Image of Wes George standing at a lecternDelegates to CUPE Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal Conference 2019 heard from a guest speaker born and raised in Saskatchewan with first-hand experience in the development and adoption of the United National Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Wes George (Kaskitew Wikihew Kapapamahat) was born in Whitewood, Saskatchewan and now resides on the Ochapowace Reserve on Treaty 4 territory, working for over 29 years at the United Nations with extensive involvement around UNDRIP, along with involvement in the Final Report of the International Treaty Study and a co-chair of the Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus that negotiated the development of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples among the many highlights in his career so far.

The declaration was passed by the majority of member states of the UN on September 13, 2007, and thus serves as the principal international framework to build and rebuild relationships with Indigenous people in recognizing fundamental rights. Yet, the conservative representatives of the Government of Canada voted against the declaration in 2007 and Canada continues to lag behind other countries in the declarations’ adoption, implementation, and enforcement. In fact, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which issued its final report in June of 2015 frequently references the UNDRIP, making the declaration the most comprehensive standard to which reconciliation should occur. Meanwhile, Canadian governments have been slow to abide by the declaration that underscores the basic fundamental principles of Indigenous Peoples’ rights including: Free Prior and Informed Consent, the Right to Participate in Decision Making, Self-Determination, Sovereignty, and the recognition of Treaties.

“The status quo doesn’t work anymore,” urged Wes George. “The application, duty, and enforcement of Indigenous People’s Rights enshrined by UNDRIP are the responsibility of all and all are intended to benefit regardless of occupation or status.”

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CUPE Saskatchewan’s 19th annual Aboriginal Conference was held on November 7 to 8, 2019 in Regina. The annual conference is open to CUPE members, and members of other unions, with a focus on equality and rights for Indigenous People in our workplaces and communities.