On December 17, 2009, Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking that “the Government of Canada reconsider its position in response to the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.(UNDRIP)”

In September of 2007, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States voted against UNDRIP while 143 state governments adopted the declaration. Australia has since reversed its position and  New Zealand and the United States are “reconsidering” their positions leaving Canada, who as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, continues to oppose UNDRIP.

Premier McGuinty’s letter states: “Canada is the only non-signatory that has yet to reconsider its position on the declaration. Earlier this year, Australia reversed its position and endorsed the declaration. We understand that New Zealand and the United States are also currently reconsidering their positions. In light of these developments, Ontario feels that it is time for Canada to revisit its position.”

Premier McGuinty continues, “My request is that your government undertakes a conscientious review of Canada’s position on the declaration, within the context of Canada’s constitutional and treaty framework and related jurisprudence. I can assure you that the Ontario government will co-operate fully in any such exploration.”

Premier McGuinty is to be commended for his efforts at true statesmanship. Doing away with the colonial mentality will be a daunting task for any leader who is sincere in creating a truly just society. This is especially true with the First Peoples being viewed as having given up all their rights to lands and resources through the treaty making process and that belief being so deeply engrained in a majority of the support network of the Premier’s Office.

Recently, when Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug refused to provide their consent to a motion, a member of the provincial legal team in charge of the file accidentally emailed this “pearl of wisdom” to the object of his derision, in this case, the KI legal counsel. Since KI wouldn’t provide consent, he wrote, “very strange. My impression is that, apart from being unpredictable, he does not appreciate the nuances and has little control over his clients.”

I say daunting because of this glimpse on the mentality of a representative of the provincial Crown, viewing KI as needing to be controlled instead of recognized as being able to provide direction to their legal counsel. Premier McGuinty is courageous indeed, asking the Government of Canada, a government, who recently denied on the world-stage that “colonialism exists in Canada,” to reconsider the UN declaration that recognizes the land and resource rights of Indigenous Peoples contained in its articles.

UNDRIP Article 26 reads:

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
  2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
  3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

It also addresses compensation for lands and resources taken without the indigenous peoples free, prior and informed consent in Article 28 which reads:

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.
  2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, sizeand legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.

It has always been the position of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug that “they must give their free, prior and informed consent to any development on or impacting KI territories and that they must receive fair and equitable remuneration for the resources removed from and the profits drawn from their traditional territories.”

In recent developments, it is an outside company walking away with millions leaving the community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug to pick up the pieces and the costs from the aftermath of a four (4) year battle. This would be the appropriate area and time to “undertake a conscientious review” and to begin to implement Article 28, with or without the federal government.

Premier McGuinty has already begun to walk the talk with the explicit recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights in the Mining Act. However, the KI situation begs for immediate action to “achieve a transformative reality for Aboriginal peoples,” that Premier McGuinty references in his letter to the Prime Minister.

UNDRIP Article 32.2 reads:

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands and territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.

32.3 follows:

States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.

According to the United Nations, international law defines free, prior and informed consent, this way:

Free is the absence of coercion and outside pressure, including monetary inducements (unless they are mutually agreed to as part of a settlement process), and “divide and conquer” tactics. It includes the absence of any threats or implied retaliation if the result of the decision is to say “no.”

Prior is having sufficient time to allow information-gathering and full discussion, including translations into traditional languages, before a project starts. It must take place without time pressure or constraints. A plan must not begin before this process is fully completed and an agreement is reached.

Informed is having all the relevant information available reflecting all views and positions. This includes the input of traditional elders, spiritual leaders, subsistence practitioners and traditional knowledge holders, with adequate time and resources to consider impartial and balanced information about potential risks and benefits, based on the “precautionary principle” regarding potential threats to health, environment or traditional means of subsistence.

Consent is the demonstration of clear and compelling agreement, using a mechanism to reach agreement which is in itself agreed to under the principle of FPIC, in keeping with the decision-making structures of the Indigenous Peoples in question, including traditional consensus procedures. Agreements must be reached with the full participation of authorized leaders, representatives or decision-making institutions as decided by the Indigenous Peoples themselves.


Article 19 reads:

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

While Bill 173, An Act to amend the Mining Act, which received Royal Assent in October 2009, does not contain in its current form, the Supreme Court jurisprudence of accommodation nor the UNDRIP international standard of free, prior and informed consent,  the challenge will be whether any of UNDRIP will be reflected in the regulations and policies that will be developed in consultation with stakeholders.

Another piece of legislation, Bill 191, the Far North Act, which seeks to set aside 225,000 sq. kms of protected areas in the far north has been ordered for 2nd reading. Upon its introduction, the Far North Act received opposition from indigenous and non-indigenous alike. Several environmental groups felt that the draft legislation didn’t adequately reflect the Premier’s vision. We will have to wait and see whether any of the principles of UNDRIP will be reflected in Bill 191.

For this potential ray of hope for the First Peoples of Ontario, one can only applaud and support Premier McGuinty and wish him the best of luck as he embarks on this monumental undertaking. Asking Canada to revisit its opposition is not only the right thing to do, not only because it has the support of a majority of the international community but because justice demands it!

The clanging rings through out Noopemig as the First Peoples continue to storm the gates of justice…

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