On Saturday May 20 members of the community participated in an all day inter-faith conference on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples held at Westmount High School.
“All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves. All is really One.”
Black Elk, Sioux holy man (1863-1950)
The UN Indigenous Declaration, adopted in 2007 and affirmed by Canada in 2016, “is the most comprehensive international human rights instrument to specifically address their economic, social, cultural, political, civil, spiritual and environmental rights. The UN Indigenous Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a challenge for Canadians and an opportunity for churches.”
To further raise awareness about this important Canadian issue, Westmount writer Brenda Linn offered the following review.
The goals of the conference were to increase interest in and awareness of “settler-vs.-indigenous” issues and in part demystify the complexity of those issues.
The organizers’ plan was to accomplish that through practical, achievable goals and objectives of all participants.
Among its 94 Calls to Action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called upon governments to adopt and implement the ID as the framework for reconciliation and to develop a national action plan to achieve the goals of the ID, churches, other faith and interfaith social justice groups to adopt and comply with the Declaration. This conference was a step towards accomplishing that mandate.
Westmount writer Brenda Linn attended the conference and offered this review
Bright and early on May 20, when most of their classmates were enjoying the beginning of the long-awaited Victoria Day weekend, a group of Westmount High students were on deck at Westmount High School. Friendly and business-like in their school T-shirts, these students were tasked with assisting in welcoming a group of unusual visitors. Gathering in the high school auditorium were a group of “elders” in the most impressive sense of the word – leaders of indigenous communities, leaders of faith communities, a senior representative of the Canadian government. The conference, spear-headed by Saint Andrew’s and St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, brought people of all denominations and, in fact, of all faiths, to Westmount High to study: to study the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and to ponder what this declaration means for us as nations.
Joe Deom, a senior professional engineer from Kahnawake , began the morning with a traditional Mohawk “opening” acknowledging our obligations, as humans, toward all the creatures with whom we share this planet. An unusual starting point, perhaps, for an engineer.
But later in the morning we heard how that same, moving opening became the first and only expression of our spiritual connection with our creator and our fellow creatures every to be permitted at an official UN gathering. This story was vividly recounted by one of those present on that occasion, Kenneth Deer, a Mohawk journalist and educator.
Kenneth Deer was one of the architects of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. From his first-hand vantage point, he traced the process by which the declaration gradually achieved international consensus. I found myself wishing the students had been able to hear him, because he made this chapter in our history absolutely electrifying – a roller-coaster ride of pride and shame. We heard how Cayuga chief Deskaheh set the process in motion by visiting the League of Nations in 1923. We heard how, at a meeting of city elders in Geneva, the chief was approached by a small child. When the stern officials attempted to hustle the child away, the chief retrained them, insisting on first taking the time to answer all the child’s questions.
The chief died three years later, in exile. But the child grew up to become the Mayor of Geneva. When, on a second occasion Canada attempted to turn away a Mohawk delegation to the (then) United Nations, he personally welcomed them to his city, with all honours.
Kenneth Deer then recounted how Canada, under Paul Martin, lobbied UN nations to vote in favour of the Declaration, and how Canada, under Stephen Harper, was one of four nations, out of 193, who voted against the Declaration in the end. We heard how the Liberals under Justin Trudeau at last fully adopted the Declaration, just one year ago.
In the afternoon, we heard from Liliana Cerretti, AANDC, Legal Counsel for the Canadian government, who explained that Canada’s adoption of the Declaration is the beginning of a yet another long journey. She explained some of the legal complexities of incorporating the Declaration into the fabric of Canadian law, but emphasized that the government was fully committed to accomplishing this task, in negotiation with all stakeholders on each particular issue. These issues include, among others, full consultation and, especially, fully informed prior consent on any matter of resource extraction (such as pipelines and mining on indigenous land), and rectifying the large gap in funding that now exists between funding for education and family services for indigenous and non-indigenous children. More information on these challenges can be found on by watching Cindy Blackstock’s video “Seven Ways to Make a Difference”, which can be found at the upper right-hand corner of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society Website https://fncaringsociety.com/7-free-ways-make-difference.