March 04, 2010

Throne speech offers “illusion of support” for UN declaration, First Nations leader says, By Stephen Hui, March 3, 2010

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Grand Chief Stewart Phillip has said he is “not overly impressed” by the Canadian government’s throne-speech commitment to move toward endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Today (March 3) in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Governor General Michaëlle Jean delivered the speech from the throne on behalf of the Stephen Harper government.

“A growing number of states have given qualified recognition to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” the speech said. “Our Government will take steps to endorse this aspirational document in a manner fully consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws.”

Phillip, the president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, told the Straight he won’t be satisfied until the federal government offers “unqualified support” for the ratification of the declaration.

“When I hear words such as qualified and within the context of the Canadian Constitution, it sounds to me what Prime Minister Harper is considering is something less than full recognition of our land rights and human rights—and that causes me concern,” Phillip said on his cellphone in Vernon, where he was supporting the Okanagan Indian Band’s blockade of the Brown’s Creek watershed. “It offers the illusion of support or the appearance of support, but not actual support, so not genuine support.”

Phillip also took issue with how the throne speech characterized the declaration, which he called a “historical document”.

“It’s about the rights of indigenous people—the human rights, the land rights,” Phillip said. “It’s not an aspirational document. It’s not a poem.”

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, the declaration describes itself as a “standard of achievement to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect”.

Canada joined Australia, New Zealand, and the United States in voting against the declaration.

In 2008, a majority of Canadian MPs voted to endorse the declaration and call on the government to “fully implement the standards contained therein”.

Article 3 of the declaration states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

On the other hand, Phillip commended the federal government for using the throne speech to publicly acknowledge the plight of Canada’s murdered and missing aboriginal women.

“Our Government will take additional action to address the disturbing number of unsolved cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women,” the speech said. “The Sisters in Spirit initiative has drawn particular attention to this pressing criminal justice priority.”

But Phillip asserted that the Conservatives must now follow through on their commitment by launching a “full public inquiry”.

“I want to stress that the fact that it was even referenced in the throne speech is something that I welcome,” Phillip said. “But the response has to be substantive.”

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