Canada has taken another historic step toward meeting its duties towards truth and reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. On Monday, June 21st, 2021, the government marked National Indigenous Peoples Day by introducing two new laws that attempt to incorporate a variety of rights and responsibilities to Indigenous people into the country's citizenship oath and federal legislation.
The first law, Bill C-8, incorporates Indigenous status and rights into the oath that all Canadians swear when becoming citizens – a long-awaited measure that is a key component of the landmark Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action.
"This new Oath now includes Indigenous, Inuit, and Métis rights, and will help new Canadians better understand the role of Indigenous peoples, the ongoing impact of colonialism and residential schools, and our collective obligation to uphold the treaties," said Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino of Bill C-8. "This is a significant step forward in our common road of reconciliation."
The second bill, Bill C-15, creates an official framework for incorporating the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into federal legislation and demands that all levels of government recognize those rights as protected by international human rights standards.
While UNDRIP is not a new document (it was endorsed by the United Nations in 2007), its incorporation into national laws has traditionally proven difficult, as is typically the case with formalizing international statements into domestic legislation. With the passage of this bill, Canada joins a select group of countries informally enacting these principles.
To do this, the administration must present a detailed implementation plan "in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples" and provide an update to Parliament on its progress in meeting this pledge within the following two years.
Indigenous leaders have also voiced their delight with the new measures while acknowledging that the country still has a long way to go in addressing structural challenges such as poverty, prejudice, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
"No one expects [Bill C-8] to have immediate results," Bellegarde wrote. "However, compared to Canada's lengthy history of denial and hostility toward Indigenous rights, this collaborative process constitutes a significant advance."
"The task is not done," he added, referring to continuing legal disputes between the Canadian government and First Nations children.
The United Nations also demanded earlier this month that Canada launch a thorough investigation into the deaths of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. The finding has rekindled interest and cries for justice to address the scars caused by centuries of forced integration.
Prime Minister Trudeau addressed the issue of reconciliation in a statement, saying the government was dedicated to "righting past wrongs and addressing continuing difficulties" with the assistance of Indigenous people. "Saying sorry is not enough for terrible tragedies," Trudeau added. "Only through specific efforts and collaboration will we be able to forge a brighter road forward."
These two laws represent a first step in ending Canada's segregation of indigenous and non-indigenous residents, a strategy to reunify and equalize us all.