Adopted by the UN General Assembly on 13 September 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the “minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.” The Declaration responds to past and ongoing injustices suffered by Indigenous peoples worldwide. It provides a strong foundation for improved relationships with states, and for the full recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples. Despite this, Canada was one of the few countries to oppose the Declaration.
The contributors to this collection analyze the development of the Declaration, recall the triumph of its adoption, and illustrate the hopes and actions for its implementation. The discussion moves beyond Canadian borders to the international stage, providing accessible information and guidance on the Declaration and how it can be used to advance human rights. Policy makers, Indigenous communities, politicians, academics, lawyers, human rights advocates, NGOs, and anyone interested in the significance of the Declaration will find this to be a valuable resource.
Contributors include Indigenous leaders, legal scholars and practitioners, state representatives, and representatives from NGOs, with extensive knowledge of and experience in Indigenous peoples’ human rights law, policy, and practice.
Jackie Hartley is a Policy and Research Officer with the Australian Human Rights Commission (the views expressed in the jointly authored Introduction and Conclusion are her personal views and not those of the Australian Human Rights Commission). Jackie previously worked as Policy Analyst with the First Nations Summit in British Columbia, Canada. She holds a Master of Laws from the Indigenous Peoples’ Law and Policy Program, University of Arizona, as well as a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of New South Wales, where she was awarded the University Medal in History. She has taught Australian history and public law at the University of New South Wales, and is a member of the editorial panel of the Australian Indigenous Law Review.
Paul Joffe is an attorney who, since 1974, has specialized in human rights and other issues relating to Indigenous peoples at the international and domestic level. For over two decades, he has been involved in international standard-setting processes, including those relating to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989. In 1998, he was involved in the Québec secession referendum, acting on behalf of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) before the Supreme Court of Canada. He is a member of the Québec and Ontario bars.
Jennifer Preston is the Program Coordinator for Aboriginal Affairs for the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers). Educated at McMaster University, Hamilton (BA (Hons.), and the University of Guelph (MA), she has been a lecturer in Canadian Studies at the University of Waterloo. Her work in recent years has focused on international Indigenous rights, specifically the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She was involved in the lobbying to ensure the successful adoption of the Declaration at the United Nations in both Geneva and New York, and has worked with Indigenous and state representatives as well as human rights organizations in various regions of the world. Her work is now focusing on implementation of the Declaration.
Craig Benjamin works for Amnesty International Canada as the co-ordinator of an ongoing campaign in support of the human rights of Indigenous peoples. One of the key projects in this campaign is the 2004 report, Stolen Sisters: Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada. He represented Amnesty International in both Geneva and New York during the final years of negotiation on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and continues to collaborate with Indigenous peoples’ organizations and human rights groups to promote the implementation of the Declaration and other human rights standards in Canada.
Andrea Carmen is a member of the Yaqui Indian Nation and executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council. She has many years of experience working with Indigenous communities from North, Central, and South America, and the Pacific. A founding member of the Indigenous Initiative for Peace with Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu, she has participated as a human rights observer and mediator in crisis situations in the US, Chiapas, Mexico, and Ecuador. Andrea was one of the first Indigenous representatives to formally address the UN General Assembly and the first Indigenous woman to serve as rapporteur for a UN expert seminar. During 2006 –2009, she served as the North America Regional Indigenous Caucus Co-coordinator.
Kenneth Deer is the Secretary of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake. The former publisher/managing editor of The Eastern Door, an award-winning paper serving the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, he was involved in the development of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples beginning in 1987. He is a member of the Indigenous Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Task Force, which was created after the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in 2005. Kenneth is involved in the Indigenous Portal, a web site that provides a focal point for Indigenous content, owned and operated by Indigenous people for Indigenous people.
Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. He took a leading role in the settlement of the Indian residential school tragedy, lobbied for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and helped negotiate a fair and just process for the settlement of specific land claims. He has previously served as Manitoba Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations and Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. He has received numerous awards and honours for his work, including seven honorary degrees and the Order of Manitoba.
Edward John (Akile Ch’oh) is a hereditary chief of Tl’azt’en Nation and member of the First Nations Summit’s political executive. A former tribal chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, a former Minister of Child and Family Services for the Province of British Columbia, and a former member of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board of Canada, he also served as an elected councillor and then chief of Tl’azt’en Nation. He was a member of the tripartite British Columbia Claims Task Force which recommended the establishment of the independent BC Treaty Commission to facilitate negotiations among First Nations, Canada, and British Columbia. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Victoria, a Bachelor of Laws from the University of British Columbia and an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Northern British Columbia.
