In a historic move, Canada has taken another step towards fulfilling its obligations surrounding truth and reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
Marking National Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, the government introduced two new laws that seek to incorporate a range of rights and commitments to Indigenous communities into the country's citizenship oath and federal law.
The first law, Bill C-8, recognizes Indigenous status and rights as part of the oath that all Canadians take when becoming citizens — a move that was years in the making and that is a core element of the landmark Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action.
“This new Oath now includes Indigenous, Inuit, and Métis rights, and will help new Canadians better understand the role of Indigenous peoples, the ongoing impact of colonialism and residential schools, and our collective obligation to uphold the treaties,” Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino said regarding Bill C-8. “This is an important step on our shared journey of reconciliation.”
The second law, Bill C-15, officially establishes a framework for implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into federal legislation and requires that all levels of government affirm those rights as protected by international human rights standards.
While UNDRIP is not a new document — the United Nations adopted it in 2007 — its inclusion in the national laws has historically been a challenge, as is often the case with formalizing international declarations into domestic legislation. With this bill, Canada becomes one of only a handful of countries to formally enact these principles.
To make that happen, the government will need to table a concrete implementation plan "in consultation and co-operation with Indigenous peoples" and update Parliament on its progress in fulfilling this commitment within the next two years.
Indigenous leaders have also expressed satisfaction with the new measures while recognizing that the country still has a long way to go to address systemic issues such as poverty, discrimination, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
In an opinion piece published in the Globe and Mail on Monday, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde noted that the implementation of UNDRIP was "a triumph we should all celebrate."
"No one expects [Bill C-8] will result in overnight change,” Bellegarde wrote. “However, this collaborative process represents a profound improvement over Canada’s long history of denial and antagonism toward Indigenous rights.
"The work is not over," he continued, in reference to ongoing court battles involving the Canadian government and First Nations children.
Earlier this month, the United Nations also called on Canada to conduct a full probe into the death of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. The discovery has sparked renewed attention and calls for justice to redress the traumas left by centuries of forced assimilation.
Today, on National Indigenous Peoples Day, we celebrate the vibrant and diverse cultures, languages, and traditions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. But as we do that, we must also acknowledge that there is much more work to do to advance truth and reconciliation.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 21, 2021
In a statement, Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledged the challenge of reconciliation and said the government was committed to “right past wrongs and address ongoing challenges” with the help of Indigenous communities.
“Saying sorry for these tragedies is not enough,” Trudeau said. “Only through concrete actions, and by working together, will we build a better path forward.”