Speech for the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 16th Session: Opening Ceremony


United Nations Headquarters, General Assembly Hall
New York, New York
April 24, 2017

As Delivered

Distinguished guests and colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, and particularly the leaders of Indigenous governments, it's an honour to join you today on the traditional territory of the Lenape people and to honour all the Indigenous peoples whose moccasins have walked this land and have called it their home.

We thank our Inuit, Métis and First Nations elders for joining us here today and guiding the work of the Canadian delegation.

Here at the Permanent Forum, we come together to advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples around the world.

This year, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a call to action for all governments around the world to take the necessary steps on our shared journey of reconciliation and decolonization, the path will not only recognize the rights of Indigenous people, but needs to also recognize the importance of Indigenous ways of knowing and doing in protecting our planet.

As a physician, it's clear we need to focus on maintaining the health of populations, not just administer a sickness care system, the medicine wheel, instead of the futility of the repair shop in the medical model.

We must recognize the efficacy of Indigenous pedagogy, learning by doing.

We must emulate the focus placed on children and the importance of the voices of women and elders in Indigenous governments, and most of all the inclusive leadership, asking not telling.

Last year, I was so proud as a Canadian as Jody Wilson-Raybould, our Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Canada, a proud member of the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation, addressed this chamber.

I now have the honour of being part of a cabinet committee she is chairing with a mandate from our Prime Minister to review all federal laws and policies in our country related to Indigenous peoples.

We will amend laws written in a paternalistic and colonial way and implement direction given to all ministers in his cabinet.

In a mandate letter to each of us, the Prime Minister said:

"No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.”

Indigenous leaders at the preparatory meeting for this forum asked that I take this opportunity to formally retract Canada's concerns regarding paragraphs 3 and 20 on the 2014 Outcome Document from the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

Today, Canada is doing that.

These paragraphs, which are free, prior and informed consent, go to the heart of the declaration.

In Canada, we understand that reconciliation must include all Canadians. It is not just an Indigenous issue. It, for us, is a Canadian imperative.

Schools are now teaching that we are all treaty people. Indigenous peoples and settlers signed those treaties and agreements. We must honour them, and where they don't exist, we are committed to finding new ways to recognize Indigenous rights and jurisdiction.

I am proud to say 9 MPs and Senators are here as a part of the Canadian delegation, 7 of whom are Indigenous.
I would particularly like to acknowledge the Indigenous caucus and Indigenous senators, but also Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Natan Obed, the President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Clem Chartier, the President of the Métis Nation of Canada, our partners on this journey.

So many Indigenous leaders from our country have played a significant role right here at the UN.

Grand Chief Edward John and Grand Chief Willie Littlechild long fought for this declaration.

Their ongoing advocacy and guidance on the implementation of these acknowledged rights is inspirational.

The Honourable Louise Arbour, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, pushed hard in Geneva to have negotiations on the UN Declaration completed and supported.
She shepherded its adoption at the Human Rights Council.

Today I am so proud to recognize the invaluable work of Romeo Saganash, a Member of Parliament in Canada.

His work on negotiations for the Declaration began over 30 years ago.

His efforts raised awareness that the importance of the Declaration as a roadmap to reconciliation among Canadian leaders should not be viewed as a partisan issue.

It's crucial that here at the UN we are able to hear from all voices.

We can no longer hear only from governments. The voices of opposition parties and Indigenous leadership are imperative to getting this right, but also to making sure that the progress is sustained.
Recognition and decolonization are ongoing journeys. As governments, we will always need to listen and heed the advice of Indigenous peoples when course corrections are required.

This has to feel like a partnership. This has to feel like a shared journey.

Partisanship and ideology remain obstacles.

Today, I want to state Canada's unequivocal support, the representation of Indigenous self-governing nations at the United Nations General Assembly.

We thank Grand Chief Ed John for his leadership and advocacy on this important next step.

As we speak to each other as equals, I want to be clear that it is essential to have youth with us at the table.

As our Prime Minister says, youth are not only the future, they are the present.

They are our conscience. Canada needs their leadership. The United Nations needs their leadership.

I'd like to finish with a story, a parallel to our journey on reconciliation and recognition of Indigenous rights.

Last summer, I paddled for three hours on the North Saskatchewan River with some youth from a community that had suffered a terrible tragedy.

Our canoe hit a huge rock. We got into waters so shallow that we had to get out and walk our canoes through to deep water, but the current was with us, and we got to our destination.

We can do this. The world needs to listen to the wisdom and leadership of this forum. On behalf of Canada, I thank each and every one of you.

Merci, Thank you, Meegwetch, Qujannamiik, Marsi and Mahsi Cho.

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