Good morning everyone, Acting Dean Gervais, Distinguished Professors and Students, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a great pleasure and honour to be with you on this opening day of the Faculty of Law's 2008 orientation. Thank you for inviting me to give this Keynote Address. I would like to warmly congratulate all students here today and wish you success, as you embark on a challenging and stimulating journey in the field of law.
The theme of this year's orientation is "Aboriginal rights and issues". Such rights and issues embrace a vast range of subjects relating to justice, equality, non-discrimination and reconciliation in both Canadian and international law.
In my capacity as Director of Quebec and International Relations for the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), I work in collaboration with countless others on a wide range of matters. Increasingly, the issues of the James Bay Cree Nation include significant - if not central - human rights dimensions.
This is hardly surprising. The collective rights of Indigenous peoples are human rights and are addressed as such within the international human rights system. Whether one is interested in land and resources rights; climate change and other environment and development issues; health and education; gender equality; rights and well-being of children; Indigenous cultural heritage and intellectual property; responsibility of transnational and other corporate entities; or peace and security issues - they all give rise to human rights considerations.
In virtually all fields, the legal questions involved are growing in complexity. This underlines the importance of broadening legal education for all those aspiring to practise, or those already practising, in the field of law. In an era of increasing globalization, it is often no longer adequate to restrict our legal knowledge to Canadian domestic law. In particular, legal education and the resulting competency of lawyers require sufficient knowledge of human rights. This includes key aspects of international law and even the comparative law of other countries.
In regard to human rights education, it is worth noting that, on December 10, 2008, the UN General Assembly will proclaim the commencement of the International Year of Human Rights Learning. This coincides with the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In keeping with the theme of this year's orientation, I will focus in my Address on human rights - which are especially relevant, given the positive developments over the past 12 months. I would like to share my thoughts with you on four key issues. These are: i) United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; ii) Canadian government apology regarding "Indian residential schools"; iii) need for genuine reconciliation; and iv) Canada's recently-established Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In important ways, these issues are interrelated. They provide useful insights as to how Canadian domestic law is often linked to international law and practice. I believe that these matters, together, will likely generate further legal advances and positive change for Indigenous peoples in Canada.
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
On September 13, 2007, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favour of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The vote was 144-4. Only Canada, Australia, New Zealand and United States voted against the Declaration. Canada was the only one on the 47-member Human Rights Council to vote against the Declaration at the General Assembly.
After more than 20 years of discussions and negotiations, the realization of the UN Declaration is both an historic achievement and a milestone. The Declaration is generally a non-binding instrument, but that does not mean that it has no legal effect. For example, Canadian courts may rely upon it to interpret Indigenous peoples' rights.
Further, there are numerous provisions in the Declaration - such as those regarding the right of self-determination, the prohibition against racial discrimination, and the right not to be subjected to genocide - that are declaratory or reflective of existing customary international law. In the absence of a clear conflict with statute law or common law, customary international law may be applied by Canadian courts without any need for express legislation.
The Declaration is the most comprehensive universal human rights instrument explicitly addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples at the international level. It includes a wide range of political, economic, social, cultural, spiritual and environmental rights of Indigenous peoples. It elaborates international human rights standards for the "survival, dignity and well-being of the world's Indigenous peoples". As distinct peoples, we now have a principled international legal framework that affirms our human rights.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recently hailed the Declaration as "a visionary step towards addressing the human rights of indigenous peoples" and "a momentous opportunity for States and indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation and ensure that the past is not repeated". Support for the Declaration has also been voiced by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; numerous UN specialized agencies, such as UNESCO, World Health Organization and UNICEF; regional and domestic courts; and States in different parts of the world. Similar endorsements have been made by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and within the Inter-American human rights system.
Therefore, it is all the more surprising and unacceptable that the current government of Canada continues to actively oppose the Declaration. The government has gone so far as to claim publicly that "the document is unworkable in a Western democracy under a constitutional government". It insists, without merit, that the Declaration has no legal effect in Canada and does not represent customary international law. It has also indicated to Parliament that this instrument is incompatible with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet the Declaration stipulatesthat, in the exercise of all of the rights contained in it, the "human rights and fundamental freedoms of all shall be respected".
In May 2008, over 100 scholars and experts issued an open letter indicating that, in their considered opinion, the UN Declaration is consistent with the Canadian Constitution and Charter and is profoundly important for fulfilling their promise. They also emphasized that government claims to the contrary do a grave disservice to the cause of human rights.
