Indigenous Peoples Affirm Their Sovereignty, Hereditary and Treaty Rights

Canada's Treachery on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Colleen Pearse

Discussion in the Third Committee on resolution on rights of Indigenous Peoples, November 2020.

The fight of Indigenous Peoples to affirm their rights is a matter of concern in Canada and many other UN member states. Last year, on November 4, the UN's Third Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Issues took up for discussion a resolution submitted by the Plurinational State of Bolivia on Indigenous rights. Among other things, the draft resolution:

1) emphasized the responsibility of States and the private sector to guarantee more sustainable practices and address their impact on Indigenous Peoples as well as the lands and territories traditionally inhabited by them;

2) emphasized the urgent need to enhance Indigenous Peoples' adaptive capacity to climate change and support their efforts to address it;

3) urged States to ensure the safety of Indigenous Peoples, promoting an enabling environment in which human rights violations are prevented, perpetrators held accountable and access to justice and remedy ensured;

4) urged Governments to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are not forcibly removed from their territories and that no relocation takes place without their free, prior and informed consent; and

5) spoke to the need to revitalize Indigenous languages.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand presented their views jointly. Representative Leah Carrel (New Zealand) presented a statement called "CANZ General Statement on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." Carrel stated: "Our countries share a strong commitment to advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples, at home and internationally. At the same time, we recognize that implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in our countries remains a work in progress with much work left to be done."

The phrase "a work in progress with much work left to be done" is a diversion. It covers up that Indigenous Peoples' rights are never going to be recognized by these former British colonies where crimes continue to be committed to displace them from their lands and resources, while their children are still being abducted by state agencies in the name of protecting them, and the jails of all three countries are increasingly being filled by Indigenous People.

Not for a moment has Canada given up its colonial project. Nor have Australia and New Zealand.

It is noteworthy that when the representative of Bolivia presented the resolution to the Third Committee, she emphasized the importance of the term "Indigenous Peoples" with both words capitalized to highlight the distinct nations and peoples that comprise the Indigenous Peoples of the planet. Indigenous Peoples number half a billion, make up more than five per cent of the world population, and are comprised of 5,000 different groups and nations speaking some 4,000 languages. The demand and significance of the statements of the Bolivian representative bring to mind the role that Canada plays internationally and at home to undermine Indigenous Peoples' rights.

In 1993, at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the final draft of the conference document referred to Indigenous Peoples as Indigenous People, at the insistence of Canada. This is "a critical difference in terms of definitions, with significant legal ramifications," noted S.L. Smith in the article titled "The Story of the Missing 'S.'" At the time Erica Daes, Chair of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, told the Plenary Session of the World Conference, "I share the pain and disappointment of Indigenous Peoples at the use of the term people. It is a relic of racism and racial discrimination which simply must not be legitimized by this historic Conference on human rights. [...] I implore you not to speak with the dead voice of the 19th century on this issue, but to adopt the term 'Indigenous Peoples.'"

Smith noted that "the only conclusion that can be drawn from this experience is that Canada played a dirty role in the formulation of the final draft on this question. It reveals Canada's determination to continue treating the Indigenous Peoples in Canada on a racial basis and to deny them their hereditary rights. This backward position is not only one of the major causes for the constitutional crisis in Canada, but is also the root of the backward economic, social, and political position in which Canada's Indigenous population is kept by the government."

The UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) has repeatedly pointed out that Canada, Australia and New Zealand, while having formally signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, have done little to actually apply this Declaration.[1] In particular, the UNHRC has noted that these countries continue to refuse to recognize the right of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination on their own terms, the key right. The use of police powers against the Indigenous Peoples of Canada by the state acting above the law and finding various ways to undermine them is being widened to contain the striving of Indigenous Peoples for sovereignty and self-determination which has only sharpened the need for constitutional and political renewal.

The joint statement made by Canada, New Zealand and Australia brings to the fore the need for Canadians to strengthen their support for Indigenous Peoples' hereditary and treaty rights and to contemptuously reject such drivel that Canada projects about its "work in progress" in international fora such as the Third Committee of the UNGA.


1. The work to bring the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to fruition as an international law to protect Indigenous Peoples' rights began almost 100 years ago in the early 1920s. It started with the courageous efforts of Haudenosaunee Chief Deskaheh, and Maori elder T.W. Ratanga, both of whom attempted to bring the issues facing their peoples, in particular the violation of treaty and hereditary rights, to the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.

Chief Deskaheh in 1921 travelled to England to bring the matter to the attention of the highest authority of the Crown, George V, to remind his majesty of Crown agreements and duty to his people, and to plead the case of the Six Nations and seek justice. King George refused to meet with Chief Deskaheh.

In 1923, he travelled to Geneva on a Six Nations passport to protest the attempt by Canada to unseat the Six Nations Hereditary Council and to illegally impose an elected one through the Indian Act. For his noble efforts Chief Deskaheh was driven from his farm on the Six Nations, hounded and harassed by the Canadian government and the RCMP, and died in exile in 1925 at the Tuscarora Reservation in New York.

(With files from UN, Hardial Bains Resource Centre Archives, Canadian Encyclopedia)

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 2 - February 2023

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