A Catholic Response to Call to Action 48 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

(On Adopting and Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)

1. Introduction: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued 94 Calls to Action almost a year ago. One of these called on all faith groups in Canada to “formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation.”1 Catholic Bishops, institutes of consecrated life, societies of apostolic life and other Catholic organizations in Canada support this Declaration and believe that its spirit can point a way forward to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. Further, the Holy See’s office that participates in the United Nations – the Holy See Permanent Observer to the UN – has explicitly endorsed this Declaration on numerous occasions.2,3,4,5

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007. Technically known as a “human rights instrument” rather than a treaty or convention, once passed it is not signed or ratified. Since it is directed to the governments of nation states, the Declaration does not, in the strict sense, refer to churches or faith groups. But this does not mean that churches and faith groups cannot seek to live out its principles. Because churches and faith groups are an integral part of the society for which the government speaks and acts, it is important for us to make our voices heard.

The central themes of the Declaration, in fact, resonate strongly with statements already made by the Catholic Church, whether through the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) or the Holy See. These include the rights of Indigenous Peoples to selfdetermination, self-government, and to their own distinct institutions, the right to their traditional territories, the right to a fair process to adjudicate land claims, the right to their cultural traditions and customs, the right to practise and manifest their spiritual traditions and customs, the right to maintain their languages, the right to their own educational institutions, the right to improvement of their economic and social conditions, the right to guide their own development, and the right to the recognition and enforcement of treaties.6

1 Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015. Call to Action n. 48.

2 Address by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Holy See Permanent Observer to the UN, New York, May 16, 2007.

3 Address by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Holy See Permanent Observer to the UN, New York, October 19, 2009.

4 Address by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Holy See Permanent Observer to the UN, New York, 20 April 2010

5 Address by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Holy See Permanent Observer to the UN, Geneva, September 17, 2014.

6 See the attached appendix for a list of some Catholic statements supporting the rights articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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