Some aspects of the government's positions transcend consideration of Indigenous peoples' rights and have more far-reaching implications. For example, the government has insisted that, because it voted against the Declaration at the UN General Assembly, this instrument has no application in Canada. Such a position threatens the principle of international cooperation which is essential to the workings of the United Nations. As Amnesty International Canada has cautioned, "Canada's position, in many ways, drives a stake through the very integrity of the international human rights system".
Regretfully, the government has not altered its position. Last July, at the Economic and Social Council session in Geneva, Canada indicated that its understanding of the term "implement" in relation to the Declaration refers basically to "those States that have chosen to support it". This interpretation, if accepted, would set a harmful precedent. It challenges the universal application of this human rights instrument to all Indigenous peoples and individuals worldwide. It would defy the spirit and intent of the Declaration itself.
These positions are not supported by the majority of Parliamentarians. In April, the House of Commons adopted a Motion calling for the Parliament and government of Canada to fully implement the standards in the Declaration. To date, the minority government has undemocratically ignored the will of Parliament.
For over two years, all of the positions taken by the Canadian government on the UN Declaration and our basic rights have been without any consultation with Indigenous peoples. Despite repeated requests, the government has refused to even discuss its constitutional duty to consult Aboriginal peoples and accommodate our concerns. Although Indigenous peoples' collective rights have been addressed under the international human rights system for almost thirty years, the current government has opposed the explicit affirmation of our collective rights as human rights. Requests for written legal analyses to support the government's position continue to be ignored.
Thus, we have a national government in Canada that is showing significant disregard for the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, which include "promoting and encouraging respect for human rights ... for all". As an elected member of the Human Rights Council, Canada has accepted the solemn commitment to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights".
I am highlighting these issues with you today, because the Canadian government's adverse positions on the UN Declaration serve to undermine the human rights and security of Indigenous peoples in Canada and internationally. There are about 370 million Indigenous people in the different regions of the world. It is widely recognized that they are among the most disadvantaged, marginalized and victimized.
I also raise these questions because the implications of the Canadian government's conduct go to the very core of what Canada stands for as a country. This includes what role Canada should play in terms of advancing international cooperation and multilateralism in addressing global concerns.
In 2005, the UN member States recommitted themselves by consensus to "actively protecting and promoting all human rights, the rule of law and democracy". They reaffirmed that these three key elements "are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and that they belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations". Moreover, good governance - whether at home or abroad - requires respect for the human rights of all peoples and individuals.
As law students, you will likely have occasion to reflect on such far-reaching questions involving both Canadian and international law. It would be interesting to determine what you would propose, in situations where the government of Canada excessively politicizes human rights and propagates extreme positions that are unsubstantiated and unjust.
What steps would you choose, in the current context, to promote reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada? As stressed by Canada's highest court, reconciliation is the fundamental objective of the modern law of aboriginal and treaty rights. It is also a goal and promise of s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. I will return to the subject of reconciliation later on.
Canada's apology on residential schools
Let us now consider the apology of the Canadian government in relation to "Indian residential schools". I would also like to highlight the relevance of the UN Declaration in this context.
On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented his apology on behalf of all Canadians in the House of Commons. The apology related to the abusive treatment of Aboriginal people within residential schools, which existed for over 140 years. In many cases, the trauma and scars from the psychological, physical and sexual violence have not healed. There are adverse intergenerational impacts that still affect people today.
The whole issue of residential-school atrocities continues to be painful and damaging to many Aboriginal individuals and communities. Addressing this delicate matter requires the utmost respect, sincerity and sensitivity. I spent ten years in residential school. However, I cannot speak for other residential school survivors. Each of our experiences is unique. Each of us must have the necessary space and time to respond to the government's apology and to grieve and heal.
The historical and contemporary situation in Canada includes many longstanding injustices. In this broad context, the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recounts: "No segment of our research aroused more outrage and shame than the story of the residential schools." The RCAP Report describes the incredible damage - loss of life, denigration of culture, destruction of self-respect and self-esteem, rupture of families, and impact of these traumas on succeeding generations.
In terms of loss of life, what is especially disturbing is how residential schools were incapable of providing decent care for young students - how the schools did not separate healthy children from those who contracted tuberculosis. How Aboriginal children continued to die for at least four decades. How the high incidence of death was not disclosed for over ten years, until a former government doctor Peter Brice published a pamphlet which he called "The Story of a National Crime". How could the lives of Aboriginal children be considered to be so easily dispensable, with no apparent concern for them or their families?
