Setting the stage – a rights-based framework for reporting on results

As Canada looks toward ongoing implementation of the Act, including annual reporting, we are considering how to frame reporting on results going forward.

The 2015 Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated that “the United Nations Declaration provides the necessary principles, norms, and standards for reconciliation to flourish in twenty-first-century Canada”.

Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and Calls for Justice also focused on Indigenous rights and human rights, and emphasized that the suppression of those rights through, “abuses and violations committed and condoned by the Canadian state”… “have resulted in the denial of safety, security, and human dignity”.

Once that has been acknowledged and redress mechanisms have been created, the rebuilding of the framework to support exercising those rights can be fully realized.

Drawing on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, as well as international work on human rights-based approaches to policy making and evaluation of outcomes and results, the UN Declaration can provide a framework for reconciliation that informs approaches (e.g. revenue sharing, land transfers, co-management regimes etc.) to address long-standing areas of concern like shared or overlapping territories, and measures to increase participation and partnerships with Indigenous communities.

A rights-based approach to reporting on results, measuring progress on all of the articles of the UN Declaration, can help identify gaps as well as highlight some of the key strategic initiatives that federal departments have undertaken to advance the implementation of the UN Declaration.

As part of the whole-of government commitment to implementing the UN Declaration, some federal departments have undertaken an article by article analysis to identify areas where their mandates intersect with the rights outlined in the UN Declaration, in order to identify if there are gaps they should be working to address, while consultations to develop the action plan are ongoing. Other departments have focused on the thematic areas and articles of the UN Declaration that specifically implicate their own work. The development of an action plan, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples, as well as ongoing work to align federal laws with the UN Declaration, will help to ensure that governmental activities support and advance Indigenous rights, with the objective of transformative change in Canada.

Thematic groupings provide a potential organizing framework for reporting, recognizing that the rights in the UN Declaration, like all human rights are indivisible, interdependent and inter-related. These groupings are not meant to diminish the importance of each individual article in the UN Declaration, but recognize that measures to implement elements of the UN Declaration will often implicate more than one article. The thematic groupings are also reflective of common intersections and themes found throughout international human rights instruments.

The information below provides illustrative examples of work being undertaken across the federal government, examined through the lens of the 46 articles in the UN Declaration. This is not an exhaustive list of departmental initiatives and is intended to reflect initial efforts to align laws and policies with the UN Declaration For additional information, a table referencing different annual reports and progress reports showing key indicators relating to outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Annex A. The Government fully acknowledges that much more will need to be done in relation to each of these areas, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples, as part of ongoing efforts to implement the Act, but wanted to offer some examples to illustrate the range of approaches available.

General principles, including equality and non-discrimination, minimum standards, and gender equality (Articles 1, 2, 43, 44, 45)

Gender equality

Article 44 highlights that all of the rights and freedoms recognized within the UN Declaration apply equally to ‘male and female Indigenous individuals’ and as women, Indigenous women are also ensured the rights contained in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. These rights are complemented by Articles 21 and 22 of the UN Declaration, which highlight the need to pay particular attention to ‘the rights and special needs of Indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities’. It is consequently important to apply an intersectional GBA Plus lens to reporting on the UN Declaration in order to ensure Indigenous women, men and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people benefit equally from implementation of the UN Declaration in Canada.

Many Indigenous communities respect and recognize the distinct and important roles of Indigenous women, men and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. This has changed over time due to the imposition of colonial systems of governance that have created inequalities and altered norms and relationships. This has had significant intergenerational impacts on Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people in particular. Overall, Indigenous women continue to face significant challenges to the full enjoyment of their human rights. Indigenous women experience multiple forms of discrimination based on intersecting identity factors, such as Indigeneity and gender, often face barriers accessing education, health care or justice and face disproportionately high rates of poverty and violence.

The gendered impacts of colonization are set out in Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Calls for Justice, which focused on Indigenous rights and human rights, and emphasized that the suppression of those rights through, “abuses and violations committed and condoned by the Canadian state”… “have resulted in the denial of safety, security, and human dignity”, which has had a particular impact on Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.

The Inquiry stressed that establishing recognition of Indigenous human rights, through instruments such as the UN Declaration, is an important step in addressing violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people in Canada. For example, the first Principle for Change described in the Final Report, intended to guide the responses to the Calls for Justice is: A Focus on Substantive Equality and Human and Indigenous Rights. A rights-based approach to reconciliation, applied equally to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women, men, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, is a critical element of the paradigm shift required in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples.

