First Nations Pressure Canada to Endorse the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

News Release
September 12, 2008

Coast Salish Territory/Vancouver – On Saturday, the First Nations Leadership Council will celebrate the first anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Declaration affirms the “minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world”. It was overwhelmingly adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on September 13, 2007, with 144 States voting in favour of adoption.

“One year ago, 144 States stood beside the Indigenous peoples of the world in a strong show of support for our human rights. We sincerely applaud their commitment and the ongoing efforts of the global community to implement the rights affirmed by the Declaration”, said Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit.

However, the 1st anniversary celebrations are overshadowed by Canada’s negative and unreasonable position regarding the Declaration. Canada is one of only four nations to have voted against the Declaration in the General Assembly. It has continued to oppose the Declaration at home and internationally. In doing so, the minority Conservative government has ignored the democratic will of the House of Commons, which on April 8, 2008 passed a motion endorsing the Declaration and calling upon Parliament and the Government of Canada to “fully implement the standards contained therein”.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the Declaration’s adoption, Indigenous peoples’ organizations and human rights groups have issued an open letter (copy attached) to all federal political parties, calling upon them to affirm their support for the Declaration and to take action to ensure its effective implementation when the Parliament begins its work.

“With a federal election imminent, we urge all political parties to publically demonstrate their commitment to the Declaration and to the human rights of Indigenous peoples across Canada”, said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

“By the time of the second anniversary of the Declaration in 2009, we want to be able to tell the world that Canada has endorsed the Declaration and that it recognizes and respects the human rights of Indigenous peoples”, added Shawn Atleo, Regional Chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations.


The First Nations Leadership Council is comprised of the political executives of the BC Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. The Council works together to politically represent the interests of First Nations in British Columbia and develop strategies and actions to bring about significant and substantive changes to government policy that will benefit all First Nations in British Columbia.

For more information please contact:
Grand Chief Edward John 778-772-8218
First Nations Summit Political Executive

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
President, UBCIC: 250-490-5314

Ryneld Starr
Communications Coordinator
BC Assembly of First Nations: 604-922-7733

September 12, 2008
Open Letter to all Political Parties

Tomorrow, September 13, 2008, we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007 after more than two decades of negotiation and debate.

Despite having previously played a positive role in building international support for this human rights instrument, Canada was one of only four states to oppose the Declaration.

There are over 370 million Indigenous people worldwide. Indigenous peoples urgently require international affirmation and protection of their human rights. Their rights are routinely ignored and trampled by national governments, even when these rights are entrenched in domestic laws.

The Declaration affirms minimum human rights standards necessary for the “survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world.” These include the right of self-determination, protections from discrimination and genocide, and recognition of rights to lands, territories and resources that are essential to the identity, health and livelihood of Indigenous peoples.

The Declaration also explicitly requires that all provisions are to be balanced with the rights of others and interpreted in accordance with principles of justice, democracy, non-discrimination, good governance and respect for the human rights of all.

On April 8, 2008 the Canadian House of Commons passed a resolution to endorse the UN Declaration and calling on Parliament and the Government of Canada to “fully implement the standards contained therein.” Unfortunately, the minority Conservative government has persisted with its unfounded claims that the Declaration cannot be applied in Canada and should not be used as a standard of human rights protection in countries that voted against it.

Human rights declarations become universally applicable upon their adoption by the UN General Assembly, regardless of how individual states vote. To claim that countries should be exempt from principles and standards they vote against flies in the face of six decades of Canadian human rights advocacy at the United Nations and sets a dangerous example for other countries of the world.

Indigenous peoples and human rights organizations urge Canada to join the global community in implementing this long overdue and much needed universal human rights instrument. To continue in any other manner undermines Canada’s commitment to human rights at both the domestic and international levels.

In June a private members bill was introduced in the House of Commons calling for concrete measures to advance the Declaration in Canada. This includes requiring the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to report regularly to Parliament on implementation. Regretfully, Parliament will not have the opportunity to vote on this Bill before the October 14 election. We recommend that this worthy initiative be re-introduced and embraced by all political parties in the new Parliament.

In February 2009, Canada’s human rights record will be examined as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process. As a sign of its commitment to respecting the human rights of all, Canada should endorse the Declaration.

Our organizations take the occasion of the anniversary of the adoption to call on all political parties to affirm their support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In accordance with the April 8, 2008 Motion, all parties should commit themselves to take action to ensure effective implementation of the Declaration when the new Parliament begins its work.

Assembly of First Nations
Daniel Wilson
613.241.6789 #220

Amnesty International Canada
Craig Benjamin
613.744.7667 #235

Amnistie Internationale Canada francophone
Béatrice Vaugrante
514.766.9766 #224

BC Assembly of First Nations
Ryneld Starr

Canadian Friends Service Committee
Jennifer Preston

First Nations Summit
Grand Chief Edward John

Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)
Romeo Saganash

International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development (IOIRD)
Wilton Littlechild

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Stephen Hendrie
613.238.8181, ext. 230

Inuit Circumpolar Council (Canada)
Corinne Gray

Native Women's Association of Canada
Joshua Kirkey
613.722.3033 ext. 231

Quebec Native Women
Ellen Gabriel
450.632.0088, ext. 228

Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip