Afraid to sign

In an about-face of the previous government’s position, Australia decided on Friday to endorse the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people to their own culture, institutions and spiritual traditions. With Australia joining the 143 countries that came on board when the bill passed in 2007, the list of nations opposed to the declaration is now only three: New Zeland, the US and Canada.


Australian protesters

The non-binding declaration, which sets out standards for the treatment of indigenous populations around the world, was criticized by the Harper government in large part for stating that “indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.”

Many native activists feel that the Canadian government is refusing to sign the document because it may force them to act differently in regards to several native land claims such as the one in Barriere Lake and many in British Columbia (in fact, the whole province is pretty much in dispute).


Map of Native Land Claims in BC

Another reason cited for the Conservative’s refusal to jump on board is the fact that Canada has a sordid history to say the least when it comes to its treatment of indigenous populations to say the least for which it would have to account for.

The residential school system, which was only finally stopped in the 1990s, is responsible for numerous abuses and even several deaths. Essentially, it was a government and church-run system of genocide against native people in Canada.

Stephen Harper did apologize for it, but the apology was short and barely scratched the surface of what went on.  Not only was it incomplete to say the least and much shorter than an earlier one by the Australian Prime Minister about his country’s historic abuses, it is also mere lip service.

Native populations continue to live in some of the poorest conditions in Canada, Native women are disappearing and never being found (at a rate much faster than non-natives) and the past that led to these conditions remains largely unknown.

Rather than deal with this, or sign the declaration which may force them to start dealing with it, the Canadian government would rather spend their time and money promoting the further theft of native land under the guise of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

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