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Politics ᐊ ᓃᑳᓂᔅᑭᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐊᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Indigenous Rights Declaration is held up in the Senate as election deadline looms

BY Ben Powless Apr 12, 2019

MP Romeo Saganash is raising concern that his private member’s bill to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous Peoples is threatened with dying a death by delay in the Senate.

Saganash tabled the legislation nearly three years ago, in April 2016. After being initially opposed by the governing Liberal Party, the House of Commons finally passed it last May. Now, if the unelected Senate doesn’t adopt it before Parliament is dissolved this summer, it will die on the order paper.

“I would have loved to announce that my bill was law on the anniversary of the UN Declaration in September. That didn’t happen,” Saganash said in a statement to the Nation.

“If my bill doesn’t become law before everyone rises for the summer, it will be done. I hate to think about it because I have worked to protect and promote human rights for over 30 years, and I have been trying to get [UNDRIP] into law since I was elected in 2011.”

Other Indigenous leaders and supportive groups have also been speaking out, including at an April 1 press conference across from Parliament Hill.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde urged all senators to pass Bill C-262, calling it a “framework for reconciliation and the path to closing the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and Canada.” He added that the move would “be a step toward a more fair and just country and an important step towards reconciliation.”

Amnesty International Canada Secretary General Alex Neve dismissed some of the concerns that have been raised in the Senate. “Bill C-262 provides a clear and principled framework for the federal government to live up to its promise to finally address some of the most serious human rights concerns facing Canada,” Neve said.

They were joined at the press conference by Rosemarie Kuptana, the former president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. Kuptana noted that Canadians and Members of Parliament largely support the declaration. Indigenous people would be watching the outcome of the vote, she added.

A number of groups, including the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the Mennonite Church of Canada have begun campaigns to contact senators and urge them to pass the bill.

Saganash noted that his was only the second opposition bill to gain government support since the Trudeau government was elected in 2015. “Canadians want true reconciliation and justice, they want to fix past wrongs and move forward in a different way,” he emphasized.

Parliament has scheduled fewer than 30 working days before it is set to take its summer break June 7. If the bill passes in the Senate, it must go back to the House of Commons for a third reading before receiving Royal Assent and becoming law.

However, if there are any changes to the bill made in the Senate, it must be passed again in the House of Commons, which would make it unlikely to become law during this government.

Saganash had one final message for senators now tasked with considering the future of Indigenous rights in this country: “How can anyone oppose the human rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2019? This is our chance to be global leaders, strengthening human rights both here and abroad, and pass a piece of legislation that will move us towards a reconciled society that respects the original peoples of this land.”

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.