On September 13, 2007, eleven years after declaring June 21as National Aboriginal Day, Canada voted against the adoption of the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
This was a shameful stance for Canada; even more so, considering Canada was then a member of the UN Human Rights Council. Our government was fully aware that Article 21 of the Declaration identified the right of indigenous peoples, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions — including, among other things, the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security.
To add insult to injury, Prime Minister Harper apologized in 2008 about the damaging impact of the Indian residential schools on the indigenous culture, heritage and language, yet remained indifferent on his government's position about UNDRIP. And even after the Harper government endorsed the declaration in 2010, the principles and articles set out in the UN Declaration have not yet been turned into tangible measures.
So in Canada the implementation of UNDRIP remains spiritless and discriminatory.
As Canada’s largest private sector union, UFCW Canada believes that genuine reconciliation between Canada and indigenous communities can only begin to happen through effective implementation of UNDRIP.
UFCW Canada has taken steps to this end by partnering with First Nations Children and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCS), a national organization that promotes the holistic approach to respecting and nurturing First Nations children, families, and communities. In 2007, FNCFCS and the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint against the Government of Canada, alleging that the government’s failure to provide equitable and culturally-based services to First Nations children on reserves amounted to discrimination on the basis of race and national ethnic origin. The case continues before the courts. This historic case is also backed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and marks the first time in history that Canada could be held accountable for its current treatment of First Nations children.
As part of UFCW Canada’s national campaign, we have created a Reconciliation is… poster series. These five posters, available for download here, lay out a few simple ways in which we can support the work of the FNCFCS and raise the profile of the essential initiatives it is involved in like Jordan’s Principle, Shannen’s Dream, I am a Witness, and Touchstones of Hope.
UFCW Canada has also been invited to support the important work of KAIROS, with other community allies from across the country, in the Roll with the Declaration initiative — a cross-Canada campaign that concludes with a day of action on Parliament Hill to tell the Harper government that UNDRIP must be put into action. On June 2o, UFCW Canada will add its banner to the banners of dozens of other organizations to create an enormous unified banner marking the support for the UN Declaration.
As social justice activists, we must not allow the Harper Conservative government to use June 21st for its own purposes. Rather, let us celebrate the vast accomplishments of First Nations communities, and join together with our First Nations sisters and brothers in their ongoing fight for respect, dignity and equity for Canada's First Nations peoples. On National Aboriginal Day let us reflect on the historic injustices committed to indigenous peoples and vow to find meaningful ways to advance reconciliation and to correct past mistakes.