The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “the framework for reconciliation.”
Indigenous peoples globally continue to face discrimination, dispossession of their lands and resources, forced assimilation, and other grave human rights abuses. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the most comprehensive international human rights instrument to specifically address their economic, social, cultural, political, civil, spiritual, and environmental rights.
In its own words, the Declaration sets out minimum standards necessary for the “dignity, survival and well-being” of Indigenous peoples.
The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the Declaration on September 13, 2007. This historic adoption followed more than 20 years of deliberation and debate in which Indigenous peoples worked directly with states to elaborate upon and advance their human rights!
The Declaration affirms the inherent, or pre-existing, collective human rights of Indigenous peoples, as well as the human rights of Indigenous individuals. It provides a framework for justice and reconciliation, applying existing human rights standards to the specific historical, cultural, and social circumstances of Indigenous peoples.
CFSC and the UN Declaration
Quakers worked in solidarity with Indigenous partners for more than two decades toward the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canadian Friends Service Committee participated in the UN Working Groups where the Declaration was negotiated, as well as the intense lobbying efforts that resulted in its adoption by the United Nations.
Since that time, CFSC has continuously supported efforts to see the Declaration implemented. With our partners we work on legal, political, and social implementation.
This work has included producing a book, giving presentations to politicians and government employees, and innumerable public talks and private discussions. All of these efforts have been to educate, inform, and move the implementation of the Declaration forward. See this example panel including CFSC’s Jennifer Preston:
After many years of effort by so many, including CFSC, Bill C-15, An Act Respecting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples became law on June 21st, 2021.
The Act was built from Romeo Saganash’s Bill C-262, which CFSC had also been very involved with. CFSC worked with our Indigenous as well as faith partners to continue to support the Declaration throughout the process. We are now working together to ensure the implementation of this legislation.
Read about the journey to achieving Declaration legislation in Canada and the impact that this legislation will have.
Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples
An important way in which CFSC engages in our work on the UN Declaration in Canada is through our involvement with the Coalition for the Human Right of Indigenous Peoples. The is an informal non-partisan group of Indigenous peoples’ and human rights organizations that seeks the full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. See these recent joint statements from the Coalition.
Learn more about the UN Declaration
Bill C-15 and the Implementation of Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights in Canada resource from the Global Indigenous Rights Research Network. (2021)
Educational resource developed by KAIROS with support of multiple member churches seeking to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (2017)
A short version of the Declaration – Video made by 46 Indigenous representatives.
Understanding and Implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: An Introductory Handbook – Produced by the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada
- Know Your Rights! The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: A Manual for National Human Rights Institutions
- The Business Reference Guide to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Statements of support worldwide for the UN Declaration, featuring support from the UN, international agencies, governments, civil society groups, and Indigenous peoples.
Further resources on Indigenous rights.
Get your copy of the Declaration
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is available:
|Pocket size copies|
Pocket size copies of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are available in both English and French. Contact us to place an order (50 cents per booklet plus shipping).
“The Declaration is a visionary step towards addressing the human rights of Indigenous Peoples” proclaims United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “[I]t provides a momentous opportunity for States and indigenous peoples to … promote reconciliation and ensure that the past is not repeated.”
Edited by Jackie Hartley, Paul Joffe, and CFSC’s Jennifer Preston, Realizing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Triumph, Hope, and Action documents the story of the Declaration from idea to adoption by the UN. A very readable introduction to this fascinating and important topic.
Why is CFSC involved in this work?
Some Quakers have been concerned about colonialism for centuries, and the conflict in 1974 between the Ojibway people and the police and colonial powers near Kenora, Ontario, cemented Canadian Friends Service Committee’s commitment to ongoing work for justice for Indigenous peoples.
These events prompted Friends to be present and to hear firsthand the long-standing grievances concerning land rights, housing, medical care, education, Indigenous spirituality, and child welfare in Kenora, and elsewhere.
Since that time, CFSC has used the Quaker tradition of ‘quiet diplomacy’ to become a fixture in domestic and international work to recognize, promote, and protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples.
Through careful consideration and consultation with Indigenous partners, CFSC focuses our work on two areas: implementing the UN Declaration and promoting and learning from the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Canadian Friends Service Committee:
- Works with Indigenous partners to educate ourselves and the wider Canadian society on the concerns of Indigenous peoples, stimulating active participation in supporting those concerns;
- Provides small grants from our Reconciliation Fund to grassroots Indigenous groups working for self-empowerment;
- Supports Indigenous peoples in their efforts to have their human rights recognized. This includes:
- land rights and self-determination;
- spirituality: acknowledging the right of peoples to worship in the way of their own cultures and faith traditions;
- Indigenous rights as affirmed in the UN Declaration and as protected under the Canadian Constitution.
- Engaging in dialogue with governments, corporations, and international organizations such as the United Nations;
- Cooperating with coalitions engaged in the work of securing Indigenous peoples’ individual and collective human rights.