As emphasized in these two major reports, Indigenous peoples in Canada have been subject to policies and actions that have fundamentally ignored the inherent human rights of Indigenous peoples. A significant part of re-affirming those rights, is recognizing and acknowledging the federal actions that have contributed to stripping Indigenous people of the opportunity to exercise their rights. This will require ongoing work to acknowledge and atone for these actions as an important part of the rebuilding of the framework to support exercising those rights.

Self-determination, self-governance & recognition and enforcement of treaties (Articles 3, 4, 37)

The right to self-determination and to self-government, identified in articles 3 and 4 of the UN Declaration, are crucial to the advancement of the human rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada. As noted by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the right of self-determination is a foundational right, without which indigenous peoples’ human rights, both collective and individual, cannot be fully enjoyed. As such, the right of self-determination grounds the rest of the rights in the Declaration.Footnote 1

Various mechanisms exist that support the domestic implementation of the right to self-determination, including constitutional recognition, the negotiation and implementation of treaties, land claims, self-government agreements, legislation, ad-hoc agreements to transfer responsibility for design, delivery and management of services, and support and processes for facilitating participation in decision-making. The right to autonomy and self-government is fundamentally connected to the right to self-determination, and the negotiation and implementation of historic and modern treaties are an integral means of putting this right into practice.

Honouring the treaty relationship and negotiating new treaties based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership, is key to achieving lasting reconciliation between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. The process of treaty making in Canada is continuing to evolve. Innovative solutions are being developed with partners through treaty negotiations, self-government agreements, and Recognition of Indigenous Rights and Self-Determination discussion tables across the country. There are currently over 175 negotiation tables, representing just under 1 million Indigenous peoples from coast to coast to coast.

At these tables, Canada and Indigenous groups can explore new ideas and ways to reach agreements that will recognize and implement the rights of Indigenous groups and advance their vision of self-determination for the benefit of their communities and all Canadians.

A Common Process was established in Spring 2022 consisting of Modern Treaty partners and the Government of Canada to collaboratively explore:

In addition to peace and friendship and historic treaties, Canada is currently implementing 25 modern treaties (18 of which include or have associated self-government agreements), four stand-alone self-government agreements, and two sectoral self-government education agreements. The Collaborative Fiscal Policy framework, co-developed by Canada and self-governing partners, governs fiscal transfers to self-governing Indigenous governments. Between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, fiscal transfer payments of over $1 billion were made to Indigenous governments through this policy framework.

Self-determination principles are also central to government efforts to gradually transfer the responsibilities for the development and provision of services to Indigenous communities in areas such as education, health, income assistance, clean water, basic infrastructure, and social programs.

While the principles will be consistent, approaches will differ based on the nature of services, and the priorities and paces of Indigenous partners. To date, this has been done by way of new opt-in policy options and legislative frameworks for supporting the effective exercise of self-determination and self-governance. For example, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families affirms the rights of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis to exercise jurisdiction over Child and Family services, and provides an opportunity for Indigenous peoples to choose their own solutions for their children and families. Indigenous public institutions have also been established which support Indigenous communities to make use of these alternatives.

In addition, the current collaborative approaches that support self-determination include the work between Canadian Heritage in partnership with national Indigenous organizations to jointly oversee the implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act. The Government of Canada continues to work with a variety of Indigenous partners to identify tailored approaches and will continue to build on these moving forward.

Together, these types of approaches work towards realizing the Government’s commitment, as expressed in the Principles Respecting the Government of Canada’s Relationship with Indigenous peoples, that all relations with Indigenous peoples need to be based on the recognition and implementation of their right to self-determination, including the inherent right of self-government.

Lands, territories & resources (Articles 10, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32)

The collective rights of Indigenous peoples to lands, territories and resources are firmly embedded in the UN Declaration. They are intertwined with other collective rights like self-determination, self-governance and the recognition and implementation of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements that are foundations for renewed relationships.

According to the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples:

“Articles 25 through 32 of the UN Declaration specifically address lands, territories and resources, including Indigenous peoples’ spiritual and cultural relationship with their lands, redress and compensation, free, prior and informed consent, protection of the environment, and indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge.

