In November 2010, the Government of Canada endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
It was a move that came after much reticence on the part of a federal government that was pressured for years to sign on to an international statement proclaiming, among other things, that indigenous peoples were "free and equal to all other peoples" and had the right to be "free from all discrimination."
The government previously voted against adopting the Declaration in 2006, worried, among other reasons, that some of its language would provide a different standard for treatment of indigenous peoples than was already provided in Canada's Charter of Rights of Freedoms.
The Government of Canada later endorsed the Declaration, saying in a statement from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada that it would give the federal government an opportunity to "reiterate (its) commitment" to work in partnership with Aboriginal peoples in the creation of a "better Canada."
The endorsement means the Government of Canada agrees that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain their distinct "political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions," and to live in "freedom, peace and security."
As Mount Currie resident James Louie tells it, Canada is failing on these counts.
Louie, at 69 years old and an elder of the Lil'wat, one of 11 tribes of the St'at'imc Nation, travelled to New York in late May as part of a delegation to the Tenth Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The Forum is an advisory body to the UN's Economic and Social Council providing it with expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues. Starting in 2002 it began holding annual two-week sessions and Louie, whose aboriginal name is Pau Tuc la Cimc, testified at the tenth such session on May 25.
He wanted to make sure leaders understood that though there may be other bodies representing indigenous people in Canada, such as the Assembly of First Nations only his people could speak for themselves.
"I went there to let the Permanent Forum know that any of those so-called legal entities do not speak for Lil'wat, only Lil'wat speaks for Lil'wat,"said Louie.
He spoke specifically about Article 5 in the Declaration, which outlines indigenous peoples' rights to self-determination.
Canada, he said, is not complying with Article 5 because of its continued application of the Indian Act, a legislation that prescribes for First Nations reserve lands held in trust by the Crown, sets out a governance framework with a chief and council for each band government and determines who's an "Indian" under Canadian law, and who isn't.
As Louie tells it, the band governance system prescribed by the Indian Act does not permit indigenous peoples to self-determination because they're working within a framework established by a government that imposed on them the legislation, a status and a system of government.
It is for this reason that he contested the ability of St'at'imc chiefs to accept a $210 million settlement with BC Hydro for past impacts on the people's traditional territory.
"It's simple, they had no jurisdiction in our territory," Louie told Pique . "We have no treaty with Canada that says they can do whatever they want in their territory. Illegal means there's a law. There's no law that says Canada can do whatever they want, so internationally it's in violation of international law."
Beyond that, he feels the band governance system is in direct violation of St'at'imc government. Louie said that before Canada was established on his people's traditional territory, each family within the nation would choose a representative to attend an assembly with all the tribes whenever it was necessary.
The band system, he said, is merely a construct that has been imposed on indigenous peoples.
"I believe that the Indian Act is forced assimilation on our people," he said.