What is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (available under Downloads, below) is a global affirmation of Indigenous peoples’ existing rights. The Declaration identifies six key principles:

  • the right to self-determination
  • the right to participate in decision-making
  • the right to cultural and spiritual identity
  • the right to lands and resources
  • the right to free, prior, and informed consent
  • the right to be free from discrimination

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada—noting the lasting impact not just of the residential schools but also of colonization in general—made the UN Declaration the centrepiece of its Calls to Action. Its final report states that “the United Nations Declaration provides the necessary principles, norms, and standards for reconciliation to flourish in twenty-first-century Canada.”

The United Church, in response, has adopted the Declaration as the framework for reconciliation, making both its own commitment and joining with other churches.

Who has signed on to the Declaration?

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples came into being in 2007 after more than 20 years of collaboration among Indigenous peoples and states. Notably, Canada (along with Australia, New Zealand, and the United States ) opposed the Declaration at that time. In December 2010, Canada quietly endorsed the UN Declaration, but did not implement it, characterizing it instead as an “aspirational document.” In 2015, a new federal government signalled its intent to implement the Declaration, and in May 2016 Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett stated on the floor of the UN that “Canada is now a full supporter of the Declaration, without qualification.” As of April 2017, Canadians still wait to see what that support will look like in concrete terms.

Both the Government of Canada and the churches that operated residential schools are called by the TRC to adopt the Declaration as the framework for reconciliation and to implement its principles, norms, and standards in their policies and programs.

What is the United Church doing?

The United Church welcomed the release of the TRC’s final report and has committed to living out the Declaration.

The church is currently engaged in this work through a Task Group on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Caretakers of Our Indigenous Circle. The Declaration continues to shape who we are as a church, and how we respond to the issues facing Canada today.

What can I do?

You are invited to learn more about the Declaration and its implications for reconciliation and justice. For local and regional initiatives, the workshop “A Framework for Reconciliation” (coming soon) could be a good place to start.