On anniverary of residential schools apology, isn't something missing?
Today is the first anniversary of the monumental event. A year ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons and apologized for the treatment of indigenous children forcibly removed from their communities and taken to religious schools where many endured both physical and psychological torture. The odious practice that continued for over a century in Canada is to be investigated by the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission is part of a legal settlement that provided $1.9 billion to victims and their families. After long delays, it took a step forward yesterday with the announcement of new leadership.
But there's something missing, something important - I just can't put my finger on what it is amidst all the self-congratulation on the part of Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl (apology setting the tone for the future, etc.). He chose the eve of the apology's anniversary to announce the new executive of the Reconciliation Commission. Now, what is it that's missing?
Oh yes, Canada was one of only four nations to oppose endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September, 2007. The overwhelming vote in favour was 144-4. Canada joined Austalia, New Zealand and the U.S in a hardline position maintained today by only 2 1/2 nations (so to speak). One country changed its mind (along with its government) when Australia endorsed the declaration earlier this year. New Zealand is reconsidering its position.
On May 1, 2008, a group of 101 Canadian lawyers, scholars and other experts appealed to the government in a letter that argues the Declaration in no way counters the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as claimed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government. The U.S. government backs the Canadian position, maintaining the Declaration does not apply to nations who haven't endorsed it. That claim, too, is challenged in the letter. These experts argue nations don't get to pick and choose which international UN declarations apply to them, noting the failure to endorse a resolution guaranteeing indigenous rights is the first time Canada has ever claimed exemption from such a document. Advocates for the Declaration (see links to other documents and letters) say it contains rights already established in international and Canadian law. The Declaration guarantees indigenous rights to self-determination, land, cultural identity and protection against genocide and discrimination.
The Residential Schools Commission is set to move forward. It's unfortunate there's unfinished business on another important issue.