Ottawa Must Implement UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights

TORONTO, June 20, 2011 /CNW/ - Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is key to addressing longstanding social problems faced by many Indigenous communities in Canada.

This is the main message of Indigenous and national church leaders speaking at a news conference on Parliament Hill today organized by KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.   KAIROS is a church-based social justice organization that focuses on ecological sustainability and human rights, including Indigenous rights.

The leaders called on the federal government to work in meaningful collaboration with Indigenous peoples to fully implement the UN Declaration endorsed by Ottawa last November.  It's a message they will be taking to meetings with Members of Parliament this week.

"We welcome Canada's endorsement of the Declaration," said KAIROS executive director Mary Corkery, "Now the real work of implementation begins."

Bishop Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, explained why the Declaration is so crucial.

"I have often heard many people wonder, out loud, how Canada can bring justice and healing to the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of the Nation," he said.  "This is the foundation.  Without it, there is neither justice nor health for anyone."

Describing deplorable conditions faced by children in Indigenous communities in Canada, Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, said the Declaration provides a framework for finding real solutions to these problems.

"First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada face unique challenges in terms of poverty, access to education and other measures of social well-being due to systematic violations of their human rights," she said. "The Canadian government must come to grips with these problems."

The Auditor General's report released last week also drew attention to these social problems and to the need for action on the part of the federal government.

Ellen Gabriel, long time human rights activist and member of the Longhouse of Kanehsatà:ke has been involved with working on the Declaration at an international level and explained how its implementation in Canada will impact land rights issues.

"Effective implementation of the Declaration will tell us how serious States are about protecting and respecting our collective and individual human rights," Gabriel said.

Bishop Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, said KAIROS' involvement with these issues is part of its member churches' longstanding commitment to seeking right relations with Indigenous peoples.

"We are aware that our history includes profoundly harmful mistakes that have failed to honour the dignity of Indigenous peoples in particular. We see in the UN Declaration an opportunity to learn from past wrongs and to work together for peace, justice, respect and the integrity of all God's creation," said Johnson.

On display during the news conference were some of the hundreds of banners created by people in communities all across Canada to express their support for the Declaration and KAIROS' call for action.

As the news conference was underway, hundreds of people gathered at Victoria Island on Algonquin territory in Ottawa to begin a full day of public events, including a procession of banners through downtown Ottawa, to be led by church and Indigenous leaders.  The procession will make its way to Parliament Hill and move on to the national Human Rights Monument on Elgin Street. There will be brief remarks by Indigenous and church leaders at each location.

These events are part of KAIROS' national Roll With the Declaration campaign. The cross-Canada action involved a series of local events that brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to learn about the Declaration and create handmade banners of support.

People in dozens of communities from Antigonish, NS to Vancouver Island, BC and from as far north as Kuujjuaq, QC have particpated in the campaign. KAIROS staff and Indigenous elders travelled to Ottawa on trains and buses from British Colombia, Ontario and Nova Scotia.  At train stops enroute, they collected banners created by local KAIROS groups, churches and community organizations.

The campaign is endorsed by a broad range of civil society organizations, labour and Indigenous groups.  These endorsements and the broad participation in the "Roll With the Declaration" campaign at a community level indicate the growing desire among Canadians for Ottawa to collaborate with Indigenous peoples to improve conditions.

The news conference participants said the Government of Canada must provide Parliament with regular reports on how the Government will reform laws and policies that fall below the UN Declaration's standards.

SOURCE KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives

For further information:

Media contact:

Adiat Junaid
Communications Program Coordinator
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
(416) 463 5312, ext. 223

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KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives

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