Canada's about-face on aboriginal rights concerns leaders

Russia also votes against UN document designed to counter racism, protect natives


Cheryl Cornacchia

CanWest News Service

Thursday, July 06, 2006


MONTREAL -- The federal government has damaged Canada's reputation as a world leader in human rights and set the stage for trouble at home, a Kahnawake Mohawk leader and United Nations official charged Wednesday.

Just back from a United Nations meeting in Geneva, Kenneth Deer blasted the Canadian government for voting against a newly minted UN declaration on aboriginal rights.

Canada was one of only two countries -- Russia was the other -- to vote against the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a non-binding document designed to counter racism and protect native peoples around the world.

"It's embarrassing to be on record as voting against it," said Deer, a longtime advocate of aboriginal rights and the editor of the Eastern Door, the local newspaper in Kahnawake, a Mohawk community in Quebec.

As chairman of the UN's aboriginal caucus, Deer presided over the UN's human rights council meeting in Geneva last week, where the declaration was eventually passed by a vote of 30-2 (12 nations abstained and three were absent).

Britain, France, Japan, China, India, the Netherlands, Poland, Brazil and Mexico were among the nations supporting the declaration, which will go before the UN General Assembly for a final vote in the fall.

The United States, Australia and New Zealand -- all of which have expressed reservations about supporting the declaration -- will vote when it comes before the General Assembly but did not participate in last week's vote.

The declaration's 43 articles outline diverse rights to land, territories and resources and maintains that individual aboriginal groups cannot be arbitrarily denied self-government.

In Geneva, Paul Meyer, a leading member of the Canadian delegation at the UN meeting, acknowledged Canada's previous work drafting the declaration but argued that Canada could no longer support the declaration.

Deer said the Canadian about-face could be seen as a new and "confrontational" approach to native rights.

None of it is good, he said, expressing special concern for the now-defunct Kelowna accord. The historic agreement was signed by the former federal government and was to have committed $5.1 billion over the next five years to aboriginal education, housing, health and economic development.

Don Kelly, a spokesman for the Assembly of First Nations, said the federal government's changing direction will be on the agenda at next week's annual general assembly in Vancouver.