My brothers and sisters were dispersed in various Indian residential schools in Ontario. My oldest brother - when he was just a child - died in his first year at one of these institutions. Our parents were never able to know the cause of his death. It has taken 40 years for my mother to find out where he was buried.
Not all students had negative experiences in residential schools. However, the systematic violations of the human rights of tens of thousands of defenseless Aboriginal children cannot be dismissed as simply misguided government and church policy or zeal. Recurring reckless disregard for the well-being of young children that led to thousands of deaths, and the persistent failure to disclose such information to parents, cannot be said to have lacked an element of intent. As described in RCAP's 1996 Report, what took place in the 19th and 20th century were repeated acts of cultural genocide against Aboriginal peoples:
The basic premise of resocialization, of the great transformation from 'savage' to 'civilized', was violent. 'To kill the Indian in the child', the [Indian affairs] department aimed at severing the artery of culture that ran between generations and was the profound connection between parent and child sustaining family and community.
The assimilation policies of the Canadian government involved a forced transfer of large populations of young Aboriginal children. Such government acts also had the aim and effect of depriving Aboriginal peoples of their integrity as distinct peoples and of their cultural values and identities. In 2005, the federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said the decision to house young Canadians in residential schools was "the single most harmful, disgraceful and racist act in our history".
It is useful to also consider the broader context of federal law and policy relating to Aboriginal peoples. For example, from 1927 to 1951, it was an offence under the Indian Act for "Indians" to raise funds or retain a lawyer for purposes of their land claims. This discriminatory policy contributed to the further dispossession of Aboriginal peoples' lands and resources, their impoverishment and dependency. It undermined the integrity, security and well-being of Aboriginal nations. Indigenous peoples in Canada were persecuted on the basis of culture and race.
In regard to the government's apology last June, my own personal view is that it was an essential step. However, if we are to move forward in a spirit of justice and reconciliation, any such apology must include a number of basic elements. It must demonstrate remorse and be genuine. It must recognize past injustices and allow for a process for mourning and rebuilding. The government must also accept responsibility for its past actions and signify a real commitment to change. Once made, the value of an apology and its diverse elements are best measured by the actions that follow it. Such follow-up actions are critical for reconciliation.
In the case of my own people, the James Bay Crees in Quebec, our history shows that we are strong believers in the possibility of reconciliation. In regard to our land claims treaty, we have witnessed significant positive changes in the approaches of governments that previously seemed immutable.
In 1977, after the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement came into effect, both the federal and Quebec governments failed to fulfill many essential obligations. Over twenty years of bitter litigation ensued. When a more open and fair government attitude emerged in 2001, we agreed to forge a new relationship based on genuine cooperation and mutual respect.
In February 2002, the Quebec government signed a 50-year "nation-to-nation" agreement with the James Bay Cree people. This Agreement is also known as "La Paix des Braves". Similarly, the "Agreement Concerning a New Relationship Between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee" was signed in July 2007.
It is inconsistent with a meaningful apology for the Canadian government to actively oppose the UN Declaration. The day after the apology, the Minister of Indian Affairs dismissed the Declaration as "flowery words" in a declaration of principles.
The Declaration explicitly denounces the very policies and practices of superiority that were a rationale for the forced assimilation in residential schools. It includes a broad range of provisions that would help prevent any recurrence of the human rights violations that took place in such schools.
For example, the Declaration affirms the right to equality and non-discrimination; right to self-determination and self-government; right to security of Indigenous peoples and individuals; right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of our culture; right to practice our cultural traditions and customs; right to establish and control our educational systems and institutions; right to maintain and develop our cultural heritage; and right to determine our own identity.
Prior to the adoption of the UN Declaration, Canada attempted to delete our right to "control" and "protect" our cultural heritage, our traditional knowledge, and our traditional cultural expressions. Federal funding to support vulnerable Indigenous languages has been severely cut. Such actions erode confidence in the government's apology.
Need for genuine reconciliation
In my respectful view, the overall positions of the government of Canada on the UN Declaration can and must change. The current positions are unsustainable and attract little or no support on the world's stage. The government's ongoing strategy to oppose the Declaration, both in Canada and internationally, fails to uphold the honour of the Crown as required by Canada's Constitution. Such rigid opposition to the Declaration is incompatible with genuine reconciliation.
As indicated by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2004 Haida Nation case: "Reconciliation is not a final legal remedy in the usual sense. Rather, it is a process flowing from rights guaranteed by s. 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982." This insightful perspective of reconciliation is reflected in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that began its work last June.
