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Bill Honouring Indigenous Rights Gets a Do-Over

Tories killed last attempt to enshrine First Nations' rights in law. Now, a second chance.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 22 Apr 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

This coverage of Canadian national issues is made possible because of generous financial support from our Tyee Builders Tyee Builders.

Nearly a year since a similar effort was killed by the Tory government, a bill to recognize Indigenous people's rights in accordance with a United Nations declaration was tabled Thursday in Ottawa.

This time, the bill could pass.

"I'm pretty confident," said Romeo Saganash, a residential school survivor and the NDP MP behind the private members' bill.

Saganash's bill would primarily "ensure the laws of Canada respect" the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, meaning Canadian laws would have to abide by the document's stipulations.

The Quebec MP spent more than two decades working on the declaration, which was finalized in 2008 and endorsed by Canada in 2010.

The document affirms a variety of rights for Indigenous people across the world, including control over developments affecting their lands and recognition of their suffering over past injustices.

"There are political rights that are enshrined; there are economic, social and cultural rights that are enshrined," Saganash said. "All of these elements are contained in the UN declaration."

He hopes the declaration will serve as the framework for reconciliation between First Nations and the Government in Canada.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has also called on the government to adopt the declaration for that purpose.

Saganash said the bill would also give more leverage to First Nations communities when dealing with governments.

Liberals supported previous bill

The MP's attempt to table a similar bill last year was voted down by the then-Conservative government, but he said considering the Tories' track record on such issues, it wasn't a surprise.

"I even made a last pitch on the very day it was debated and voted on, and it was a flat no," he said. "I saw it coming."

Back then the Liberal party supported the proposed legislation, which gives Saganash reason to hope it will pass this time.

Comments made by Justin Trudeau at the Assembly of First Nations last summer, before he was prime minister, might also buoy those supporting the bill.

"Reconciliation starts with recognizing and respecting aboriginal title and rights, including Treaty rights," Trudeau said in his address to the assembly.

"A Liberal government will do just that. Not only in accordance with constitutional obligations, but also with those enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett has made no statement on whether the Liberals would support the legislation this time around.

But Saganash said he's had many private discussions with Liberal MPs about support for the bill, and he's been pleased with the outcome.

"This [bill] is where it starts, and I hope in the future it has a positive impact on how we deal with Indigenous Peoples," he said.  [Tyee]

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