UNDRIP & the Environmental Movement

Thunderbird House Post Totem Pole in Stanley Park | Credit: Ryunosuke Kikuno-Unsplash

Do you know the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and why it is crucial to the environmental movement?

Adopted in 2007, UNDRIP is an international legal document that affirms the rights of Indigenous peoples and constitutes the minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being. Canada initially voted against endorsing UNDRIP in 2007 but later endorsed it in 2010. However, little has been done by the Canadian government to ensure that Canadian Laws and processes are in line with the Declaration.

In B.C., the Province released a Declaration Act Action Plan in early 2022 to support the implementation of the UN Declaration. The Action Plan came more than two years after the provincial government passed UNDRIP into law in 2019.

How does UNDRIP relate to environmental protection?

Protecting the environment has to go hand in hand with protecting the health, culture and heritage of people, especially those who have been systematically marginalized and that are disproportionately affected by climate change such as racialized, lower-income, and Indigenous communities. UNDRIP affirms the right of Indigenous peoples to their territories and lands, and the right to protect them, therefore making caretaking of the environment part of the minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being.

Articles in UNDRIP that relate directly to environmental protection, include: 

Article 26:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.” “Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use…”

With this in mind, Indigenous peoples in Canada should be allowed to lead on the conservation of protection of their territories or land. Indigenous peoples in Canada already play an essential role in climate change mitigation and environmental protection, however, for UNDRIP to be fully implemented, the Canadian government needs to respect, recognize and fully return the governance of their territories to Indigenous peoples.

Article 29:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources.”“States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of Indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent.”

Indigenous people need to consent to what happens in their territory and be recognized as formal decision makers by the Canadian government. Indigenous communities are the most impacted by harmful projects and pollution that make it into their territory, affecting their health as much as that of the environment.

Article 22:

“States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”

Within Canadian Aboriginal Law, government bodies are currently required to consult on any projects with Indigenous nations of the area, however, they do not need to get their consent. This is evident in projects such as Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) where Indigenous nations have opposed it in their territories, yet the federal government doesn’t react to change its course. Instead, it continues to push this harmful project forward.

At GSA, we encourage you to learn more about UNDRIP and to stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples of Canada. It’s time that this Declaration be fully implemented in Canada.

You may want to consider reading Yellowhead Institute’s Manufacturing Free, Prior and Informed Consent: A Brief History of Canada vs. UNDRIP, which chronicles the conflicting process in which the Canadian State has dealt with the declaration, as well as their Imagining Urban Indigenous Sovereignty & Space Through Canadian UNDRIP Legislation report, which highlights the potential for UNDRIP to reshape relationships between Indigenous Peoples and settler institutions, to the benefit of all.

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