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  • Jordan Peterson

Bridging Aspirations and Realities

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

A Look at UNDRIP and Bill 85 through a Collaborative and Indigenous Lens


In a world where the call for justice, equality, and rights reverberates, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) emerges as a beacon of hope and a framework of principles to safeguard Indigenous Peoples' rights. The Northwest Territories (NWT) of Canada, seeking to embody these principles, introduced Bill 85. This legislation signifies a commitment to creating a future that reveres the survival, dignity, and well-being of Indigenous Peoples. However, it is imperative to critically analyze such a bill's development and potential impact, ensuring it does not merely operate in the realm of theoretical commitment but translates into substantive, equitable changes on the ground.

Establishing the Mandate

Serving as the Deputy Grand Chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council from 2016 to 2020, I was privileged to be an integral part of a collective of Indigenous leaders who convened in Inuvik, NT. Our focal point was an essential dialogue concerning the imperative for legislation that would not only symbolically honour but practically implement the articles of UNDRIP. Within the NWT Nations, viewpoints regarding its manifestation were as varied as they were passionate, reflecting the rich tapestry of perspectives and priorities amongst us. Nonetheless, a unified consensus permeated our discussions: pursuing such legislation was not merely desirable but essential. Fortified by the support from the NWT Association of Communities and anchored by a commitment from Premier Caroline Cochrane, our journey toward realization and recognition was steadfastly underway.

The Essence of UNDRIP and Bill 85

UNDRIP, embodying a global standard, champions the rights and signifies the collective voice of Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Implementing this framework through legislation like Bill 85 is not just a political gesture but a stride towards transforming these global standards into local realities. However, how effectively does it navigate the intricate tapestry of varied Indigenous perspectives, historical contexts, and future aspirations?

Navigating the Collaborative Terrain

While collaboration, as seen in the development of Bill 85, is vital, ensuring such collaborative efforts are genuinely inclusive and equitable is equally crucial. The lens of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination often raises questions about how well these collaborative processes respect and integrate traditional Indigenous governance and decision-making structures. Does the bill empower Indigenous decision-making, or does it subtly reinforce existing power structures under the guise of collaboration?

The Depth of Public Consultation

Public consultation should be a robust mechanism for ensuring collective voices shape legislation. However, through an Indigenous lens, the critique often lies in whether these consultations transcend tokenism and genuinely engage with, respect, and integrate Indigenous insights, wisdom, and perspectives. The depth, sincerity, and methodology of talksbecome pivotal in ensuring that they are not mere formalities but are rooted in a genuine desire to understand and incorporate Indigenous voices.

Policy Impact and True Implementation

It is paramount to translate policy into practice and ensure its impacts are tangible and positive for Indigenous communities. The critique and analysis must extend into how healthy policies and action plans derived from Bill 85 are implemented. How effectively do they address and aim to repair historic injustices, and how well do they dismantle systemic barriers that perpetuate inequalities and undermine Indigenous rights and well-being?

Ensuring Respect, Recognition, and Repair

Respecting and recognizing Indigenous rights, knowledge, and traditions is fundamental in moving forward. The critique often encompasses how well legislations like Bill 85 recognize but actively integrate and honour Indigenous knowledge and practices in policy-making and implementation processes, ensuring they contribute to repairing historical injustices and facilitating an equitable and just future.

GNWT a Rump Government?

Certain individuals may voice concerns about the self-governance and self-determination of Indigenous people, potentially stemming from apprehensions regarding alterations to the existing system or modifications to their responsibilities. Merely days after our elected officials donned orange in observance of the 3rd National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, a palpable resistance to tangible reconciliation, which Bill 85 endeavours to advance, becomes apparent. Engaging in critical dialogue, one might question: Doesn’t the GNWT already bear a duty to enact Indigenous Rights as a party to Treaty Implementation? Or is the actualization of this commitment only poised to transpire through the implementation of this bill?

Conclusion: Bridging the Gap

While Bill 85 represents a notable commitment towards upholding Indigenous rights and aligning territorial governance with UNDRIP principles, the journey ahead is intricate. Ensuring that such legislation's development, implementation, and impact are deeply rooted in respect, recognition, and genuine collaboration with Indigenous Peoples is pivotal. The critiques emerging from Indigenous perspectives illuminate the path forward, ensuring that the aspirations of UNDRIP are not just enshrined in legislation but are lived realities for Indigenous Peoples. The ongoing dialogue, critique, and engagement with these legislations will ensure that the path ahead is paved with good intentions and truly honours, respects, and uplifts Indigenous Peoples.

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