What is UNDRIP and what will it mean for Canada?


What rights do Indigenous Peoples have, regardless of the country they live in?

That question has been debated on the international stage for decades and in the slow march Indigenous Peoples have taken to assert their rights. In Canada, Indigenous activists have fought to secure their rights and title to ancestral territories.

Now, the federal government has enshrined many of those rights in law. But it still has to figure out how to implement the new legislation. The path the federal government chooses could reshape the way Canada handles natural resource projects and raises some serious questions about the ownership and management of Crown land.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recognizes the inherent rights and sovereignty of Indigenous nations around the world. These include many civil rights, including the right to be educated in one’s own culture and language, the right to maintain a relationship with one’s traditional territories and practices, and the right to practise one’s culture without the threat of assimilation, among others.

When UNDRIP was adopted by the UN in 2007, Indigenous rights defenders won a huge victory. But there was one sticking point for Indigenous activists within this country: Canada, alongside New Zealand, Australia and the United States, was one of the four countries that voted against the declaration.

Indigenous activists in Canada spent more than a decade pressuring the Crown to incorporate UNDRIP into its laws, governance and future legislation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission even called on Ottawa to implement an action plan for UNDRIP in its 2015 calls to action.

Finally, that pressure paid off. Two years ago, on June 21 — National Indigenous Peoples Day — the federal government codified UNDRIP into Canadian law with an act known as UNDA, for short. On Wednesday, the federal government released the final draft of its UNDA action plan outlining how the new law will be implemented.