Figuring Out the Who, Where, How and What to Implement UNDRIP in Canada

June 27, 2019

Figuring Out the Who, Where, How and What to Implement UNDRIP in Canada

The Canadian government has signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but so far, little action has been taken to implement the landmark declaration in Canada. With a new federal election on the horizon, politicians have taken note; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said he will implement UNDRIP if re-elected.

In this video, Kerry Wilkins, adjunct professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, breaks down the four fundamental questions that must be addressed as Canada embarks on implementing UNDRIP: who, where, how and what. Working together, Indigenous peoples and Canadians must find consensus regarding these four questions. Wilkins concludes that, strategically speaking, it will be important for Indigenous peoples to remove any excuses the federal government may have for postponing UNDRIP implementation.


Well, the federal government has said all the right things. It has said no relationship is more important to it than its relationship with Indigenous peoples. And it has said that it is a hundred percent committed to implementing UNDRIP within the Canadian constitutional framework. But we haven’t seen a great deal concrete from the federal government yet.

Any kind of process for implementing UNDRIP that doesn’t have Indigenous buy-in, and that doesn’t involve Indigenous peoples from the beginning, almost certainly isn’t going to work. It’s going to be perceived as another example of colonial paternalism—Canada deciding for itself what Indigenous people want and need. And it might very well be rejected and not be effective.

So, if UNDRIP is going to have meaningful effect, even as a feature of domestic Canadian law, it has to be incorporated into Canadian law in a way that is comfortable and acceptable to the Indigenous peoples themselves.

It seems to me that, quite apart from everything else, there are four threshold issues that there needs to be consensus about if UNDRIP implementation is actually going to happen. And the four are: The who—who are the Indigenous peoples to whom UNDRIP would apply? Second one is, what lands are we talking about? UNDRIP by its terms would presumably apply anywhere and everywhere, but there are provisions that deal specifically with lands that belong or have belonged in the past to Indigenous peoples. Third issue, I think, is the how of implementation—there are different ways in which it is possible to implement UNDRIP domestically. And they have different implications, different risks and different consequences. And the fourth is, once you’ve implemented UNDRIP, and you’ve arranged for the federal government or Canadian governments more generally to get out of the way of Indigenous communities self-determining and governing themselves, what’s the ongoing role of the Canadian government after that?

I’ve looked at the issue of UNDRIP implementation from a strategic perspective, taking into account some of the challenges mainstream governments are going to have in bringing themselves to implement UNDRIP. From that standpoint, it’s important for the Indigenous people who will benefit from UNDRIP, strategically speaking, to do what they can to remove excuses the federal government might have for deciding this is too difficult, or that it has to be postponed. Meaningful UNDRIP implementation is going to require—unfortunately, because this isn’t necessarily fair—a lot of hard work on the Indigenous side, bringing forth shared Indigenous understandings for the mainstream governments to deal with in bringing about meaningful UNDRIP implementation.

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