Open Letter to the Trudeau Government: “Don’t Ignore First Nations’ Concerns Over UNDRIP”

By Stephen Buffalo, President/CEO of the Indian Resource Council

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We are writing this open letter to Ottawa to demand our right under the Canadian constitution to be consulted about material changes that impact our lands and traditional territories.  The adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights (UNDRIP) to override existing Canadian law will impact our traditional territories.  Bill C15 does not have clear provisions for due process and does not contain protections to ensure our existing rights to consultation under existing law are not diminished. This law may be well-intentioned, but it cannot be unilaterally imposed.

We fully support the international recognition of Indigenous rights First Nations Peoples’ fought for generations to prove our title was not extinguished and that we have a right to meaningful consultation and involvement in development in our traditional territories.  There are Indigenous Peoples around the world who do not enjoy this respect and the recognition that they were there first. 

Our fight in Canada is not over.  Our right to be consulted and to object to projects is now recognized – but what about our right to say yes?  Real equality and power is not just the right to say no, it is also the right to say yes.

We need to stay vigilant in Canada.  There  is still a gap in economic participation opportunities between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of the Canadian population.  International declarations and superficial recognition of our rights is not enough.  If there is systemic racism in Canada, there is no more likely expression of it than in the terrible poverty and sometimes even lack of clean drinking water on some Reserves.  Until Indigenous Peoples’ rights mean real respect for our culture, real jobs, and real ownership in economic opportunities, we will continue to struggle to be equals in the lands we founded.  Our work, to turn our recently recognized rights into genuine equality, is far from done.

First Nations’ Peoples have had enough, we do not want lip service from Ottawa with a paternalistic pat on the head as they tell us what is good for us. The attitude and approach from Ottawa that you are making this new law to help us, and we should not worry is a prime example of paternalism and colonialism. If your words and commitment to reconciliation are true, then this process must halt immediately. We want to be consulted on major legal changes to our rights and we want that consultation to be meaningful.  We fought for that, the Supreme Court agreed with us, and we deserve it.

Imagine the irony of introducing a law with no consultation and no real attempt to obtain ‘full informed consent’ that will give undefined groups of Indigenous Peoples an undefined right to ‘full informed consent’.  It is almost unimaginable that Ottawa did not meaningfully consult and did not obtain consent from First Nations on something so fundamental.  Besides us, the National Coalition of Chiefs, the leaderships of Treaty 6, 7 and 8 of Alberta, and dozens of other Nations across Canada have expressed concern about how this bill will work in practice and have called for major  amendments.  We are concerned how this Bill will impact our sovereignty and potentially diminish our inherent rights. We continue to have a positive relationship with Canada on a Nation-to-Nation basis. Ottawa should be committed to this relationship as the PM has said time and again that no relationship is more important   that with the Indigenous Peoples.  It is time for the Government of Canada and Prime Minister Trudeau to remain true to these words.

It is time for the Government to stop ignoring us.

It comes down to this.  We won the right to be consulted and we want to actually be consulted.  Telling us from on high in Ottawa what is good for us without even asking us, is a disrespectful expression of elite privilege and an aberration of our rights.

We want amendments and clarifications to this Bill.  We support recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples not only in Canada but internationally, but we do not want our right to say yes to be diminished or even worse, taken away.  This Bill has to be  shelved until consultation is completed properly with First Nations across Turtle Island and there is a clearly defined dispute resolution process in place.  There needs to be due process.

We call on the Government to walk their talk on respect for indigenous rights.  Open this process to genuine consultation with the people it impacts.

We do not want to return to the railroad blockades.  If this new Bill is not implemented properly then blockades may become a way of life.  No one will benefit, not Indigenous Peoples and not Canadians generally.  The risk is the inequality will remain – we have a chance to make systemic change – let’s not miss it.

It’s time to close the gap in Canada and allow our Indigenous peoples to participate and have ownership with full respect for our cultures.  Ottawa must open to nation-to-nation consultations on this Bill.

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