“Indigenous peoples’ relationship to their lands, territories and resources is at the heart of their identity, well-being and culture.”

As with self-determination and self-governance, the treaty relationship is a key part of the foundation for rights relating to lands, territories and resources. The UN Declaration Act does not diminish the rights affirmed in Section 35. Rather, the Act supports the ongoing implementation of Canada’s constitutional duties and provides an action-oriented framework for advancing the collective rights affirmed in Articles 10 and 25 to 32 of the UN Declaration.

The treaty relationship is a key part of the foundation for rights relating to lands, territories and resources. In 2022, Canada updated its existing funding approach for Modern Treaty partners and other Modern Treaty-based institutions. These changes include a new co-developed fiscal policy that provides incremental funding for institutional capacity to ensure that Indigenous Modern Treaty partners can progress toward the vision of self-determination articulated in their treaties.

Across Canada, Indigenous communities are harnessing lands, territories and resources to create prosperity and close socio-economic gaps, often in partnership with Industry. It will be important to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples in relation to policies, legislation, initiatives, and programs that are implicated by these collective rights. Indigenous-led solutions and meaningful conversations on innovative topics (such as FPIC) will be key to ensuring Indigenous peoples more fully benefit from resources on their own lands and territories.

Civil & political rights (Articles 6, 7, 9, 17, 33, 35, 36)

Civil and political rights include rights relating to membership and participation in a nation or community and rights to freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples, and freedom from discrimination or exploitation. These civil and political rights extend to the right to determine what defines a community or nation and what constitutes membership in the community or nation in accordance with the customs and traditions. Modern treaties, self-government and other types of agreements can help facilitate the exercise of these rights, as can efforts to encourage and support the revitalization of Indigenous legal traditions.

The rights described in these articles of the UN Declaration include both individual and collective dimensions. Improving the safety and security of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people depends on the recognition of their rights to “life, physical and mental integrity, liberty, and security of the person”. As the federal government works towards fully recognizing Indigenous rights, it will be important to collaboratively develop policies and initiatives that support the effective protection of these rights particularly for Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. The civil and political rights described in Articles 7.2 and 9 also call for an end to any actions that compromise or threaten the future of the community, nation, culture, or traditions.

Participation in decision-making & strengthening Indigenous institutions (Articles 5, 18, 19, 34)

The Articles that emphasize the right to participate in decision making, including free, prior and informed consent, like other elements of the UN Declaration, are closely tied to self-determination and self-government, and the impact on rights. They include encouraging the active participation of Indigenous peoples in legal, political, economic, social, and cultural processes that impact Indigenous ways of life or rights. Integral to effective participation in decision-making processes is the promotion, development and maintenance of independent institutions and structures that help to protect and support distinct cultures, customs, language, and traditions.

Mechanisms and processes that include Indigenous peoples in decision-making processes, through co-developed legislative frameworks and policies, co-management or negotiated arrangements, for example, and that put in place approaches that support the transition away from colonial systems of administration and governance can help facilitate the exercise of these rights (ex. new fiscal relationships, data strategies, capacity building). An example of this approach are the Permanent Bilateral Mechanisms with National Indigenous Organizations, where priorities are identified jointly and policies are co-developed.

Other examples include Natural Resources Canada’s Indigenous Natural Resource Partnerships (INRP) program, which provides support to Indigenous communities and organizations to increase their participation in economic opportunities related to natural resource infrastructure development. The program helps enhance the capacity of Indigenous communities to participate (individually and as partners) in natural resource opportunities and strengthens the ability of Indigenous communities and/or organizations to access information, tools and resources that support business, employment and training. The program also helps support community and regional engagement in regards to economic participation in energy infrastructure projects, providing mechanisms to support meaningful engagement and participation in decision-making processes.

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada is advancing the Government of Canada’s commitment to the UN Declaration by meaningfully involving and collaborating with Indigenous peoples during all phases of federal assessments. The Agency is committed to implementing the objectives of the UN Declaration through the Impact Assessment Act, which was written with the implementation of the UN Declaration and supporting policies and procedures in mind. Similarly, the Canada Energy Regulator has been working to advance implementation of the UN Declaration and enhance Indigenous involvement in all aspects its work, consistent with the changes made through the Canadian Energy Regulator Act. The Regulator’s Strategic Plan identifies reconciliation as a strategic priority for the organization, with a commitment to implementing the UN Declaration in its work. The Regulator has also continued to work collaboratively with members of the Indigenous caucus for two Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committees, to ensure enhanced participation through project lifecycles.

