Friday, September 14, 2007


On Thursday, 13 September, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly voted on and approved the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, by a vote of 143 in favour against 4 opposed. The Declaration had been amended just before the vote, after more than twenty years of discussions, negotiations, and multiple revisions. The final text of the Declaration can be accessed by clicking here. A copy of the declaration, with last minute amendments highlighted in yellow, can be retrieved by clicking here.

Canada, along with other settler states (the United States, Australia, and New Zealand) has "distinguished" itself internationally for voting against a non-binding document which would not have become law in Canada, a dogged insistence on attacking the symbolic value of a document masking what is probably the Canadian government's support for transnational corporations appropriating indigenous resources worldwide. For more on Canada's failure to live up to its much vaunted claims of being a moral leader in the world, see "Canada votes 'no' as UN native rights declaration passes" in the CBC news. You can also download a video of the news story by clicking here, as well as a video of CBC's interview with Canada's Minister for Indian Affairs. Also on the CBC: "Northern leaders slam Canada's rejection of UN native rights declaration."

According to a list of FAQs produced by the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, these are some of the key details explaining the purpose and value of the Declaration:

UN Declarations are generally not legally binding; however, they represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and reflect the commitment of states to move in certain directions, abiding by certain principles. This is the case for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well. The Declaration is expected to have a major effect on the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide. If adopted, it will establish an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples and will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the over 370 million indigenous people worldwide and assist them in combating discrimination and marginalization.

Seventeen of the forty-five articles of the Declaration deal with indigenous culture and how to protect and promote it, by respecting the direct input of indigenous peoples in decision-making, and allowing for resources, such as those for education in indigenous languages and other areas.
 The Declaration confirms the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination and recognizes subsistence rights and rights to lands, territories and resources.
 The Declaration recognizes that indigenous peoples deprived of their means of subsistence and development are entitled to just and fair redress.
 Essentially, the Declaration outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples, promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them, as well as their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development.

The Declaration addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights and identity, rights to education, health, employment, language, and others. The text says indigenous peoples have the right to fully enjoy as a collective or as individuals, all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law. Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.

Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By that right they can freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development. They have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their rights to participate fully, if they choose to, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the state.


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