MATT OLSON Updated: March 3, 2019
Representatives and public supporters gathered at the Francis Morrison Library Theatre on Saturday afternoon to rally for Bill C-262 — a federal bill that would be seen as a huge success for the Indigenous peoples of Canada if passed.
“We’re living here in this country together, so we have to learn to walk together,” Valerie Wiebe, one of the event organizers, said. “Bill C-262 is an important step in that process … and acknowledging that Indigenous people have important rights, and we have to respect them.”
Bill C-262 was brought to parliament as “an Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” according to the text of the bill. Referred to more colloquially as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, the aim of the bill is to bring the tenets set out in the declaration adopted by the UN back in 2007 in line with Canadian law.
Supporters of the bill say the legislation could provide a framework for reconciliation to move forward in Canada. According to Bishop Chris Harper with the Anglican Diocese in Saskatoon, it has the potential to positively impact the official Calls to Action already laid out by the federal government.
“We’re hoping that Bill C-262 will be that one step to really make a push, a change within the government itself for the wider population … for us to again walk with a little respect and dignity for the history of our people and our communities,” Harper said.
The rally at the Francis Morrison Library in downtown Saskatoon brought together delegates from around the city who support the bill, including NDP MP Sheri Benson, Harry Lafond from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Bishop Chris Harper, and Senator Lillian Dyck from Gordon First Nation.
Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand also voiced his support.
“I find it very important that we lobby the senate, we lobby the federal government, we lobby the provincial government, to recognize the rights of Indigenous people,” Arcand said.
Arcand pointed to a number of cases in the city as examples of still-missing equal rights for Indigenous citizens, including the recent debates over creating an Indigenous preschool in the Montgomery Place neighbourhood. Arcand described being in city hall meetings when letters received from neighbourhood residents during the consultation process were overwhelmingly opposed to the school.
“It’s disheartening,” he said.
Bill C-262 is “sitting at the doors of the senate,” according to Harper. As the fate of the bill is set to be decided, Harper said this is a decision at the federal level with the potential to impact how Canada considers both the past and future of Indigenous culture.
“In the best-case scenario, the federal government will have to recognize the (Indigenous) peoples, and their sovereignty, and be in deeper consultation with them,” Harper said. “We were there, we’re still here, and we will be there in the future.”