Day Three: Conference on Indigenous Peoples and Human Right
23 February 2018
The Raymond Cormier verdict was a point of passionate discussion and tears during the last day of the conference on Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples. Despite the anger, sadness and frustration resulting from the verdict, the conference continued to explore important principles and concepts for the transition to human rights systems that respect Indigenous rights.
The principle theme of the third day of the conference centred on human rights institutions. A major conundrum that faces human rights bodies in Canada is reconciling the Western nature of important bodies like the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal and the provincial counterparts with the need for self-governance and self-determination. While the human rights commissions are technically arms-length from government, they are certainly a component of the state apparatus. Regardless, many first Nations, Metis and Inuit communities cannot, in good conscious, accept the authority of non-Indigenous bodies over the governance of human rights in the community.
While there is justified scepticism of non-Indigenous human rights organizations in traditional communities, there is no doubt a pressing need for institutions to advocate for and protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples in their communities.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) must be implemented in accordance with international law and without discrimination. Ensuring the traditional and human rights of Indigenous individuals are respected by Indigenous governments requires third party oversight, as is the case with all governments. The issue is not whether Human Rights institutions are needed in traditional communities, but how these bodies ought to be constituted.
There was a general consensus that, while the non-Indigenous human rights institutions should not, themselves, have a mandate of investigating and adjudicating human rights disputes between indigenous peoples and their governments, there is a supportive role for these institutions in the development and operation of indigenous human rights institutions.
Ultimately, new Indigenous institutions are necessary to provide third party oversight as we transition increasingly toward self-governance models. These institutions will play an important role in promoting education and understanding of the binding nature of human rights at the traditional government level while resolving human rights disputes.
Indigenous women face significant barriers to the free and liberal exercise of their rights as a result of the intersection between their Indigenous status and their sex. Overcoming these challenges to equality requires access to efficient and effective human rights institutions in their traditional communities and in non-Indigenous communities.
This conference was a valuable exercise in exploring the issues and remedies that confront Indigenous peoples in the context of a period of an apparent new dawn for Indigenous rights in Canada. It is important to recognize that this is just the beginning of the dialogue. A long journey remains before Canada arrives at any place resembling a just society, but in the long shadow of colonization, there is hope again.