Thank you. Again, my apologies to everyone.
I'd like to start by thanking the Algonquin nation for providing an opportunity for us to speak on their traditional territory here today, and I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you.
It's nice to see a couple of familiar faces, those of my own MP, Dan Vandal, and of course Romeo—it's nice to see you—and Brenda.
I have a background in social work and law. I'm a Métis person from Manitoba. I had the honour of participating in the draft declaration on the working group for a couple of years right at the end before it was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in 2006 and then the UN General Assembly in 2007.
I thought I might take this time to focus on the economic, social, and cultural rights contained in the declaration, as well as the specific provisions around violence and discrimination. These are important provisions, often particularly for indigenous women, who fought hard to ensure that the rights related to discrimination and violence were an explicit part of the declaration.
I'd like to start by talking about the interrelationship between the rights and other foundational rights within the declaration, such as the right to self-determination and the promotion of indigenous legal traditions and systems.
When it was adopted on September 13, 2007, it was an historic achievement for the international human rights community. It was the first time that indigenous peoples were welcomed into the world family. To me, the strength of indigenous peoples' abilities to negotiate and resolve conflicts at the table was demonstrated by the fact that we were able to come to a text that, while not perfect, we could live with, knowing that our key interests and rights would be protected for future generations. In the end, together with our allies from human rights organizations and friendly states, I think indigenous peoples were able to negotiate a declaration that addresses a wide range of concerns.
Eleven years later, here we are, looking at how we breathe life into these rights. The declaration covers an extraordinary range of rights and concerns, all of which reflect indigenous peoples' lived experience of colonization and genocide, as well as our values and our aspirations for a world in which our children and our children's children will be able to live in dignity and safety as indigenous peoples on our own traditional territories, while self-governing nations promote sustainable models of development consistent with indigenous customs and laws.
But the declaration is more than the sum of its parts. It affirms the right to self-determination. It affirms our rights to lands, territories, and resources. It affirms the right to maintain and to pass on our languages, our customs, and our traditions in a wide range of areas from sustainable development to education. It affirms the rights of indigenous women and children to live free from violence and discrimination, but it also draws a link between these rights. It says that these rights are all part of a whole that states, courts, corporations, non-government, and our own governments must respect and uphold.
It also draws a link between these rights and all the rights affirmed in all other international human rights instruments, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, etc. The declaration guides and informs application of these standards in the context of the collective rights of our people.
As you are well aware, a basic concept of international law is that all rights are interdependent, indivisible, and inseparable.
When we were looking at articles in the UN declaration and we had states like France saying that human rights are individual rights by their very nature, that's the end of the story, and there's no need for collective rights, we had to say to them, “No, actually they're not, and let's take the example of women facing violence”. Why are they in harm's way? Why do they experience alarmingly high rates of violence? Why do they go missing and murdered so often? It's because of all the systemic pressures on the lives of indigenous peoples, because they're alienated from their traditional territories, because they suffer low socio-economic status and don't have equal access to education and employment. All those things have to be looked at together, and the declaration does a very nice job of doing that.
At the time, as well, when we were negotiating the declaration, that wasn't very well understood. States really didn't see the interaction between collective and individual rights very well, and we had to do a lot of work to explain that.
When we look at today with the systemic nature of issues facing women, we hear about that at the inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women, for example. We hear about how the impacts of the residential schools and colonization have affected their lives. In our communities there is growing awareness of that as a key issue, a fundamental issue.
As an advocate for indigenous women, when I participated in the draft declaration working group, it was in the early 2000s. That was a time when things really were at such a different level. Now there is so much more awareness, and sometimes that can lead us to get a bit lackadaisical. We, as Canada, have a pretty good human rights system. We have good constitutional law. We have lots of protections. But the fact that we still have all those socio-economic indicators draws out the reason why this act is necessary. We need to demonstrate that, as Canada, we're purposely going to reflect on what the rights are in the declaration and how we are going to live up to those. Part of that is recognizing that right now we don't. Right now, we do have human rights issues facing indigenous people, indigenous women, and indigenous youth.
To me, a challenge for us is to ensure that we give life to the principle of indivisibility at each step of the way. I was going to give some examples of that, but I know I'm almost out of time. If you look at articles 20, 21, and 22, which deal with economic, social, and cultural rights and the right to live free from violence and discrimination, and compare that to article 23, which looks at the right to development, and article 24, which looks at the right to health of indigenous peoples, you can see how they're all interrelated, and when you hear about the example of mining companies exploiting indigenous women in northern B.C., that's a good example of how these rights are interrelated.
I just wanted to end with a personal reflection. I was raised in the 1970s by parents who dedicated their lives to social justice. My dad was an academic. He started the native studies departments at Brandon University, at Trent University, and at the University of Manitoba. I didn't grow up on the land. I didn't grow up with a lot of those traditional practices, but I grew up with a strong sense of identity as a Métis person connected to my Métis culture. I was taught to always share and to be thankful for what I had. I think sharing is a fundamental belief of Métis people, and of course, it's shared with others, but it's a very central one in our community.
Today, four or five decades later from the time my dad was in residential school, my son is learning about reconciliation and the UN declaration in his school.
I'll end there, so we have time for some questions.