Whether or not you support Bill C-15, Canada’s passage would be an important moment in our history.
This opinion piece was written by Andre Bear, former youth representative of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and co-chair of the Assembly’s National First Nations Youth Council.
For more information on CBC Opinion Section, please see the Faq,
For another interpretation of Bill C-15, see the article by Wendy Lynn Lerat here.
It is an exciting but controversial time for the Indian country. Many are divided as to whether they support Bill C-15, An Act respecting the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or whether they believe it is simply a matter of ‘another tool to colonize and assimilate their peoples under Canadian law.
The stated purpose of Bill C-15 is to begin the process of aligning Canadian legislation with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
UNDRIP was developed over a 20-year period by indigenous peoples around the world, including the leadership of the “Treaty Indians” in Canada. In fact, many of those who reject Bill C-15 today are the same people who used UNDRIP to hold Canada accountable for the right of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent.
Many First Nations support Bill C-15 because by accepting UNDRIP it recognizes the international status of Indigenous sovereignty, which was included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. However, almost all First Nations in Alberta openly rejected the bill, as have many Conservative governments across Canada.
There is a glaring difference between people with real fact-based concerns and these scare-mongering and widespread conspiracy theories.
Valid concerns remain on both sides, especially for those who have treaties with the Crown that have yet to be honored.
Treaty Indians have a distinct relationship with the Crown. This relationship allowed Canada to exist today because our ancestors agreed to share the land. But Canada has a legacy of ignoring treaty agreements and imposing laws that have left our nation fragmented.
WATCH | Andre Bear talks about international law and UNDRIP
A violent colonial legacy
There is a long and dark history of colonialism which can be further mitigated by respecting our original treaty agreements.
One of the most destructive laws is the Indian Act, which has violated our treaty and our inherent rights since its implementation in 1876.
The Indian Act is the current legal relationship between Canada and First Nations. It was created to assimilate Indigenous peoples into Canadian society and assume full control of our nation. The Indian Act remains one of the most racist laws in the world. He still controls First Nations citizenship, governance and lands in Canada to this day.
Hopefully Bill C-15 will completely contradict the Indian Act and restore the relationship with Indigenous peoples to the original spirit and intent of the treaties.– André Bear
Many Treaty Indians are still traumatized by Canada’s violent colonial heritage. They will reject any policy that gives the impression of changing their environment, and with good reason.
As self-governing nations, Treaty Indians have every right to reject colonial legislation. However, the Indian Act legally binds our nation as wards of the Crown. Before we can achieve true sovereignty or self-determination, we need to get out of the Indian Act.
One way to do this is to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Canadian law. Canada can take a step in the right direction by implementing Bill C-15 – which recognizes Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination – and then withdrawing.
End assimilation and colonization
Bill C-15 is only the first step towards the implementation of UNDRIP into Canadian law. This is for Canada to ensure that its own laws comply with international human rights standards. If we indigenous peoples are truly sovereign, we should not be threatened by this.
When you read Bill C-15, the preamble is intended to prepare the government for the process of ending assimilation and colonization.
“Whereas the Government of Canada rejects all forms of colonialism and is committed to advancing relations with Indigenous peoples which are based on good faith and on the principles of justice, democracy, equality, non- discrimination, good governance and respect for human rights, ”it says.
We hope that Canada’s rejection of colonialism would be to reject the doctrine of discovery, Terra Nullius, and the Indian Act. Maybe these should be specifically named in the law.
Whether you support Bill C-15 or not, Canada’s passage would undoubtedly be an important moment in our history. At one point, Canada was against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Today, he wants to integrate UNDRIP into Canadian law.
Most importantly, let us hope that Bill C-15 will completely contradict the Indian Act and restore the relationship with Indigenous peoples to the original spirit and intent of the treaties.
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