APTN National News
OTTAWA–The Harper government uses inflammatory rhetoric to “alarm the public” against Indigenous rights, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said during a speech Monday at the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York City.
Bellegarde’s speech focused on how nation states, including Canada, continue to try and dilute the impact of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Domestically, Bellegarde said the Harper government is using misleading rhetoric against a private member’s bill, C-641, introduced by Cree NDP MP Romeo Saganash to ensure federal laws comply with the declaration.
“Government statements of C-641 follow a pattern when spokespersons are addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples. While claiming to support Aboriginal rights, the rhetoric is designed to alarm the public. Little regards is accorded to accuracy or justice,” said Bellegarde.
Bellegarde said Ottawa’s favorite tactic is to use the word “veto” when describing why it continues to oppose the full implementation of the declaration in Canada. The Harper government has claimed, in its argument against supporting Saganash’s bill, that the declaration gives First Nations veto power over legislation and development impacting its rights and territories.
“The term veto is not used in the UN Declaration. Veto implies an absolute right or power to reject a law or development that concerns Indigenous peoples, regardless of the facts and law in any given situation,” said Bellegarde. “Canada then builds on this imagined frenzy of absolute power and declares: ‘It would be irresponsible to give any one group in Canada a veto.'”
Bellegarde said the Harper government is ignoring Canada’s own Constitution and Supreme Court decisions, including last summer’s Tsilhqot’in decision, in continuing its opposition to any real implementation of the declaration domestically.
“The (Supreme Court in the Tsilhqot’in decision) repeatedly referred to the constitutional right of Aboriginal title holders to give or withhold consent. Such title holders have the right to use and control the land and enjoy its benefits…In (the Tsilhqot’in decision) the Supreme Court ruled that, in absence of Aboriginal consent, ‘legislation may be rendered inapplicable going forward to the extent that it unjustifiably infringes Aboriginal title,” said Bellegarde. “It is disturbing that the government of Canada claims to uphold the Aboriginal rights of Aboriginal peoples and Canada’s Constitution, but ignores key rulings of Canada’s highest court that favour such peoples.”