In the mandate of the Commission, reconciliation is described as "an ongoing individual and collective process". It is underlined that reconciliation will require a commitment from all those affected. This is said to include First Nations, Inuit and Metis former Indian Residential School students, their families, communities, religious entities, former school employees, government and the people of Canada.
This raises a highly important point. Reconciliation is not solely for those Indigenous students that attended residential schools or for former school employees. Rather, true reconciliation entails - and is also intended for - the religious entities, government and people of Canada. In different ways, everyone can learn from the process of reconciliation, address prejudices, acquire greater understanding and tolerance, and mourn or perhaps heal. This process includes both an individual and collective dynamic. While such processes are not perfect, the result can be a greater sense of humanity and compassion for all.
South Africa, as you know, engaged in its own truth and reconciliation process when it terminated its oppressive regime of apartheid. Every situation has its own important differences. However, one may still derive inspiration from other national contexts. Nelson Mandela has described his own transformation during 27 years in prison as follows:
It was during those long and lonely years that the hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed, for all had been robbed of humanity. When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both.
With these thoughts in mind, let us now turn to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that has been established in Canada.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Around the world, there have been more than 30 truth and reconciliation commissions (although they are not always called by this same name). One may determine relevant best practices from other such bodies. However, there is no model or prototype that need automatically apply.
The creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Canada is a vital part of the "Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement", agreed to by the parties on May 10, 2006. The parties include: legal counsel for former students, the Churches, Government of Canada, Assembly of First Nations, and Inuit representatives. Implementation of the Agreement began on September 19, 2007. This is the largest class action settlement in Canadian history.
The Commission is comprised of an appointed Chairperson, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Harry LaForme, and two Commissioners, with relevant experience in the matters to be addressed.
Unlike similar bodies in other countries, the TRC is not a government Commission. Nor was it created or designed by the national government alone. Rather, the Commission is a legal requirement under the Settlement Agreement, as defined by all of the parties. As has been emphasized by Mr. Justice LaForme, the commitment of the parties to the truth and reconciliation process has been given legal effect through court judgments. This is important, since the Commission has no subpoena powers. Participation in TRC events and activities is entirely voluntary.
Without participation from a wide range of people and institutions that were in some way involved, a comprehensive and balanced historical account may not be achievable. Without such broad participation and disclosure of truth, reconciliation could remain elusive or partial.
Both the government and the churches have a legal duty to provide the Commission with access to their Indian residential school archives. Similarly, the $60 million set aside for the TRC is a legal obligation of the Canadian government under the court-approved settlement. It is not a matter of government largesse.
The mandate of the TRC is also the product of negotiations by all parties to the Settlement Agreement. It sets out the principles and goals of the Commission, as well as its powers, duties and procedures.
As described on its web site, the TRC will prepare a complete historical record on the policies and operations of the residential schools. This will be accomplished through researching historical archives, statement taking and other means.
Through statement taking/truth-sharing, the Commission will provide an opportunity for people to share their experiences relating to residential schools. This may be done through a one-on-one interview, in a written statement, or in a public forum. The TRC will meet with former students and their families, former staff and anyone who has been affected by Indian Residential Schools. Efforts will be made to carry this out in a respectful, safe and culturally appropriate manner. Counselling services will be available for those witnesses who find it emotionally difficult to relive their experiences and harmful consequences.
The Commissioners of the TRC can adopt any informal procedure that they may consider expedient. However, the Commission cannot hold formal hearings, act as a public inquiry or conduct a formal legal process. It cannot jeopardize any legal proceeding. It cannot divulge names or otherwise make use of statements that identify a person, without his or her express consent. It also cannot duplicate in whole or in part the function of criminal investigations or court actions.
As compared to formal court hearings, the Commission has the advantage of allowing witnesses to tell their narratives without interruptions based on legal technicalities. A number of victims may seek and expect individual truths on a case-by-case basis. While some representative individual cases may be examined and reported in some detail, this is unlikely to occur for the thousands of existing cases. The TRC is better placed to determine global truths based on existing policies, practices or patterns of conduct at that time.
In order to promote awareness and public education about the residential school system and its impacts, the Commission will host seven national events in different regions across Canada. This will occur within the first two years of its mandate. In addition, during a five-year period, the TRC will assist communities as they plan truth and reconciliation events and coordinate statement-taking/truth-sharing and event-recording. The communities will facilitate information flow from them to the Commission.
