Toronto – August 6, 2014 - On August 9, 1982, the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations met for the first time. Though the world’s Indigenous nations had suffered centuries of oppression and decimation under European colonization, it would still take the UN General Assembly another 25 years to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 2007, 143 member states voted for the Declaration, yet Canada refused to endorse it until 2010. The Declaration marked the first time an international agreement spelled out how Indigenous nations should be treated by other governments.
Prior to European contact, it is estimated about 9 million people belonging to Indigenous nations lived on land which is now referred to as North America. Then, beginning in the 16th Century, approximately 80% of Indigenous peoples were killed on the land, through war, murder, disease and starvation. Those who survived were forcibly relocated onto tiny pockets of land, while children were abducted from their families and placed in the government’s residential school system.
On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Harper issued an apology for the treatment of children during the residential school regime. While there have been negligible and half-hearted attempts by successive Canadian governments to decrease the massive inequality that exists in the services provided to Aboriginal peoples, these have been done with virtually no regard for the basic tenets of the UN Declaration. For example, Article 18 of the Declaration obliges governments to adequately consult with Indigenous nations on any and all matters that affect their peoples. Yet, the federal government’s recent First Nations Education Bill C-33 was considered by most national chiefs and human rights advocates as a slap in the face to Indigenous nations – something created with little to no consultation with Aboriginal peoples. As such, Bill C-33 was rightly crushed.
As the nation’s most progressive union, UFCW Canada is a strong advocate for the human rights of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. With a longstanding partnership with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, we support many of the social justice issues that matter to Aboriginal peoples, including the campaigns I am a Witness, Jordan’s Principle and Our Dreams Matter Too. On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples – August 9, I challenge you to stand in solidarity with Indigenous nations and demand that all levels of government start respecting and implementing the tenets of the UN Declaration. While we cannot change the past, we can stand up against injustice and build a relationship of cooperation, respect, support and coexistence with our Indigenous nations.
Paul R. Meinema,