The Grand Council of the Crees

Presentation on the Occasion of the Launching of the Book "Les Inuit et les Cris du Nord du Québec"

Centre culturel canadien - Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris, France

Posted: 2011-01-13

Watchiya. Bonsoir. Good evening.  Thank you for inviting me to participate in the launching of the new book entitled “Les Inuit et les Cris du Nord du Québec”.  On behalf of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), I would also like to express our deep appreciation to the Canadian Cultural Centre for hosting this important event.

The book makes a vital contribution to the ongoing dialogue that highlights the challenges we face, as the James Bay Cree Nation.  Such key issues include Cree governance, environment and climate change, health, social justice and the maintenance and further development of our language, culture and heritage.

In an increasingly interdependent world, these challenges have local, national and global dimensions and fundamentally relate to our human rights.  The Grand Council of the Crees is committed to a human rights-based approach, in ensuring the well-being of present and future generations.

Since October 2009 when Cree and Inuit issues were discussed at the International Symposium in Angers, France, there have been new developments.  In regard to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the four States – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States – that had opposed its historic adoption at the General Assembly in 2007 have since reversed their positions.  The Declaration – which applies to over 370 million Indigenous people in over 70 countries – is now a consensus human rights instrument.

In its endorsement of the Declaration on November 12, 2010, Canada made a number of positive commitments. These included “supporting” the Declaration and “promoting and protecting” Indigenous peoples’ rights in Canada and internationally. 

Yet it is troubling that when Canadian policies were challenged in a complaint before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, the government sought to diminish its support for the Declaration. Indigenous organizations alleged that, in severely underfunding child welfare services, the federal government had discriminated against First Nations children on reserves.  Years of ill-conceived government policies had led to unjust separations of children from their families and communities. In seeking to evade responsibility, Canada devalued its endorsement of the Declaration as follows:

As Canada noted in its public statement of support, the Declaration does not change Canadian laws. It represents an expression of political, not legal, commitment. Canadian laws define the bounds of Canada’s engagement with the Declaration.

Use of the Declaration in Canada is not dependent on the government’s endorsement.  Regardless of whether any particular State chooses to endorse the Declaration, it is still applicable to all States as an international human rights standard.  Domestic courts, human rights bodies and others in Canada are free to rely on the Declaration in interpreting Indigenous peoples’ human rights – and thus give it legal effect.

The UN Declaration constitutes a universal, principled and normative framework for the respect, protection and fulfillment of Indigenous peoples’ human rights.  The Declaration elaborates a wide range of standards concerning our peace and security, development and human rights. It is the most comprehensive international instrument explicitly addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples.  It affirms the economic, social, cultural, political, environmental and spiritual rights of Indigenous peoples.

The Grand Council of the Crees is committed to using the Declaration as an integral part of its policy and decision-making framework. The Declaration includes values and principles that are highly relevant to a Cree Constitution that is currently under discussion. The Declaration can be used to fill in the gaps in our treaty – the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement – and ensure that it remains a living and dynamic agreement.  Similarly, it can give ongoing meaning to the Agreements concerning a New Relationship that we have entered into with Canada and Québec.

 At the Annual General Assembly in August 2010, the Grand Council of the Crees adopted a resolution urging Canada to endorse the Declaration without qualifications.  This had also been the recommendation of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

As former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali highlighted in 1993, human rights constitute the “common language of humanity”.  We sincerely wish to work in partnership with Canada and Québec to safeguard the human rights of the James Bay Cree and other Indigenous peoples. In this way, we can together foster harmony, cooperation and justice in Canada and abroad.  Let us work together to eliminate injustices and collectively strengthen the international system as a whole. In the spirit of reconciliation, we look forward to our strengthened relationships and a better future for all.

Meegwetch.  Merci.  Thank you.