By the end of its 5-year mandate, the TRC will produce and submit a report to the parties, including recommendations to the Canadian government. These recommendations may specify such further measures as the TRC considers necessary for the fulfillment of its mandate and goals. The report is required to address such matters as the history, purpose, operation and supervision of the Indian Residential School system. The report will also describe the effect and consequences of the school system, including systemic harms and intergenerational consequences. The ongoing legacy of residential schools will be another integral aspect of the final report.
A national research centre will be established as a lasting resource for all to learn about the Indian Residential School legacy. The research centre will receive statements beyond the TRC's five-year mandate.
There will also be a commemoration initiative that will provide funding for activities that honour, educate, remember and pay tribute in a lasting manner to residential school former students, their families and communities. The legacy of the residential school will be memorialized in tangible and permanent ways.
All of these measures, if effectively implemented, serve to respect and ensure the "right to the truth" and to fulfill the "duty to preserve memory". As increasingly recognized in international law, the right to the truth contributes to ending impunity and to promoting and protecting human rights. This right has both individual and collective dimensions. In this sense, it is both an individual and collective right.
As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has underlined, those who have been victimized and their families have the imprescriptible right to know the truth about the circumstances in which violations took place and, in the event of death or disappearance, what actually happened. Recounting the truth about history is essential for reconciliation and for building societies based on justice, equality, solidarity and respect for human rights.
The right to the truth has been invoked worldwide in cases of forced disappearances, torture and other crimes against humanity. In cases of massive or systematic human rights violations, this right has also been cited in relation to protection of the family guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right of the child to preserve his or her identity in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the right of the child not to be separated from his or her parents in the same Convention.
In regard to the duty to preserve memory, this can be fulfilled if historical archives and other evidence are preserved relating to violations against former residential school students. Thus, the TRC can help preserve the collective memory from extinction through its work and by the creation of the national research centre, which will be accessible to the public. The commemoration initiative will also be helpful in memorializing what happened.
In terms of reporting, the main focus in the Settlement Agreement is placed on the final report which will be submitted to the parties at the end of its 5-year mandate. In my view, some findings or recommendations may be too important or urgent to wait until then.
For example, the UN Declaration is of central importance in terms of achieving genuine reconciliation, respect for the human rights of Aboriginal peoples and the forging of harmonious Aboriginal/State relationships. Since the TRC will be holding national meetings and is authorized to make public statements, it should pronounce its findings at an early stage in relation to the significance and use of this human rights instrument. This could serve to encourage the Canadian government to reverse its opposing positions. In addition, those who participate in the TRC should invoke the Declaration wherever it is relevant.
A basic principle in the mandate of the TRC is to be "forward looking in terms of rebuilding and renewing Aboriginal relationships and the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians". This reinforces the need for the Commission to adopt a human rights-based approach in carrying out its mandate. Such an approach is strongly recommended by the United Nations, its treaty monitoring bodies, specialized agencies and special rapporteurs.
It is interesting that, in the June 2008 apology, the Prime Minister made no explicit reference to "human rights". Nor is there any such reference on the Indian Affairs web site on the Indian Residential Schools Settlement.
Need to ensure independence of the Commission
Another central principle in the mandate of the TRC is that there be an "open and honourable process". According to the legal terms of the mandate, the Commission operates through a Secretariat which has an Executive Director. Both the Secretariat and Executive Director are "subject to the direction and control of the Commissioners". This serves to reinforce the TRC's independence, which is critical in order to generate confidence and trust among all parties and participants involved.
It is disturbing to learn that, reportedly in order to ensure transparency and financial accountability, the federal government decided to transform the Secretariat - the operational arm of the Commission - into a federal government department. This department would then report to the Minister of Indian Affairs. Such a unilateral decision violates the spirit and letter of the Settlement Agreement, particularly the TRC's mandate.
The federal government was a defendant in the Indian Residential School litigation. For the Secretariat to now be converted into a federal department reporting to the Minister of Indian Affairs gives cause for grave concern. This potentially undermines the independence of the Commission.
What is at stake here was explained by Mr. Justice LaForme at the Assembly of First Nations' General Assembly on July 15, 2008, as follows:
There's a potential for making the operation of this quite small Commission unduly cumbersome and by burdening it with expensive machinery of government. And most importantly, a potential for creating inconsistencies with the Settlement Agreement, with the court judgments and with the mandate.
