Speech to the United Nations
In the General Assembly
December 10, 1992
Mr. President, Distinguished Elders, Ladies and
Gentlemen (Greeting in her own language).
Thank you for the opportunity to address this distinguished forum. Before I do
that, before I go into my speech, I would like to welcome and introduce Ted
Moses who is the Cree Ambassador to the U.N., Phil Fraser, Vice President of the
Native Council of Canada and Sheila Genaille, President of the Métis National
Council of Women.
The United Nations plays a crucial role in setting much needed international
standards. Your persistent efforts in monitoring the members of the
international community and encouraging respect for the human rights of all
peoples are vital. Indigenous Peoples firmly support the overall objectives and
work of the United Nations.
I am Mary Simon, an Inuk leader from Nunavik in northern Canada. I am speaking
on behalf of Inuit, the Crees of James Bay, non-status and off-reserve Indians
and Métis, representing a majority of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the
International Organization of Resource Development. Indigenous Peoples from
every region of the globe are among the most vulnerable and exploited societies.
We, perhaps more than any other peoples in the world, urgently need the
international protections that the United Nations can provide.
Although the theme of the International Year is a new partnership, the reality
we face is not one of partnership, of cooperation, but rather exclusion and
marginalization. Dispossession of lands and resources, racial discrimination and
other violations of our most fundamental rights still scar and ravage the lives
of Indigenous Peoples in both developing and developed countries.
On the evening of 1993, a number of state governments still refuse to recognize
our collective and individual rights as peoples. Our rights are inseparable from
our cultures, way of life and our relationship to our lands and territories. We
are peoples with the same rights as all peoples. To deny this is to deny who we
We are no longer merely objects of international law, we are subjects of
international law. Finally, the international community has started to take
meaningful steps to address the urgent human rights concerns of Indigenous
Peoples. In 1989, the International Labour Organization adopted the Indigenous
and Tribal Peoples Convention, Number 169, which is intended to provide
international protection to Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
With a mandate from this General Assembly and with the direct participation of
Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Peoples is
drafting a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To be
effective this document must not become the lowest common denominator of
existing domestic law. Instead, it should conform to the status, rights and
perspectives of Indigenous Peoples themselves, whose concerns must now be
addressed by the United Nations.
To advance this effort, we need individuals like Dr. Erica-Irene Daes,
Chairperson of the Working Group. Dr. Daes is an untiring advocate on behalf of
our rights at the United Nations.
We believe that the urgent concerns of millions of Indigenous Peoples throughout
the world can no longer remain a footnote to the overall work of the United
Nations. At the very least, the rights of Indigenous Peoples must finally gain a
place on the formal agenda of the Commission on Human Rights.
More fundamentally, we recommend the following. That the institutional framework
of the U.N. be appropriately strengthened to recognize the increasing
paramountcy of the issues affecting Indigenous Peoples. And, the creation of a
Permanent Advisory body within the United Nations, made up of representatives of
Indigenous Peoples themselves. The struggle against apartheid has benefited from
such an Advisory Committee. This is a model we should seek to emulate.
I emphasize that we cannot rely entirely upon domestic law to provide the
necessary protection and promotion of our human rights and fundamental freedoms.
These include our collective and individual rights. We must go beyond the
protections provided for minorities under Article 27 of the International
Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which are simply inadequate.
Indigenous Peoples must have the right to consent to development on Indigenous
lands. Indigenous Peoples are often the first to suffer the adverse social and
environmental effects of ill-conceived development projects. The Crees of James
Bay are familiar with the effects of massive flooding of their territory in
northern Quebec as are other people with strip-forestry.
Pre and post-Confederation treaties between Indigenous Peoples and States must
be fully respected under International Law. Such treaties include modern land
claims agreements. Indigenous treaties were not signed only as domestic
instruments. They must not be turned into domestic instruments after the fact.
Respect of our right to self-determination is paramount. Our rights to
subsistence, our rights to benefit from our own resources, our rights to
self-government. Many of our fundamental rights are contingent upon respect for
our right to self-determination.
The Inuit of Resolute Bay and Grise Fjord in Canada have been victims of forced
relocation to support Canada's claim to northern sovereignty. And as a result
they suffered numerous violations of their human rights. The government of
Canada owes an apology and compensation to these high Arctic exiles. The pain
and suffering of these Inuit families is further compounded by the Canadian
government's attempt to deny this injustice.
The Indigenous Peoples in Quebec are now threatened by the possible secession of
Quebec from Canada. The Indigenous right of self-determination must take
precedence under these circumstances.
On a more positive note, the Inuit of Nunavut have moved closer to controlling
their own lives through a recent comprehensive land claims agreement and a
political accord on the division of the Northwest Territories. And the Métis
Nation has agreed to a legislative accord with governments, the Métis Nation
Accord, which must now be processed.
During the Canadian Constitutional negotiations, the recognition of the inherent
right to self-government for all Aboriginal Peoples by governments was a
historic breakthrough. Although the combined provisions of the Charlottetown
Accord were not ratified, the self-government provisions gained broad support
among Canadians. Canada must now conclude constitutionally binding
self-government agreements with Aboriginal Peoples.
Today, Rigoberta Menchu, an Indigenous person from Guatemala, has received the
Nobel Prize for her courage and determination. We add our heartfelt tribute to
her remarkable and ongoing efforts.
In closing, our presence today before the General Assembly is not an isolated
event. We call upon the General Assembly to go beyond the relatively
unsubstantial resolution which has been proposed and to endorse a plan of action
which will address Indigenous issues for the next decade. In addition, much more
funding is required at both the international level and for state programs.