Like all countries, Canada has an international agenda and a reputation to maintain. This is, after all, how diplomacy is done: national governments put a lot of effort into projecting positive image on the world stage and work hard at being good neighbors. That’s a good thing – we all need good neighbors.
But what happens when Canada’s international message doesn’t match with domestic reality?
Canada voted at the United Nations General Assembly on December 17 to support Palestinian self-determination. In itself, this is a good thing. Since the creation of Israel following World War II in 1948, the country has had, at best, a shaky relationship with Palestinians. Israel and its Arab neighbors have been at near-constant war for much of the last 70 years, and the Palestinian people have been caught in the crossfire.
”Canada voted in support of this resolution as it addresses one of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Anthony Hinton, political coordinator at Canada’s mission to the UN, said in a brief address after the resolution passed. ”Canada strongly supports the international consensus on a two-state solution, so that both peoples can have a secure and prosperous future. This is particularly important at a time when the prospects for ‘two states for two peoples’ is increasingly under threat.”
Israelis and Palestinians have been at odds since 1948. This is a conflict that I cannot even begin to do justice at explaining, so I won’t even try. Nevertheless, for Canada to support the self-determination of Palestinians to many seems like the right thing to do, even if it might strain Canada’s relationship with Israel as well.
Yet, it is also important to note that Canada’s support for Palestinian self-stands in stark contrast to what it does domestically. Canada does not generally support the right to self-determination of Indigenous peoples. It also refuses to deal with anyone other than officials elected through the Indian Act’s band council system. It flatly refuses to recognize the legitimacy of representatives of Indigenous Traditional Government systems.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recognizes and reaffirms Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination. Article three of the UNDRIP declares “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
Article four further states that “Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matter relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”
Article five of UNDRIP says “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining the right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.”
There is no equivocation here.
Self-determination should not merely be a buzzword for the world stage; it is a profoundly important, and inviolable principle of human rights. Self-determination is the ability of a people, nation or country to determine its own statehood and to form its own allegiances. In essence, self-determination is what every country in the world enjoys, yet Indigenous people in Canada don’t enjoy that same recognition in their own lands.
As welcomed as they might be for the Palestinian people, Canada’s fine words for the international community echo like so much mockery in the ears of Indigenous people.