“Indigenous people are among the most excluded, marginalized… sectors of society. This has had a negative impact on their ability to determine the direction of their own societies,” law Prof. Brenda Gunn said Oct. 18, 2017.

Gunn is an advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada and is often found in Geneva, Switzerland, at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The UN declared in 2007 that Indigenous people are equal to all other people. They have suffered from many historic injustices as a result of colonization and dispossession of their lands. Colonization was not a positive experience for Indigenous people, and it is still affecting their rights today. Indigenous people still do not have the right to be in charge of their own societies.

The key is recognizing the rights of Indigenous people, which will help move from a colonial relationship to a more co-operative one, Gunn explained. We have a lot to gain by working together. The UN wants all governments to work with Indigenous people through joint decision-making. Getting free, prior, informed consent from Indigenous communities is no longer good enough, we must all participate in the decision-making process, which will lead to better outcomes.

Gunn’s handbook on the UN declaration.


Why might consent cause issues?

If only a few Indigenous communities agree to what the government is proposing, the government might go ahead with those communities, causing a further divide within these Indigenous communities. For example, if a few communities agree to a pipeline, the government will build the pipeline, just far enough away from the opposing communities.

What is a declaration?

A declaration is a “soft law” and not directly enforceable on its own. Declarations are voted for and cannot be ratified. All UN states must uphold declarations. “Hard law” is binding for all UN states and the states must take steps to ratify/sign such laws.

Audio podcasts are also available of seminars in this series.