Economic & social rights, including health (Articles 20, 21, 22, 23, 24)

Based on feedback during the engagement process for former Bill C-15 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, and outlined in the What We Learned Report, a focus on vulnerable Indigenous groups’ rights and needs, and the need to close equity gaps in education, employment, housing, food security, health care, child welfare, and human security, remain priority issues for implementation, and will remain key areas of focus for concrete measures in the action plan.

Since the coming into force of the Act, tangible progress has been made toward effectively implementing articles 20 through 24 of the UN Declaration, most notably in the areas of child and family services, health care, clean drinking water, and housing.

For example, through implementation of An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, important steps have been taken towards:

Progress is also being made in continuing to close social, economic and health gaps and achieve substantive equality, including through co-development of distinctions-based Indigenous health legislation to improve access to high quality, culturally relevant, and responsive health services, no matter where they live. These initiatives include:

More work needs to be accomplished between the Government and Indigenous partners on all these fronts, as evidenced by the continued socio-economic and health and well-being gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. Gaps that international human rights bodies have long pointed to as evidence of systemic discrimination towards Indigenous populationsFootnote 2.

Cultural, spiritual & language rights (Articles 8, 11, 12, 13)

“Nunavut Inuit are proud Canadians but are equally and fiercely proud Inuit. Inuktut, our Inuit language is the heart of who we are. It is an important aspect of our collective identity.”

– Aluki Kotierk, President, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated

Indigenous languages face increasingly challenging realities, and the majority of them are in a state of endangerment. Actions are needed in order to prevent this outcome. Since 2017, the Department of Canadian Heritage has been working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to develop and implement the Indigenous Languages Act, to support Indigenous communities to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen Indigenous languages.

The Indigenous Languages Act (2019) contributes to the implementation of the UN Declaration as it relates to Indigenous languages. The adoption of this legislation demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to support the self-determining efforts of Indigenous peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen Indigenous languages in Canada. In 2020, Canadian Heritage, in partnership with national Indigenous organizations, conducted a series of consultation sessions across Canada, on the implementation of the Act. These consultations focused on the role of the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages and on how best to support Indigenous languages going forward. The input gathered during these consultations has informed key elements of the Act. In January 2021, Canadian Heritage, hosted an Indigenous Languages Symposium Building on Strengths and Successes. The Symposium provided an opportunity for the federal government, Indigenous peoples, and stakeholders, to share best practices and discuss their perspectives.

The Government of Canada continues to work with Indigenous peoples on the implementation of the Act. The Act is enduring, will be implemented over time and may evolve in response to the needs of Indigenous peoples.

To help inform the public about Indigenous culture and histories and to foster understanding, respect and good relations, Canada commemorates days of recognition like National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (September 30). The Government of Canada also seeks to preserve Indigenous heritage and share knowledge through initiatives such as Library and Archives Canada’s Indigenous Heritage preservation (“Listen, Hear Our Voices”), and endeavors to honour Indigenous veterans through memorials, monuments and recording stories of First Nations, Inuit and Métis military service.

In addition, as part of the Federal Pathway in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in 2021, the Government created the Cultural Spaces in Indigenous Communities Program to support Indigenous communities in re-establishing and revitalizing cultural spaces. The program also offers opportunities for Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ individuals to access culture and language and strengthen identities.

Education & media (Articles 14, 15, 16)

In recent concluding observations, international treaty bodies have continued to identify long-standing disparities in Canada between Indigenous peoples and wider Canadian society, including in funding Indigenous education, socio-economic inequalities, Indigenous culture and languages loss, discrimination, harm arising from jurisdictional disputes, lower educational achievement rates and access barriers.

From the early years to post-secondary education, the federal government funds work to support building and improving educational infrastructure to support safe, healthy, culturally and linguistically-relevant and accessible learning and teaching experiences for Indigenous students and staff. Some of these federal actions include, post-secondary bursaries (e.g. Métis Nation Post-Secondary Education Strategy); programs to support establishment of post-secondary education institutions and community-based programming (e.g. Post-Secondary Partnerships Program); and cultural education programs (e.g. First Nations and Inuit Cultural Education Centers Program).