Wilton Littlechild was the first Treaty Indian in Alberta to graduate with a law degree and the first Treaty Indian elected to the Canadian Parliament. As a parliamentarian, he served on several senior committees in the House of Commons and was a parliamentary delegate to the United Nations. At the international level, he organized a coalition of Indigenous Nations that sought and gained consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. He served as a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as the North America representative from 2002–2007, and has served as chair of the Saskatchewan Justice Commission. Having been appointed Honorary Chief for the Maskwacis Cree and International Chief for Treaty 6, he was elected as Regional Chief for Alberta in 2006. In 2009, he was named as a Commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Les Malezer is from the Butchulla/Gubbi Gubbi peoples of southeast Queensland, Australia, the traditional owners of Fraser Island and the Sunshine Coast/Mary River region. As chair of the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus, he co-ordinated the campaign for the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2006 and 2007. He is chair of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA), well-known for its role in land rights and cultural heritage protection. He has held senior positions in Indigenous policy development in the Queensland and Australian governments, as well as elected positions as regional representative for Aboriginal communities, including Secretary General for the National Aboriginal Conference, and Executive Assistant to the chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.
Céleste McKay is a Métis woman from Manitoba. She holds a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Manitoba, an LLB from the University of Victoria, and an LLM from the University of Ottawa that focused on the international human rights of Canadian Indigenous women. She has worked in the areas of human rights, policy, research, and advocacy, primarily on behalf of Indigenous women’s organizations. She is currently the Director of Human Rights and International Affairs for the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Romeo Saganash studied at Université du Québec in Montreal where he obtained his law degree in 1989. He has since been involved in numerous organizations dealing with Cree and Aboriginal issues, including the Cree Nation Youth Council (as founding president), Creeco Inc., and the James Bay Eeyou Corporation. For over twenty years, including his tenure as Deputy Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Eeyou Istchee (People’s Land), he represented the Cree Nation at national and international conferences dealing with environmental and constitutional issues, self-government, international law, and human rights. Trilingual in Cree, English, and French, he has since 1993 worked in Waswanipi and Quebec City as Director of Quebec Relations and International Affairs for the Grand Council of the Crees.
Connie Taracena is currently Minister Counsellor for the mission of Guatemala to the United Nations, representing Guatemala in the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs). Her career has included senior diplomatic positions with embassies to the Russian Federation, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the European Union, the United States, and Colombia. She holds two master’s degrees, one in international politics from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, and one in political sciences from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, in Bogota, Colombia.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is British Columbia’s first Representative for Children and Youth, appointed for a five-year term in 2006. On leave from the Saskatchewan Provincial Court, she was involved in the administration of the court in relation to access to justice, judicial independence projects, technology, and public outreach. She has also worked as a criminal law judge in youth and adult courts, which led her to work at developing partnerships to better serve the needs of young people in the justice system, particularly sexually exploited children and youth, and children and youth with disabilities. Prior to her judicial appointment, she practiced law in Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, and was a tenured professor of law at Dalhousie University.
Foreword: A Living Instrument / Phil Fontaine
Introduction: From Development to Implementation: An Ongoing Journey / Jackie Hartley, Paul Joffe, and Jennifer Preston
I: Development, Adoption, and Implementation
1. Reflections on the Development, Adoption, and Implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples / Kenneth Deer
2. Dreamtime Discovery: New Reality and Hope / Les Malezer
3. Survival, Dignity, and Well-Being: Implementing the Declaration in British Columbia / Grand Chief Edward John
II: States and Civil Society
4. Implementing the Declaration: A State Representative Perspective / Connie Taracena
5. Canada’s Opposition to the UN Declaration: Legitimate Concerns or Ideological Bias? / Paul Joffe
6. Realizing the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Partnerships with Non-Indigenous NGOs / Jennifer Preston
III: Treaty Rights and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent: Essential Aspects of Self-Determination
7. Consistent Advocacy: Treaty Rights and the UN Declaration / Wilton Littlechild
8. The Right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent: A Framework for Harmonious Relations and New Processes for Redress / Andrea Carmen
9. The Significance of the UN Declaration to a Treaty Nation: A James Bay Cree Perspective / Romeo Saganash and Paul Joffe
IV: Dimensions of Collective and Individual Society
10. A Vision for Fulfilling the Indivisible Rights of Indigenous Women / M. Celeste McKay and Craig Benjamin
11. More than Words: Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Indigenous Children with International Human Rights Instruments / Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
Conclusion: Hopes and Challenges on the Road Ahead / Jackie Hartley, Paul Joffe, and Jennifer Preston
Appendix I: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Appendix II*: Open Letter: Canada Needs to Implement this New Human Rights Instrument
Appendix III: Supportive Statements Worldwide
List of Abbreviations
* Some signatories to the Open Letter are missing in the printed book. A complete list is contained in an update available online.
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