Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic January 27, 2017 - 2:30 pm

Prime Minister to meet with ITK in Nunavut’s capital Feb. 9

Natan Obed hoping Justin Trudeau lives up to promise of renewed relationship

LISA GREGOIRE
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a year ago, meeting at ITK's downtown Ottawa office, the first time ITK had ever hosted a sitting prime minister. Obed wants to know whether the upcoming meeting in Iqaluit in February will result in real progress or more public relations. (FILE PHOTO)
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a year ago, meeting at ITK's downtown Ottawa office, the first time ITK had ever hosted a sitting prime minister. Obed wants to know whether the upcoming meeting in Iqaluit in February will result in real progress or more public relations. (FILE PHOTO)

Canada’s national Inuit leader plans to press the federal government to entrench Aboriginal rights in Canadian law, and he’ll do so face-to-face with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Iqaluit Feb. 9.

Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, confirmed Jan. 27 that he’ll be in Iqaluit that day to meet with Trudeau for the first of what Obed said he hopes will be many productive Inuit-to-Crown partnership committee meetings.

“This upcoming meeting is going to be a strong test to the nature and extent that the Government of Canada will partner and work with Indigenous people on shared priorities,” Obed told Nunatsiaq News, referring to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP.

“The United Nations declaration is a shared priority. It’s something we desperately want to see implemented in Canada and it’s something the Government of Canada said it would implement. And a table like this will allow for this work to happen.”

Trudeau has been touring the country with a series of town-hall type gatherings to gauge the public mood since he was elected to office in October 2015.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in early January that Trudeau was hoping to go north but no details followed. We contacted the PMO Jan. 27 about the Feb. 9 meeting in Iqaluit, but they did not respond by our publication time.

Obed and Trudeau will have much to talk about as the days grow longer in Iqaluit in early February.

This week, ITK released a position paper on Canada’s inaction on implementing the UNDRIP, saying that as a supporter of the declaration, Canada is now obliged to entrench those rights in Canadian law.

In May 2016—reversing the stance of the previous Conservative government which said Canadian laws already adequately protected Aboriginal rights—Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett made a speech at the UN’s headquarters in New York City to say times had changed.

“I’m here to announce, on behalf of Canada, that we are now a full supporter of the Declaration without qualification,” Bennett said in her speech, the full text of which you can read here.

“We intend nothing less than to adopt and implement the declaration in accordance with the Canadian Constitution. Canada is in a unique position to move forward.”

The speech gave Obed and other Aboriginal leaders renewed hope that reconciliation was possible. But since then, the federal government has been all talk no action, Obed said Jan. 27, with federal officials referring to UNDRIP “principles” instead of what the R stands for: rights.

“It isn’t a list of principles. They are rights and they are affirmed, normative rights, within international law and within nation states,” Obed said.

“The re-characterization of Indigenous rights as principles is something that the Government of Canada has done repeatedly over time in relation to discussions around the declaration. I wish that messaging would end.”

The Nunatsiaq News contacted the federal justice department for its reaction to the ITK position paper released this week.

In a written response, Ian McLeod, media relations senior advisor, uses the word “principles” several times when referring to UNDRIP and what his department, and others, are doing about it.

“The government is committed to implementing [UNDRIP] through various mechanisms including legislation, policy, agreements and other constructive arrangements. No single measure can effectively implement the range of principles addressed in the Declaration,” McLeod wrote.

McLeod added that UNDRIP “principles” have been incorporated into the terms of reference of the National Energy Board, the Environmental Review Process and the inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Obed said he feels an urgency to act on the Prime Minister’s good will and the progress made ever since Trudeau told Canadians on National Aboriginal Day in 2016, “No relationship is more important to our government and to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples.”

But Obed said he refuses to allow the federal government to “manufacture success” on this issue through public relations. If Trudeau is serious about respecting the relationship with Aboriginal peoples in Canada, he must sit at the table with Aboriginal leaders and hammer out solutions.

“I feel the pressure of the possibilities that are getting lost,” Obed said, adding UNDRIP can change how Aboriginal people control their healthcare, their education and their resources.

“Because of the huge social inequities that we still face in this country and the ability to use the declaration as a means to push back against social inequity and give our people opportunities and uphold rights that already exist but are not being upheld today.”

But Obed knows the federal government is a huge machine that can’t be overhauled in a day. And he knows there are political implications from upholding certain rights, such as UNDRIP’s language around “free and prior informed consent” which sets a high legal bar on the duty to consult Aboriginal peoples.

That’s where Aboriginal partners can help, Obed said.

“We are ready to work with this government at the technical level and at the political level to try to understand how to implement UNDRIP in Canada that satisfies not only governments but Indigenous peoples and upholds these rights that we have,” he said.

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