Ultimately, implementing UNDRIP is going to overlap with many deeply embedded roots that shape the Government of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous nations and peoples. Right now, it is not clear how or whether those roots will be reconfigured in a meaningful way, what that will look like, or how federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions will factor into it all.
In Canada, some social systems and services are structured and delivered by provincial governments, such as health care, child welfare, and education. These are considered to be local considerations while larger and more wide reaching matters – such as criminal law, national defense, and Indigenous land and rights – are handled by the federal government. Fulfilling Indigenous rights is considered a federal responsibility, but Indigenous peoples live and access services in every province and territory. The current setup of jurisdictional responsibility means that the provinces and the federal government are often going back and forth about who should pay and be reimbursed for those services, and how they should be delivered. In the midst of this, the needs, health, and safety of Indigenous people are not the focus, though they should be.
For example, the Government of British Columbia introduced legislation 2019 to formalize UNDRIP in its own laws, provincially. No provincial action plan to set this in motion has yet been developed, and how federal UNDRIP legislation will affect it – and provincial and territorial jurisdictions more generally – is still a question mark. With health care and child care systems already leaving many Indigenous people in a jurisdictional grey area, often with dire consequences, it is going to be all the more important to clarify well ahead of time how UNDRIP will impact the control, funding, and autonomy of these systems.
Implementing UNDRIP could also mean massive overhauls and transference of control of those systems, as well as to education systems, and land dispute processes. For example, ongoing land defense actions on the west coast, where the Wet’suwet’en are protecting their territory from pipeline construction, and on the east coast, where the Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik First Nation are protecting their right to harvest lobster, have been met with different forms of police and settler violence, even though these nations are simply asserting and defending their constitutional rights. UNDRIP would add to a growing body of legislation and court rulings that legitimize and decriminalize these activities, and more importantly, would remove the need for them altogether as UNDRIP prohibits any forcible removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands, and reaffirms their right to control what happens on their lands.
Beyond this, Indigenous communities and organizations (whether they are on or off-reserve, rural or urban, remote or northern) will need resources (including funding) to meet the new standards. Without ensuring that the engagement and implementation processes are truly done in a decolonized way, UNDRIP will not be a reconciliation framework in which Indigenous youth and communities can see themselves and their needs reflected and respected.
Processes to implement UNDRIP need to be community-based and community-led, with deliberate spaces created for youth, Elders, women, and Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ people to lead and shape how UNDRIP reconfigures Canada’s relationships with Indigenous peoples.