Indigenous rights: how Canada is doing it

Many nations protect their indigenous populations. As Chile endeavors to protect them with specific articles in a new constitution, it is worth considering what other countries have done in recent years. Canada affords a compelling example.

A global step to protect indigenous populations was taken during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2007. At that time, a majority of 144 nations voted in favor of adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In the initial vote, Canada (along with Australia, the United States, and New Zealand) voted against the passing of this declaration. When asked why, Canada’s UN ambassador expressed concern over the declaration’s wording, which was open to interpretation and would conflict with the current Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

In 2010, however, the Canadian government changed its stance and identified the UN Declaration as an “aspirational document,” but did not view it as legally binding. 

Nearly a decade after its proposal at the 2007 General Assembly, in 2016 the newly-elected Liberal Government fully adopted the UN declaration, which was one of its promises throughout its campaign. Canada’s previous Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister, Carolyn Bennett, stated in her speech at a 2016 UN preliminary session, “we are now a full supporter of the declaration, without qualification.” Bennet stated this action was an effort by Canada to rebuild its working relationships with indigenous communities, including the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. 

Currently, within Canada there are two members within the Prime Ministers Cabinet, the Honorable Patty Hidju and the Honorable Marc Miller, who are ministers of Indigenous-Services and Crown Indigenous-Relations, respectively. Both work closely with one another to ensure the rights and freedoms of indigenous people are met, as well as work towards addressing the problems that continue to burden many indigenous communities to this day. 

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Saving the Constitutional Convention

In full partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis

In Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Ministerial Mandate letter to Miller, Trudeau states, “as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, your first and foremost priority is to work in full partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to continue building nation to nation relationships and support self-determination, including supporting First Nations communities as they transition to self-government and move away from the Indian Act.

The letter goes on to emphasize the Minister of Crown Indigenous-Relations role in providing support to Indigenous communities who continue to face struggles with the aftermath of the Residential School System in Canada. The system operated from 1870’s to very recently, with the last Residential school closing in 1996. Furthermore, the letter states “it is critical that you lead the work of all Ministers to accelerate the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action and implement the 2021 Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People.”

In Trudeau’s Ministerial Mandate letter to Hidju, he states “to achieve equity, you will continue to collaborate with Indigenous partners—by working together to close socio-economic gaps and improve access to high-quality services.” The letter also restates Trudeau’s expectation for all Ministers to “implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to work in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to advance their rights.”

The role of the Minister of Indigenous Relations is to continue efforts to address socio-economic gaps and improve access to high-quality services. For instance, addressing the call for much-needed infrastructure that provides clean drinking water on indigenous reserves, as well as reforming the First Nations Child and Family Services program which aims to support the safety and wellbeing of children and families living on reserves within Canada. 

Here’s what you need to know about the Convention so far

Seven principles in Canada

Currently, the Government of Canada abides by 7 Principles, which guide the review of any laws and policies within the country. According to the Government of Canada’s website, “Indigenous peoples have a special constitutional relationship with the Crown,” and this relationship is detailed in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. “These Principles are rooted in section 35, guided by the UN Declaration, and informed by the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)’s Calls to Action,” states an article within Canada’s System of Justice.

The government recognizes these principles as guidelines “to building meaning into a renewed relationship.” They are seen as a starting point to eliminating the status quo as to how indigenous communities have been viewed and treated in the past. Working hand in hand with indigenous people to deliver the change they need is rooted in the Canadian government’s recognition that these communities are self-determining, self-governing, and increasingly self-sufficient.

As Canada, and many other countries around the world (including Chile) continue their efforts to protect Indigenous populations, this is a continuous and potentially collective effort in which governments can learn from one another how best to uphold the human rights and fundamental freedoms of everyone.  


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