Ahousaht Tyee ‘totally disappointed’ in Justice Minister’s words

By Debora Steel, July 14, 2016
Niagara Falls, Ont. — 

Betrayal? "It is," said Tyee Ha’wilth Maquinna Lewis George about a statement by federal Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould.

On July 12, the minister told the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations, gathered in Niagara Falls, that Canada would not adopt into law the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Wilson-Raybould said “[S]implistic approaches such as adopting the United Nations declaration as being Canadian law are unworkable and, respectfully, a political distraction to undertaking the hard work actually required to implement it back home in communities.”

“I’m totally disappointed with what Raybould had to say,” said Maquinna. “[The Liberals] are no different than the Harper government.”

“Genius” is how Maquinna described NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s private members Bill C-262. It calls for the adoption and implementation of UNDRIP into Canadian law.

Maquinna said Saganash really impressed him and the Bill “really made sense to me.” So much so that after listening to Saganash’s presentation on the Bill during the Council of Ha’wiih meeting on June 23 in Tofino, Maquinna and the Ahousaht Ha’wiih called on all the Nuu-chah-nulth hereditary chiefs to stand in support and endorse the Bill.

Speaking for Maquinna, Cliff Atleo Sr. said ‘we call on all the chiefs present to support and endorse the proposal put forward by Romeo Saganash. It is intended to enshrine in law and start doing away with those things that always keeps us fighting to be who we are, to exercise those things that are inherent from our ancestors, to stop the government from toying with us every which way we turn…. We see this as an excellent tool to stop all of that, to stop the racism that’s almost inherent in the system.”

Council of Ha-wiih Chair Tom Happynook went around the room, asking the Ha’wiih if they supported and endorsed Saganash’s Bill.

There were thumbs up around the room from each Nuu-chah-nulth Nation.

“Romeo, you have the full support of the Nuu-chah-nulth Ha’wiih in your private members bill,” he announced.

The Bill contains six articles and confirms that nothing in the Bill constrains in any way the present rights that Indigenous peoples have under the Constitution of Canada, both Aboriginal and treaty rights, said Saganash.

“My bill will confirm that the UN Declaration has application in Canadian law… I think it’s important to make that confirmation through legislation, because it provides that clarity we all need. When the rules are clear, everything goes well. … that’s what we need in this country, for the future.”

And the future is one of the things that Saganash is concerned about. He said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in their calls to action made an important distinction between adoption and implementation.

You implement through policies and programs, “that any government can change,” but you adopt through legislation, he said.

Saganash is one of the very few Indigenous lawyers that spent the entire 23 years in the process that led to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he told the Ha’wiih.

His Bill flows from the TRC’s 94 calls to action, specifically calls 43 and 44.

Number 43 calls on the government of Canada, the provinces, the territories and the municipalities “to fully adopt and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as the framework for reconciliation.”

Since the Liberal government was elected last October, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett had talked about implementation of UNDRIP, and then in May, Saganash said, Minister Bennett and Minister Wilson-Raybould talked about adopting UNDRIP (with qualification).  Saganash said he asked them why then had government not supported his Bill.

“They totally skated around the question. It’s a clear question. Do you support it or not, because it proposes to do what you’re saying you are going to do, your promises to the Indigenous peoples of this country.”

He said he suspected the government may be working on something else, that “would be weaker than my Bill.” He said that would be troubling “because the UN Declaration provides the standards that are the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples that recognizes our right to self-determination, our right to resources, our territories, our lands.”

In her address to the AFN, Wilson-Raybould talked about a “principled approach to a Nation-to-Nation relationship based on recognition.” She also talked about the Indian Act and decolonization.

The minister said the federally-imposed Indian Act is not the answer for Indigenous people and communities, but ripping up the Indian Act, as UNDRIP would require government to do, would create legal and economic uncertainty during the period of transition. There needs to be careful consideration of the mechanisms that would be required to transition away from the Indian Act, she said.

“At the same time we also have to be mindful of the vested interests in the status quo that are resistant to change. Not to mention the citizens of the Nations who may be afraid of change and more comfortable with the devil they know than the devil they do not...

“So as much as I would tomorrow like to cast into the fire of history the Indian Act so that the Nations can be reborn in its ashes - this is not a practical option…”

Wilson-Raybould said what was needed is “an efficient process of transition that lights a fire under the process of decolonization but does so in a controlled manner that respects where Indigenous communities are in terms of rebuilding… rather than popping the balloon that is the Indian Act, we need to let the air out slowly in a controlled and deliberate manner.”

Maquinna called letting the air out of the balloon “a pile of B.S.” and asked “how long is it slowly going to be?”

Wilson-Raybould said “Ultimately, the UNDRIP will be articulated through the constitutional framework of section 35,” through a mixture of legislation, policy and action initiated and taken by Indigenous Nations themselves.

And how can Indigenous people “breathe life into Section 35”?

The government will begin a process to recognize Indigenous Nations and legitimate institutions of government, facilitate the transition, and “develop a national reconciliation framework with improved and new mechanisms to guide this transition to rebuilding strong, self-determining Nations with practicing and thriving cultures,” including modern treaties with new mandates and other “constructive arrangements.”

Wilson-Raybould said she would like a jointly-developed plan in place by the next AFN assembly in 2017, with work on development and implementation of the mechanism that support the transition well underway.

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Deb Foxcroft and Vice-President Ken Watts were in Niagara Falls attending the AFN gathering. On Ha-Shilth-Sa’s request they released a statement on the Justice Minister’s comments. They seem to have a short- and long-term perspective.

The President and Vice-President believe Nuu-chah-nulth should stand behind MP Saganash, and his Bill to see UNDRIP passed into law, and will be seeking support from the NTC Board of Directors for Bill C-262. However, “we must also recognize that we need to create change and action now.

“We recognize that making UNDRIP actual law in its totality will be a long, difficult and drawn out process which may lead to more court battles to define.” They said “We should not slow down our efforts to push for immediate policy and legislative changes and amendments, both federally and provincially, that are reflective of UNDRIP Articles.”

NTC will take the steps to get Band Council Resolutions from Nuu-chah-nulth Nations, an NTC Motion, and possibly launch a petition to support the call for UNDRIP to be reflective in all Canadian law or become law, reads the statement.

See our YouTube video on MP Romeo Saganash’s presentation to the Council of Ha’wiih here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kwJ-BoXR-U


See the Minister of Justice’s full address to the AFN here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jody-wilsonraybould/social-issues-indigenous-communities_b_10964396.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-politics&ir=Canada+Politics&utm_campaign=canpoli&utm_term=canpoli&utm_content=canpoli&utm_source=canpoli&utm_medium=canpoli