It is my understanding that efforts are being made to resolve this whole matter. Considering the overall importance and sensitivity of the Indian Residential Schools issue, the Canadian government should demonstrate more respect for the former students and their families and communities, as well as fully honour the terms of the Settlement Agreement. The common objectives of truth, healing and reconciliation demand no less.
I would now like to share with you some concluding thoughts.
There are compelling reasons why Indigenous peoples globally are placing strong emphasis on our human rights. They relate to our historical and contemporary experiences.
Throughout history, Canada and other States have treated Indigenous peoples and individuals as less than human. For example, in order to dispossess us of our lands, territories and resources, we were considered too low on the social scale to even possess property rights. Our spiritual beliefs were considered inferior to European religious beliefs. Thus, our lands and territories were deemed to be terra nullius - lands belonging to no one - even though Indigenous peoples had often occupied them for thousands of years. In North America and elsewhere, a legal fiction known as the Doctrine of Discovery was legitimized by domestic courts. In this way, Europeans could "discover" our lands despite our presence.
As described earlier, the Indian Residential Schools strategy was motivated by policies and practices based on European superiority. As underlined in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, all such doctrines have now been wholly discredited, as "scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous".
In the case of the residential schools, common decency and child care practices should have signalled to the Canadian government and the churches that what was being inflicted upon generations of Aboriginal children was simply wrong. Yet, even when international standards began to evolve, these too were ignored or cast aside.
In relation to Indigenous children, no attention was accorded to the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924, which was adopted by the League of Nations. The same appears true for UN human rights instruments, such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the two international human rights Covenants which were adopted by the United Nations in 1966.
We cannot alter the past. But we can collectively ensure a promising future. In terms of genuine reconciliation, the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission demands a forward looking approach. The mandate speaks of "a profound commitment to establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect".
This can only be achieved by adopting a human rights-based approach. Such an approach does not end with the fulfillment of the mandate of the TRC. Rather, it is fundamental to ensuring the dignity, rights, security and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada and internationally.
Especially in relation to Indigenous peoples, concepts of security include such interrelated elements as human security, food security, cultural security, environmental security and territorial security. Many of our development, human rights and security issues can no longer be resolved within the boundaries of our own country. International cooperation and solidarity have become vital components.
In an increasingly interdependent world, the principle and duty of international cooperation take on greater meaning and urgency. In this global context, human rights constitute the "common language of humanity".
Indigenous peoples, along with human rights organizations, academics, UN treaty monitoring bodies, independent experts, specialized UN agencies and supportive States, have all contributed to advancing human rights in Canada and throughout the world. This serves to underline that respect for human rights is everyone's responsibility - and everyone's gain.
For almost three decades, leaders and representatives of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) have been actively engaged in international standard-setting and participated in global and regional forums. We have forged new relationships and collaborated with many others along the way.
Speaking personally, I continue to be enriched by what I learn about international human rights and related matters. This life-long education has fundamentally altered my approach to the problems and challenges facing my own people and the larger global community. It has also expanded the potential options available in seeking lasting solutions.
At the beginning of my Address today, I emphasized the importance of always expanding on your legal education, including both domestic and international law dimensions. As new law students, each of you will need some time to get settled and adjust to the daily requirements of law school. During your tenure as a student, you will discover issues that are of particular interest or importance to you.
This would be an opportune time to delve further into such areas of interest through further study and possible action. With the advice and supervision of your law professors, you and your fellow colleagues can devise projects that address pressing social issues. An interesting example within this Law Faculty relates to the ongoing human rights violations suffered by GuantÃ¡namo detainee, Omar Khadr. Professor Craig Forcese has combined efforts with law students to submit a detailed brief and appear before a House of Commons foreign affairs committee.
Another successful example is the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona, Rogers College of Law. Faculty and staff work with students to assist Indigenous communities through clinical and advocacy projects. The Program has been instrumental in achieving landmark victories in legal cases within the Inter-American human rights system.
Through these and other approaches, students can learn to address key issues in a real-life context in Canada and internationally. You can achieve a greater clarity in your analyses of diverse legal questions and the political factors that may affect them. You can learn new legal concepts and how they relate to broader principles of justice, democracy, equality, non-discrimination and the rule of law. Equally important, you may make important contributions for the betterment of society during your legal training. All of these efforts may well shape your future professional choices after law school.
Whatever paths you take in regard to your legal education, may each of you realize your aspirations and goals - in ways that bring professional and personal fulfillment and joy.
Meegwetch. Merci. Thank you.