An NDP opposition critic was in Cranbrook to garner support for legislation that would streamline a United Nations declaration on First Nations rights into Canadian law.
Romeo Saganash, an MP in Northern Quebec and the opposition critic for Intergovernmental Aboriginal Affairs, gave a presentation to Ktunaxa Nation members out at the Aqam administration office on Tuesday night.
Saganash, who introduced a private member’s bill in April in the House of Commons — Bill 262, the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Act — said his bill would enshrine the rights and freedoms identified in UNDRIP into Canadian law.
A member of the Cree First Nation, Saganash was involved with the indigenous groups and representatives that negotiated UNDRIP before it’s adoption in September 2007.
“It was a 23-year effort and the General Assembly called on the member states to fully adopt and implement the declaration over the years,” Saganash said.
“Canada eventually endorsed the declaration, and now the next step is to make it into a law, and that’s what my bill is supposed to do.”
The bill is also being touted as a vehicle of reconciliation between the First Nations and the government of Canada.
Saganash has been touring Canada presenting in various communities and has a groundswell of support from organizations representing nearly one million indigenous peoples.
UNDRIP passed with an overwhelming majority in 2007, however, Canada — under the previous Conservative government — voted against the declaration, along with the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, elected nearly a year ago with a majority Liberal government, has made engagement with First Nations a top priority.
Bill 262 would spell out the rights of indigenous peoples as identified in UNDRIP, which would provide clarity to legal challenges that end up going to the courts.
“If you consider all the different court cases we’ve had over the years, the Government of Canada has been an adversary to indigenous peoples in this country throughout the history of this country,” said Saganash.
“It’s the only group that’s been subjected to that type of discriminatory treatment in this country, and my bill will clarify what those rights are, what those basic human rights of indigenous peoples are, so we don’t have to fight in court or challenge the interpretation of Section 35 of the Constitution.”
Stetski says treaties are the best way to engage with First Nations and that the bill will clarify and uphold indigenous rights.
“I think anything that brings clarity is important,” Stetski said. “I sat on the treaty negotiations for three years when I was mayor of Cranbrook representing municipalities for the east and west Kootenays and I became a real believer in treaties as the best way forward.
“Treaties are a partnership in the end, and reconciliation is a partnership in the end.”