The newly appointed federal minister of Indian affairs needs to convince Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fully endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, says the president of the B.C. Union of Indian Chiefs.
“At this point the Harper government is making noises about a qualified level of support. We need absolute full support for the declaration as it stands,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told the Straight by phone.
In 2007, the U.N General Assembly adopted the declaration, which affirms rights to self determination, freedom from discrimination, and control of traditional lands, among others.
“International declarations and covenants cannot be domesticated. It defeats the purpose of international standards,” Phillip added.
The federal government has previously defended its decision to not sign on to the non-legally binding declaration on the grounds it does not adequately balance individual and collective rights.
Phillip's comments come following a minor Conservative cabinet shuffle announced today (August 6) in which Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan has been appointed the new minister of Indian affairs and northern development.
Duncan replaces Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Chuck Strahl who is now minister of transport, infrastructure and communities.
Harper described Duncan as an experienced member of Parliament.
“John’s solid work as parliamentary secretary to the minister of Indian affairs and northern development makes him a natural choice for this new role,” Harper says in a news release.
Duncan could not be immediately reached for comment.
Phillip expressed an interest in establishing a relationship with Duncan as Indian affairs minister, but noted he remains frustrated with the federal government’s “adversarial” approach to First Nations in Canada.
“Everything rests on relationships,” Phillip said. “We all rise and fall on our ability to establish and sustain constructive, effective working relationships.”
“Time will tell whether Mr. Duncan can rise to the challenge of doing that with the First Nations leadership in the province of British Columbia.”
Meanwhile, Jody Wilson Raybould, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, welcomed Duncan’s appointment.
“John has worked with aboriginal people for some time and has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the issues and the challenges that we face,” Raybould told the Straight by phone.
In particular, she noted Duncan has worked closely with First Nations groups on Vancouver Island.
“His experience not only at the local level but at the national level will lend positive weight to continuing to develop positive relations between our nations and the Government of Canada,” Raybould said.
The cabinet shuffle was triggered by Conservative MP Jay Hill’s plan to not run in the next federal general election.
Hill, MP for Prince George-Peace River, has been replaced as leader of the government in the House of Commons by former transport minister John Baird.