How this work advances: international Indigenous rights forums
UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP)
Established in 2007, the Expert Mechanism exists to provide the UN’s Human Rights Council with expertise on the rights of Indigenous peoples. EMRIP consists of seven independent experts. CFSC attends the meetings of EMRIP as one of the key international forums where we can support the advancement of Indigenous peoples’ human rights. EMRIP has a standing agenda item on the implementation of the UN Declaration.
UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
The Permanent Forum is an advisory body with the mandate to:
- Provide expert advice and recommendations on Indigenous issues to programs, funds, and agencies of the United Nations,
- Raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of activities related to Indigenous issues within the UN system, and
- Prepare and disseminate information on Indigenous issues.
CFSC has attended the Forum since its inception in 2002 and works with partners to raise issues of concern, particularly as related to the implementation of the UN Declaration and human rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
In 2001, the UN created the position of UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to:
“Examine ways and means of overcoming existing obstacles to the full and effective protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people…”
The Special Rapporteur also works in close cooperation with the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. CFSC follows the work of the Special Rapporteur and, as appropriate, engages with him/her.
Universal Periodic Review
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was created in 2006 as a cooperative process that reviews the human rights records of all UN Member States once every four years. The UPR provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they’ve taken to fulfill their human rights obligations.
CFSC works with partners to make joint submissions to the UPR on Canada’s performance on Indigenous peoples’ human rights.
Tsilhqot’in Nation’s title case
What is at stake is nothing less than justice for the Aboriginal group and its descendants, and the reconciliation between the group and broader society.”—Court’s statement
In an unanimous decision delivered June 26, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the right of the Tsilhqot’in people to own, control, and enjoy the benefits of approximately 2,000 square kilometres of land at the heart of their traditional territory in central British Columbia.
Amnesty International and Canadian Friends Service Committee made formal interventions in the Tsilhqot’in title case to encourage the Supreme Court to adopt an approach to Indigenous land rights that would be consistent with international human rights standards, including the UN Declaration.
In its decision, the Court advised, “Governments and individuals proposing to use or exploit land, whether before or after a declaration of Aboriginal title, can avoid a charge of infringement or failure to adequately consult by obtaining the consent of the interested Aboriginal group.”
Read Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia in plain language. This document explains: Why did the Tsilhqot’in have to go to court? What did the lower courts say before the case reached the Supreme Court of Canada? What did the Supreme Court decide? What are some of the problems with the Supreme Court of Canada decision? Why is the decision important for the Tsilhqot’in people and all Indigenous peoples?
Concerns about mercury poisoning affecting the Ojibway communities of Grassy Narrows and White Dog in Ontario in 1974 galvanized Canadian Friends. The Grassy Narrows community continues to seek justice for their mercury poisoning as well as unauthorized development on their traditional territory.
For many years CFSC has joined many organizations in urging the government of Ontario, forestry companies, and other corporations to respect international human rights standards that require the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples for decisions that affect their land and resource rights.
Impacts of industrial projects on women and children
CFSC is deeply concerned by the impacts of resource development projects on many aspects of Indigenous peoples’ human rights. We recommend reading this study, looking at what happens in remote Indigenous communities when industrial camps are set up. Findings include increased rates of sexual assault, addictions, sexually transmitted infections, and family violence. The study was initiated by Lake Babine First Nation with the Nak’azdli Whut’en First Nation.
Doctrine of discovery
The doctrine of discovery comes from a series of Papal Bulls (formal charters from the Pope) and extensions, originating in the 1400s. These were used as legal and moral justification for colonial powers to dispossess sovereign Indigenous nations during the European “Age of Discovery.” Christian explorers claimed lands that they “discovered” for their Christian monarchs, who could exploit those lands, regardless of the original inhabitants.
The doctrine is racist. It is based on the notion of the racial superiority of European and Christian peoples and individuals. This false belief has been used to dehumanize Indigenous peoples, and to exploit, subjugate, and dispossess them of their most basic rights. This ideology has led to practices that continue through modern day laws and policies in Canada.
The doctrine of discovery is still used in interpretations of law by Canadian courts in modern times. In 2012 the BC Court of Appeal referenced the doctrine of discovery while interpreting their decision in Tsilhqot’in. The decision was later unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Supreme Court stated, “The doctrine of terra nullius (that no one owned the land prior to European assertion of sovereignty) never applied in Canada, as confirmed by the Royal Proclamation (1763).”
Many faith-based groups are examining discovery and repudiating it. The World Council of Churches has done so. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has called on all faith bodies to repudiate the concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples.
When Friends met at Canadian Yearly Meeting in 2013, we were in deep and immediate unity that the doctrine of discovery must be repudiated by Quakers as a religious community, as well as by the government of Canada.
Read the full statement from Canadian Yearly Meeting, prepared by Canadian Friends Service Committee. You can also read further background materials about the doctrine of discovery.
For simple and easy-to-share information about this important issue download Frequently Asked Questions about the Doctrine of Discovery (PDF).
CFSC produced the following video of a panel discussion we participated in at the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.