad, unclear, and capable of a wide variety of interpretations, discounting the need to recognize a range of rights over land and possibly putting into question matters that have been settled by treaty.

Similarly, some of the provisions dealing with the concept of free, prior and informed consent are unduly restrictive.  Provisions such as Article 19 provide that the State cannot act on any legislative or administrative matter that may affect indigenous peoples without obtaining their consent. While we in Canada have strong consultation processes in place, and while our courts have reinforced these as a matter of law, the establishment of a complete veto power over legislative and administrative action for a particular group would be fundamentally incompatible with Canada’s parliamentary system.

In Geneva leading up to the Human Rights Council’s adoption of the text, and here in New York throughout the 61st session of the General Assembly, Canada has been very clear in proposing that further negotiations take place in an open and transparent process with the effective involvement of indigenous peoples.  Over the last year, had there been an appropriate process in place to address these concerns, and the concerns of other States, a stronger Declaration could have emerged, one acceptable to Canada and other countries with significant indigenous populations and which could have provided practical guidance to all States.  Unfortunately, such a process has not taken place.  The few modifications presented at the last minute to this Assembly, prepared by a limited number of delegations, do not arise from an open, inclusive or transparent process, and do not address key areas of concern of a number of delegations, including Canada.

We regard it as particularly unfortunate that a number of States, like Canada, with significant indigenous populations, cannot solidly support the adoption of this particular text as a meaningful and effective United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Yet let me reiterate that regardless of the Declaration, Canada will continue to take effective action, at home and abroad, to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples based on our existing human rights obligations and commitments.  Such effective action, we must be clear, would not be undertaken on the basis of the provisions of this Declaration.

By voting against the adoption of this text, Canada puts on record its disappointment with both the substance and process.  For clarity, we also underline our understanding that this Declaration is not a legally binding instrument.  It has no legal effect in Canada, and its provisions do not represent customary international law.

Madam President, Canada will vote against adoption of this text.

Thank you.