In 2019, the Government of Canada and First Nations co-developed the First Nations education transformation approach, which includes new funding approaches for First Nations K-12 elementary and secondary education and aims to better meet the needs of students on reserve and help close the gap. The approach also includes the development of Regional Education Agreements, through which more First Nations are taking control of their education systems and better serve their community’s needs.

Access to culturally reflective media across Canada is a vital component of creating, maintaining and sharing knowledge, combating prejudice and discrimination and promoting good relations. Some federal actions underway include: the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) co-development of a new Indigenous broadcasting policy to modernize the existing regulatory framework (3 phases, launched in June 2019); broadband funding programs to support high-speed Internet access (e.g. Universal Broadband and CRTC broadband fund projects); the Northern Aboriginal Broadcasting – Indigenous Languages and Cultures Program, to support the production and distribution of Indigenous audio and video content; and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio-Canada’s Indigenous programing which, as Canada’s public broadcaster, uses its platforms to inform the public and hold space for sharing Indigenous-related content through television, radio, podcasts and digital news.

Environment (Article 29)

The Government of Canada has made significant investments to protect Indigenous communities and the abundant and diverse natural habitats and waters within. Working together with Indigenous peoples, in a manner that promotes reconciliation, respects the rights and cultures of Indigenous peoples, and protects and ensures the inclusion of Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, is at the core of federal government’s commitments.

The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy sets out the Government of Canada’s thirteen goals and targets and outlines implementation strategies that support a vision for sustainable development in Canada. The strategy shows the complex interrelationships between the environment and economic and social dimensions of sustainable development, such as enhancing food security in Indigenous and northern communities. Forty-three departments and agencies across the government are involved in delivering the strategy. Together, these organizations are taking federal action to implement sustainable development in Canada, often working in close partnership with Indigenous governments and peoples, provinces, territories, and municipalities. In addition, the Sustainable Development Advisory Council, which provides advice to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, has doubled the Indigenous representation from 3 to 6 members.

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change was developed in consultation with Indigenous peoples to meet Canada’s emissions reduction targets, grow the economy, and build resilience to a changing climate. The Government of Canada will continue to recognize, respect and safeguard the rights of Indigenous Peoples by strengthening the collaboration between our governments based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation, and partnership and recognizing the importance of Traditional Knowledge (e.g. National Inuit Climate Change Strategy) in regard to understanding climate impacts.

The Government of Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Platform supports collaboration among governments, industry, and professional organizations on adaptation priorities. The use of Indigenous-led community-based initiatives that combine science and Traditional Knowledge helps guide decision-making and further advance understanding of climate change across the country.

Other examples include Natural Resources Canada’s Regional Energy and Resources Tables (Regional Tables), which provide mechanisms for collaborative Indigenous engagement and dialogue in the development of upcoming place-based economic strategies to advance growth on resource projects that support Canada’s transition to a net-zero economy. The Regional Tables will enable provinces, territories, the federal government and key Indigenous partners to collectively support strong communities and job creation in every region of Canada. Tables will work to gather input from relevant stakeholders (including key Indigenous Partners) and seek to align resources, timelines and regulatory approaches to capitalize on key regional growth opportunities and priorities. In addition to addressing key economic opportunities associated with a low-carbon transition, the Regional Tables will also provide a forum to discuss how to ensure that the capacity to generate electricity and the increased demand on provincial/regional electricity grids will reduce carbon emissions.

Implementation & redress (Articles 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 46)

The UN Declaration Act requires that the action plan include measures related to monitoring, oversight, recourse or remedy or other accountability measures with respect to the implementation of the UN Declaration. It is expected that Indigenous peoples will propose options for accountability mechanisms and structures for inclusion in the action plan, as a means to address the implementation and redress articles of the UN Declaration, and to support effective implementation in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples. Discussions around possible accountability measures are in their preliminary stages.

In addition to existing mechanisms that provide recourse and remedies for rights violations, including the courts and human rights commissions and tribunals at the federal and provincial levels, the Government has also appointed a Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burials Sites Associated with Indian Residential Schools. The Special Interlocutor’s work will focus on working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis governments, representative organizations, communities and families, other federal departments, provinces and territories, and other relevant institutions such as church entities and record holders, to identify needed measures and recommend a new federal framework to ensure the respectful and culturally appropriate treatment of unmarked graves and burial sites of children at former Indian residential schools.

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