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This article was published 23/4/2016 (1303 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The author of a private member’s bill to frame reconciliation with indigenous people into workable Canadian law launched a national tour for it in Winnipeg this weekend.
"We’re all in this together, so we need to understand what this bill’s about and how it will bring us to ‘that promised land’ of reconciliation," Quebec MP Romeo Saganash told the Free Press Friday evening.
"It’s also the centre of the country, so it’s appropriate to start here. I appreciate Mr. Justice Sinclair’s strong letter of support, and it’s a show of appreciation on my part for the work people continue to do on this declaration," the NDP politician said, referring to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The private member’s bill to have the declaration adopted is Saganash’s second and was tabled in Parliament Thursday. That was followed in lockstep by former Manitoba judge Murray Sinclair’s support in one of his first public acts as a new senator. With it came Sinclair’s pledge to push the bill through the Senate.
"I support him wholeheartedly in this endeavour and pledge to do what is necessary to ensure passage when the bill gets to Senate," Sinclair said in his statement.
The senator sees the bill as a valuable tool to reshape Canada’s legal and institutional relationship with indigenous people.
"In many ways, Canada waged war against indigenous people through law, and many of today’s laws reflect that intent," the senator said. "The Indian Act is a leading example, but it is not alone. Other laws and policies need to be scrutinized with an eye to reconciliation and, where found lacking, will need to be changed.
"The full adoption and implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will not undo the war of law, but it will begin to address that war’s legacies," Sinclair wrote.
Saganash had a series of private and public meetings with grand chiefs Derek Nepinak, Sheila North Wilson, Mennonite leaders and young people, among others in Winnipeg, staggered over the weekend. He flies out Tuesday.
The tour picks up again in a couple of week in Saskatchewan, and meetings in other parts of Canada will follow over the coming months.
Private member’s bills rarely make it into law, but Saganash said he figures this time there’s political and public momentum to propel his bill forward.
The 94 calls for action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — which was chaired by Sinclair — are built on the declaration. The provinces and the federal government have backed the TRC report. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote the TRC into the job descriptions for the justice and indigenous affairs ministers.
"The TRC says the declaration on the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples needs to be the framework for reconciliation in this country, so we need this legislative framework to achieve that. That’s what I’m proposing. The (Liberals) supported the bill in the previous Parliament, and I’m hoping they’ll do the same this time," the MP said.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett’s been non-committal.
The one Liberal MP who has come out in support of the bill is Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg Centre).
Saganash is a man who doesn’t give up, and he’s built up decades of experience on the file. His first bill died under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, but that was before the TRC. Saganash was personally involved in the development of the UN declaration, having lobbied for it with the Grand Council of the Crees in Quebec as far back as 1984. He’s written scholarly papers about it for years.
"I started out at the UN with the initial phase... Now, this private member’s bill allows me to bring that declaration into domestic law. It will complete the work I started in 1984," he said.
The UN adopted the declaration in 2007, but Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand — countries with large indigenous populations — refused to recognize it. Canada was the last of the four holdouts to endorse it, in 2012 , with the condition it was an aspirational document and not legally binding.
By definition, UN declarations aren’t legally binding, but the caveat was widely seen as limiting the impact of the declaration here.
Bill-C 262, under the title the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous People Act, would set out the legislative framework to make the declaration legally binding in Canada. At its core is the TRC call to action that relates to federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels of government adopting the UN declaration, Saganash said.
Such a law won’t replace the Indian Act, as some supporters believe, but it might hasten its abolition.
Manitoba’s Grand Chief Derek Nepinak has repeatedly called for the abolition of the Indian Act. Former national chief Matthew Coon Come wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Montreal Gazette Wednesday that called Saganash’s bill a way for Canada "to reject the colonial past."
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.