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Trudeau’s legislative framework for Indigenous rights should begin with a rethink of Bill C-69

Secwepmec Nation activist Kanahus Manuel challenges Liberal minister Carolyn Bennett at the United Nations, April 2017. Manuel will be a keynote speaker at the Council of Canadians annual conference in Ottawa this coming June 22-24.

The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is promising a new “legislative framework” for Indigenous rights in Canada.

The Canadian Press reports, “The prime minister said the new approach, to be developed in partnership with First Nations, Metis and Inuit, is needed to tackle the many challenges facing their communities, including overcrowded housing, unsafe drinking water and high rates of suicide among Indigenous youth. …The new Recognition and Implementation of Indigenous Rights Framework — to be unveiled later this year following consultations led by Carolyn Bennett, the minister for Crown-Indigenous relations, and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould — will include new legislation.”

The CBC adds, “The framework would cover reserves, systems of governance and energy projects.”

Both Wilson-Raybould and Bennett are to be part of a ministerial working group tasked with developing a “recognition of rights framework and ensuring the Crown is fully executing its legal, constitutional, and international human rights obligations and commitments, including constitutionally protected treaty rights.”

Mi’kmaw lawyer Pam Palmater has tweeted, “Just what we don’t need – more solutions coming from the federal government that will be unilaterally imposed while the Assembly of First Nations sits back and studies it in another table.”

And NDP MP Romeo Saganash stated, “We need to make sure this time it is for real. …One of the most unacceptable things politicians can do is to eventually quash the hope of the most vulnerable in our society … by breaking yet another promise. That cannot happen. I will not let that happen again.”

Today’s announcement comes less than a week after the government tabled Bill C-69 which outlines the governance of the reviews of major energy resource projects (including hydroelectric dams, mines, tar sands pipelines) and “navigable” waters (rather than the protection of all waterways in this country).

In both areas – energy reviews and water protection – the federal government failed to ground that legislation in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its key article on the right to free, prior and informed consent or the UN-recognized human right to water (thus not respecting the “international human rights obligations and commitments” it promised today to uphold).

The Liberal government has given no indication that it plans to withdraw C-69 or make significant revisions to it to reflect its stated intent today to have a “legislative framework” that respects Indigenous rights.

Nor has it given any indication today that it will rethink its decision on the Kinder Morgan pipeline on the basis of its violation of Indigenous rights.

Two-thirds of the 120 First Nations along the pipeline route have not given their free, prior and informed consent for the pipeline. One of those First Nations is the Secwepemc Nation. Kanahus Manuel has highlighted that the 1,150-kilometre pipeline would cross 518 kilometres of her nation’s territory in British Columbia.

Nor has there been any indication that the federal government will revisit its decision to allow the pipeline to cross the aquifer of the C’eletkwmx/Coldwater people in British Columbia. This is a violation of both the right to free, prior and informed consent and the obligation to protect under the UN-recognized right to water.

The list continues regarding the disconnect between today’s announcement and major projects that impact Indigenous rights including the tar sands (on Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation territory in Alberta), the Site C dam (on Treaty 8 territory in British Columbia), the Sisson Brook mine (on Maliseet territory in New Brunswick), and deepwater oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (opposed by the Innu, Maliseet and Mi’kmaq, the three Indigenous nations whose territory borders the Gulf).

Reuters notes, “The government will consult with indigenous groups as well as provinces, industry and the public as it writes the legislation, which will be introduced this year and implemented before the 2019 election.”