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Perry Bellegarde is the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations

On this day in 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which sets out minimum standards necessary “for the dignity, survival and well-being of Indigenous peoples,” was adopted by the UN General Assembly. Let this be the year that sees the leaders of all federal parties agree to work with each other and with Indigenous peoples to make the full and effective implementation of the declaration a priority.

On Monday, Parliament will reconvene in Ottawa after the summer break. A private member’s bill has been introduced that would ensure the laws of Canada are in harmony with the UN declaration. I urge all parliamentarians to embrace and build on this approach, to formally adopt the UN declaration as the framework for reconciliation as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its Calls to Action.

Governments have obligations under several UN resolutions to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples to ensure the full implementation of the UN declaration. After almost a decade of inaction under the previous government, what that means for Canada has started to become evident. In June, the Assembly of First Nations and the Canadian government signed a memorandum of understanding outlining our commitment to “work in partnership on measures to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including co-development of a national action plan and discussion of proposals for a federal legislative framework on implementation.” In July, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to the declaration when the government released a set of 10 principles to guide federal officials as they work towards rights recognition in policy development.

Several provincial governments and municipalities have endorsed the declaration. In the past few weeks, Montreal’s city council unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing it while British Columbia’s new government expressed its intention to fully adopt and implement the declaration.

Federal, provincial and municipal governments increasingly recognize the value of working with First Nations leaders to make real progress. The involvement of First Nations in all matters that impact our lives is how we will recover from the injustices of the past and close the socio-economic gap for our peoples. The priority is the development of a national action plan, including legislation, to support implementation of the UN declaration in order to ensure a lasting commitment to this framework for reconciliation. It’s critical for all jurisdictions to work in close collaboration with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples at the national, regional and local levels to adopt concrete measures to fully implement the UN declaration.

An air of change is evident and positive, but where discrimination and outmoded approaches have been entrenched for generations, sustained action is required to achieve meaningful change. The foundation for the many changes required in languages, education and child welfare will be clear once the declaration finds positive expression in legislation by Parliament. Given its importance, this would ideally be accomplished with the unanimous support of all parties.

We are on the verge of a turnaround for Indigenous peoples, but work cannot be celebrated until it is completed. On this anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, I think about what we can achieve, working in a spirit of collaboration and co-operation. I urge the federal government to work with Indigenous peoples without delay on a legislative framework for the full implementation of the UN declaration. First Nations expect to see real and fundamental change. Positive words and sentiments are encouraging, but are not enough for our children and grandchildren to […]

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