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In Canada, implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is an opportunity to explore and reconceive the relationship between international law, Indigenous peoples’ own laws and Canada’s constitutional narratives.

In May 2016, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett addressed the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations and officially endorsed UNDRIP — without the qualifications attached by the previous government, which held the declaration to be aspirational and not legally binding. While this announcement did not change the legal relevance of UNDRIP in Canada, it does express the political will to begin implementation and signals that Canada may be on a path toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Thus, the announcement also raised legal and policy questions about how the federal government intends to adopt and implement this soft law instrument.

This collection of essays reflects the recommendations of selected Indigenous legal scholars and policy leaders on how Canada can braid together a new legal framework through the implementation of UNDRIP, revive a stalled process of reconciliation and embrace a true nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples.

About the Authors

Cheryl Knockwood is an L’nu and proud citizen of the Mi’kmaw Nation. She grew up within the Sikniktuk District of Mi’kma’ki and currently resides in the Unama’ki District of Mi’kma’ki with her partner Candice and their family. Cheryl received her B.A. (honours) in anthropology from the University of New Brunswick. She later earned an LL.B. from the University of British Columbia and completed her LL.M. in Indigenous peoples' law and policy at the University of Arizona.

Gordon Christie believes that the real challenge of implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is for Canada to recognize and accept the strong legal pluralism of Indigenous and Canadian law.

James (Sa'ke'j) Youngblood Henderson is a research fellow at the Native Law Centre of Canada, University of Saskatchewan College of Law. He was born to the Bear Clan of the Chickasaw Nation and Cheyenne Tribe in Oklahoma in 1944 and is married to Marie Battiste, a Mi’kmaw educator. In 1974, he received a juris doctorate in law from Harvard Law School.

Jeffery G. Hewitt (Cree) is an assistant professor at the University of Windsor Faculty of Law. His research interests include Indigenous legal orders and governance, constitutional and administrative law, art and law, human rights and remedies, dispute resolution and business law, as well as health law and Indigenous peoples.

John Borrows is a former CIGI senior fellow. In this role, John provided guidance and helped shape the program’s international Indigenous law research. He is also the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria Law School.

Lorena Sekwan Fontaine (LL.B., LL.M.) is Cree-Anishinabe from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. She is an associate professor in the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Winnipeg. She is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Manitoba. Her research is on Aboriginal language rights in Canada. 

Oonagh E. Fitzgerald was director of international law at CIGI from April 2014 to February 2020. In this role, she established and oversaw CIGI’s international law research agenda, which included policy-relevant research on issues of international economic law, environmental law, IP law and innovation, and Indigenous law.

Risa Schwartz is a sole practitioner, focusing on international law and the intersections between trade and investment law, environmental law and Indigenous rights. Risa formerly worked as a senior research fellow at CIGI, as counsel to the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs in Ontario and the Ministry of the Environment, and as a legal officer at the WTO.