Thursday, May 20, 2010

No Wonder Canada Won't Sign

I’ve been reading a lot about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the controversy around Canada’s – and the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand’s -- refusal to sign on and finally got around to reading a copy of the Declaration to check it out for myself.

The majority of the document is a nice feel-good declaration – not a law, not an edict, not even a proclamation – but a declaration around the rights of indigenous people to not be the subject of a genocide, that we have the right to preserve our customs, religions, etc., and to address the very real aftermath of colonizatio. Article 28.1 is most likely, in my eyes, the stickler for the Harper Government (because let’s face it, that’s who is in charge right now and who is behind the refusal to be a signatory). It also has problems with Articles 19 and 26, regarding consultation of public policy and the re-opening of historical agreements, but as sure as I’m sitting here, it’s Article 28 that sticks in their craw like a giant chicken bone.

A declaration, as we know, is not a law or a statute. It is merely that – a public announcement that yeah, indigenous people got shit on, we’re sorry, maybe we can figure out a way to make it up to you. So it’s not even about concrete restitution. It is merely the acknowledgement that something happened to injure indigenous people and that the forces of colonization continue to keep them injured.

Yet the colonial occupier government of Canada can’t even bring itself to do that.

And there’s a very real reason for that.

It’s because Article 28 is all about land.

Article 28.1: 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.

Article 28.2: Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.

Yeah, that’s all very well and good in principle – but vast acreages in these former colonial nations still belong to indigenous nations, and settler governments sure as shit do not want to have to deal with the fact that most of what it considers “theirs” was acquired by genocide, theft, warfare, trickery, or my personal favourite, promising to hold the lands “in trust” then never paying up when asked to do so. Being asked to even look at it by the international community puts lie to every myth Canada tells the world about itself. I’m not saying that the entire country rests on stolen land, but vast tracts of it remain in dispute and other vast areas were not compensated for properly. There’s a problem here in Canada, a problem that it does not want to face. So in denial it turns away from addressing these very real issues and says nice things like the document contains elements that were "fundamentally incompatible with Canada's constitutional framework". O-Kay. Sure. We get it.

Australia and New Zealand, Canada’s sister colonial nations have subsequently signed. I salute their governments for having the courage to do so and to face the legacy of what the colonial occupation did to their indigenous populations. They have publicly declared before the world that they understand what happened in their past and are taking steps to redress the blatant injustice.

The U.S.? Well, enough said. I highly doubt their crazy fundamentalist mentality would ever allow them to see past their internalized fascism and manifest destiny philosophy to sign anything that requires them to deal with the very real genocide that happened on their soil.

And sadly, I cannot believe that this current government would ever have the balls to do so. Perhaps we will have a regime change, but until then, this failure to sign remains an international black eye.