Canada is in violation of international human rights agreements because it denies self-determination to indigenous peoples, said Arthur Manuel at a lecture for Culture Shock this Monday.
Manuel is the current spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET), and both the former Chief of the Shuswap Nation and chairperson of the Interior Alliance of B.C. First Nations.
Despite Canada’s reputation as a defender of international human rights, Manuel claimed that most Canadians are unaware that human rights violations are going on right in their own backyard. Manuel argued that Canada’s policies prevent First Nations’ right to self-determination, self-governance achieved by a community independent of the state where its territory is located.
“Canada always gets really bad reports [from the UN]. They’ve told Canada to quit extinguishing indigenous land rights, to recognize Indian land rights,” he said. “[The UN] has come out with solid recommendations against Canada, but Canada hasn’t followed them. And a lot of Canadian people don’t understand that.”
In 2006, Canada was one of only four countries – including the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand – which did not ratify the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. It was the first international document to establish that the rights of indigenous peoples – rights to land and self-determination – as human rights.
Manuel said the Harper government is responsible for Canada’s decision, but reminded the audience the onus to act was on them.
Manuel pointed to Canada’s colonial history as the reason for its disregard of indigenous rights, particularly the notion – recently revisited by McGill Chancellor Dick Pound’s comments made in french to La Presse in August — that native people were savages at the time of contact. This perception created an environment where land could be taken without compensation, land rights were lost, and natural resource industries like logging and mining capitalized, according to Manuel, who claimed that Canada still does not have a functioning mechanism to resolve these long standing issues.
“There is really no solution right now for indigenous peoples to come up with any real meaningful change. We either negotiate and extinguish our land rights, or we wind up in court,” he said.
Manuel did add, however, that signing the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights would be a step in the right direction, because only with the support of Canadians will indigenous peoples be able to come closer to self-determination.
“Canada has to recognize the human rights of indigenous people,” he said. “And we really need to work together.”