Romeo Saganash on Indigenous rights, 2017

MP Romeo Saganash says his Bill C-262 would do away with colonialism toward Indigenous peoples in Canada
MP Romeo Saganash (on right)

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in 2007. Its recurring theme is that Indigenous peoples have the right to dignity and self-determination, and that no actions regarding their persons or lands should be taken without their “free, prior and informed consent.” Canada became a signatory in 2014, but the government provided no legislative machinery to implement the declaration’s principles. MP Romeo Saganash, formerly an Indigenous leader from northern Quebec, drafted Bill C-262, which he says would ensure that Canada’s laws are consistent with the UN declaration. Saganash’s bill was debated in the House of Commons on December 5, 2017 and he spoke to it.

“Bill C-262 does away with colonialism in this country”

Saganash spoke briefly in Cree, and then said: Mr. Speaker, I just thanked the Anishinaabe for allowing us to be in this place at this moment. We often forget that there are families who lived on this territory before Parliament Hill was established and that is the Pinaceae family. I want to thank them for allowing us to be on their territory, and we always need to recognize that fact . . .

Redressing past wrongs

It is also quite fitting that this bill is being debated on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. We are now beginning to discuss the fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples as human rights. That does not happen a lot, very rarely as a matter of fact, so it is important that we remind ourselves that the indigenous peoples’ fundamental rights in this country are indeed human rights.

Bill C-262 would also allow us to begin to redress the past wrongs, the past injustices that were inflicted on Indigenous people. This is the main objective of Bill C-262, to recognize that on one hand they are human rights but on the other hand that we begin to redress the past injustices that were inflicted on the first peoples of this country.

Residential school survivor

Mr. Speaker, you already know that I am a survivor of the residential school system where I spent 10 years incarcerated culturally, politically, linguistically, spiritually even, in the residential school system. I set out to do exactly two things coming out of residential school: first, to go back to the land where I come from and live off the land, hunting, fishing, and trapping. That is exactly what I did the first year I came out of residential school. The other thing I said to myself was that when I came out the objective for me that I set out was to reconcile with the people who had put me away for 10 years . . . Bill C-262 is my response and my extended hand to you, Mr. Speaker, for reconciliation and, of course, through you to all Canadians and to all parliamentarians in this place.

There are momentous occasions and this is a momentous occasion for all of us as parliamentarians. One of the things that we can do in the name of reconciliation is to adopt this framework that I am proposing through Bill C-262. I do not need to remind members that the world is watching. This is an occasion for us all to show that we are truly sorry and that we in 2017, in this time of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, are ready for what I am proposing in the bill, namely, that our minimum standards for relations with the Indigenous peoples of this country be those set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I want to thank the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and their colleagues for finally accepting that this should be a framework for reconciliation in this country. I also want to thank previous members of Parliament who have proposed similar instruments in this place, in particular two other MPs who have proposed similar bills here.

“Momentous opportunity”

The UN declaration has been decades in the making. In fact, it took more than 20 years to achieve. It has been 10 years since the UN General Assembly formally accepted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There is no member state in the world as we speak that objects to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In fact, the United Nations has reaffirmed at least five times in the past this declaration as a universal human rights declaration.

This is a momentous opportunity to set a global precedent that is expected of a country like Canada. It is the responsibility of parliamentarians, as the UN charter calls us to do, to respect and promote all human rights, including the human rights of Indigenous peoples. The rule of law in this country obliges us to respect the Constitution, and in the Constitution there are the section 35 rights of Indigenous peoples. That is what the rule of law is. It calls on us to respect and promote the universal rights of Indigenous peoples.

I want to remind my fellow members that with Bill C-262, we are not creating new law or new rights. Those rights are fundamental and they exist. They are inherent. They exist because we exist as Indigenous people.

In that sense, it is important to recognize that we need to continue to promote, and we have an obligation as a country to promote, those fundamental rights.

The way forward

Bill C-262 also does away with colonialism in this country, very explicitly. We have explicit ties with our territories. We have spiritual ties with our territories. We need to recognize that once and for all.

Bill C-262 is about human rights. Bill C-262 is about justice. Bill C-262 is about reconciliation. If we are true to our commitment to reconciliation, this is the first step in that direction. No one in this place, or in the galleries, opposes the human rights of Indigenous peoples. No one in this place opposes human rights. No one in this place is opposed to reconciliation.

This is the way forward. This is a first step in the right direction. Let us stop talking about those rights and the fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples of this country; let us do something about it. This is what we are proposing today . . .

If we are serious about reconciliation in this country, we need to take that path of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have waited far too long to get here. We are here now. This is an opportunity for this House to recognize that those universal rights that also belong to indigenous peoples need to be enshrined in our way of doing things in this country.


Full speech available at:

Photo by Dennis Gruending

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