Indigenous youth are falling though our society’s safety nets every day, says Matthew Norris during the Canadian Senate’s Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples to discuss Bill C-15, an Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“These lost lives are not only representative of an on-going traumatic colonial legacy that continues to impact the lived experiences of Indigenous youth and their families, but it also represents their lost potential,” says Norris.
Along with other Indigenous leadership from across the country, the committee met on May 14 to discuss the Act, Bill C-15. The Bill’s purpose is to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with UNDRIP, an “international declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007.”
Norris, a PhD student and member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, was invited to address the Committee as the President of Urban Native Youth Association before the Bill goes to the Senate for debate and the House votes.
“I can wholeheartedly celebrate this Bill as a critical and significant step forward in reconciling this country’s colonial legacy,” says Norris.
Norris called on the Committee to not delay the Bill with amendments, arguing that other jurisdictions are quickly moving forward with implementing UNDRIP.
In B.C., Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle introduced a motion to implement UNDRIP. The City of Vancouver unanimously adopted the motion, which Norris was involved in drafting.
In a press release issued by the First Nations Leadership Council, B.C Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee says “I am very pleased to see the City of Vancouver build on its long-term commitments to advance Indigenous rights by adopting this motion. This is a distinct opportunity for Vancouver to lead the way, provincially and nationally, as a progressive city.”
At a provincial level, B.C. passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in November 2019 to implement the international declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
According to the government of B.C’s website, the Act will “create a path forward that respects the human rights of Indigenous peoples while introducing better transparency and predictability in the work we do together.”
Not all Indigenous people and groups agree that Bill C-15 is a step in the right direction. Indigenous Activists Network, comprised of Defenders of the Land, Truth Campaign, and Idle No More, for example, have taken a strong position against the Bill.
“It is our opinion that the federal UNDRIP Bill C-15 must be reviewed and considered in the broader context of the Trudeau government’s record of stealth and deception in its treatment of Indigenous communities and Indigenous nations for the past six years,” writes Russ Diabo, the network’s spokesperson in a statement presented to the Committee.
The statement also expressed concern for developing legislation during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
But for Norris, the implementation of Bill C-15 cannot come fast enough, as he references the failure of Bill C-292, which sought to ensure the laws of Canada were “in harmony” with UNDRIP.
“Our communities hold the knowledge and expertise to overcome these issues, we just need to be empowered and resourced to make those changes.”
In a phone interview following his address, Norris says the right to self-determination is a process, and that there’s much more work to be done.
“I hope the Senate and the House realize that this is the beginning of a reciprocal relationship,” he says.