Canada endorses the Declaration on Right of Indigenous Communities

As the 41st Union World Conference on Lung Health in Berlin, Germany was going on, another development took place in Canada – which will surely impact public health including tuberculosis (TB) and lung health among indigenous communities. Canada endorsed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Communities. Wilton Littlechild, Regional Chief, Assembly of First Nations, has been a powerful advocate demanding this endorsement from Canada since years. Four states had voted against the declaration initially, New Zealand, Australia, United States of America and Canada. However, New Zealand and Australia had changed their position and endorsed the declaration earlier. Now Canada too have endorsed the declaration, thankfully. Read more


"Indigenous people around the world have sought recognition of their identities, their ways of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources. However throughout history, their rights have been violated" said Chief Littlechild.

Chief Littlechild gave an overview of significant milestones in demanding policy change and responses to the human rights of indigenous communities.

In 1923, Haudenosaunee Chief Deskaheh had travelled to Geneva to speak to the League of Nations and defend the right of his people.

1925 Ratana first travelled to London with a large delegation to petition King George, but he was denied access.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 (1991) Article 3 states that indigenous peoples must fully enjoy fundamental human rights without obstacles or discrimination.

The ILO Convention 169 Article 2 gives governments the responsibility for ensuring that all indigenous people have the same rights and opportunities as non indigenous peoples.

The ILO Convention 169 Article 5 recognizes and protects the social, cultural, religious and spiritual values and practices of these peoples.

The ILO Convention 169 Article 7 specifically refers to the obligation that states parties have with regard to the improvement of the conditions of life work, levels of health and education as a matter of priority in national plans.

The ILO Convention 169 Articles 14 and 16 guarantee the rights of ownership and possession of land by indigenous peoples and the right not to be displaced.

"No health without land for indigenous people," rightly said Chief Littlechild.

"The declaration on the rights of indigenous people was adopted by the general assembly on 13 September 2007. The declaration is the most comprehensive statement of the rights of indigenous peoples ever developed, giving prominence to collective rights to a degree unprecedented in international human rights law" said Chief Littlechild.

The drafting of the declaration began in 1985 and the first draft was completed in 1993. In 1995, the commission on human rights set up its own working group to review the draft adopted by the human rights experts of the working group and the sub-commission, said Chief Littlechild.

"There are many steps that should be taken to apply indigenous rights’ lens to TB programmes" said Chief Littlechild.

Countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico, have all written multiculturalism into their constitutions to ensure that their country’s legislation conforms with convention obligations and international human rights guidelines related to the highest attainable standard of health.

"The ministers of health and policymakers should be trained on the obligations from international human rights conventions to which their government is a party. If national health policies, plans, and programmes, do not align with these obligations, efforts should be undertaken to revise them so as to make them consistent with those conventions and standards" said Chief Littlechild.

Policy makers can build and expand databases from national and sub-national sources to measure and monitor the impact of ethnicity on the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms related with health and the right to health per se, said Chief Littlechild.

The national TB control programmes (NTPs) can systematically monitor TB trends among indigenous populations to determine ways to improve healthcare. NTPs can also investigate the ways in which health is determined by outside factors, and the extent to which the government can remedy problems of infrastructure, said Chief Littlechild.

The NTPs, NGOs and civil society should also build networks of national and sub-natoinal research institutions that focus on health or other issues of importance to indigenous populations.

The minister of health can encourage the dissemination of culturally appropriate health information materials in local languages, the inclusion of traditional leaders, healers in health promotion, said Chief Littlechild.

Outlining the unique social determinants that affect health of indigenous communities, he listed: colonization and colonialism, residential schools in some schools TB rates were so high that they were locally referred to as TB schools), language and culture, indigeneity, geographical locale, racism and self determination.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson, of Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, had once said: "Actions taken to reach the MDG [millennium development goals] health goals cannot be measured solely in terms of improving average health outcomes. They must also be evaluated in terms of their consistency with a human rights based approach which emphasizes participatory, non-discriminatory and accountable actions to improve the health of indigenous peoples."

Endorsing of the declaration on rights of indigenous communities by Canada and other nations shall go a long way in not only reducing diseases like TB among indigenous peoples but also improving quality of life and conditions that respect human rights.

Bobby Ramakant - CNS  


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