Aboriginal Rights and Human Rights

In my opinion, one of the most influential and inspiring philosophy courses at Capilanou  is Morality and Social Justice with Dr.Yolande Westwell- Roper. This course sparked my interest in social issues on a global scale, and eventually from that initial intrigue, I was able to determine a topic for my graduating project.

The United Nations outlines the universal code of Human Rights, sectioned into thirty Articles. In an ideal world each person on this earth would enjoy these rights. Unfortunately for reasons of many, Human Rights are being denied, people are suffering and violations of the Declaration of Human Rights are made.

Beginning with Article 1, of the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights,  “ All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

This first article of Human Rights is a reflected in the original Treaty between First Nation’s people and the European Settlers, the Two Row Wampum Treaty.


Image from : Copyright © 2015 The Wampum Chronicles – Kanièn:ke Karonwarà:ke Mohawk Territory on the Internet.

An historical agreement, the Two Row Wampum, between Haudenosaunee First Nations and Dutch settlers in 1613, the Treaty symbolized a parallel coexistence. The principal of the Wampum, is two parallel lines representing equality.

This first Article 1 has been violated, as the Two Row Wampum’s main premise promoted a respectful balanced existence. Four hundred and one years later we can see that any sort of implied harmony has been completely
abandoned, in almost all regards.

As British Columbians, when we hear of Human Rights Violations and violations of justice, the general consensus is that the problems are elsewhere. Not often are we examining our own issues, our own violations and our own people.

Looking at issues close to home, to the people who called BC home long before European settlers. I urge British Columbians to realize the damage caused by violating rights of First Nations people, especially with focus on Aboriginal Rights as of equal importance to Human Rights. I feel as though the more we discuss these issues, the more likely our community is to have enough sense to truly work towards a better coexistence, to return to the ideals of the Two Row Wampum Treaty. Treating First Nations people as equals and respecting the truth of the fact that they were here before European settlers, is imperative. The First Nations people own most of this country, their culture and history is the true cultural history of Canada, and the government as it is currently is abusing almost all Aboriginal Rights.

First Nation’s people of Canada have outlined their rights, and it is right to respect these Aboriginal Rights. Should they be respected, we may have an opportunity to right some of the many wrongs which plague our province’s past.

The principle of Aboriginal Rights is to ensure that First Nations people have the freedom and ability to to practice culturally significant activities. “aboriginal rights stem from the struggles of indigenous peoples. In a way they could be seen as a specific form of customary rights, rights that developed over time, through repeated practice of an activity rather than abstract rights that reflect a notion of how all people are “the same”.” (Kulchyski) Due to the many different aboriginal groups with their own version of specific rights, there is no true outline of any rights; there is however, a very definite common theme.

Peter Kulchyski’s Aboriginal Rights are not Human Rights- In defense of Aboriginal Struggles, outlines many of the issues surrounding Aboriginal Rights. Kulchyski explains the history of the struggle. By understanding why something is not working, we gain knowledge about how to correct  errors. With Kulchyski’s book, we learn the distinction between Human Rights and Aboriginal Rights, as the foundation of aboriginal rights is based on aboriginal historical practices. Kulchyski argues that Aboriginal Rights are at par with Human Rights in regards to their importance, however they are very separate set of Rights. Human Rights are for everyone where Aboriginal Rights are exclusively for people of Aboriginal descent. For this reason they cannot be combined.

Peter Kulchyski writes in an approachable way. He is clear and concise with his presentation of information. This handbook style paperback is an essential bit of reading material for those interested in the classification of Aboriginal Rights as they juxtapose Human Rights. Kulchyski explains how the sets of rights are different, why they are what they are and how it is important to recognize the historical relevance of the rights in our society.

One of the major issues is the lack of respect for such things as treaties. In many cases, the first nations people are forced to take matters into their own hands in order to protect their rights. “many first nations are willing to take actions into their own hands, asserting their just sense of ownership over their traditional terrorities through blockades or occupations.” (Kulchyski, p. 107)

Kulchyski proposes serious solutions to solve these issues. To start, he suggests the Supreme Court of Canada needs to “honour and respect the cultural distinctiveness of aboriginal peoples and paying close attention to oral histories and oral understandings.” (Kulchski,p 113)

Aboriginal Rights are due for some revision in order for them to be most likely respected. Kulchyski offers solutions and potential ways to “turn the page on colonial oppression”.

It would be beneficial for the British Columbia education system to teach young people the importance of these issues. I believe the Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Aboriginal Rights, should all be commonly understood. The current system of classification of rights is not terrible, yet it could benefit from some advancements. For example, although the UNDRIP “offers some very useful examples of specific language around Aboriginal Rights issues, the UNDRIP reflects a notion that all this time indigenous peoples around the world were looking for Human Rights rather than Aboriginal Rights.” (Kulchyski)

All this time Aboriginal people have been looking to have both Human rights and Aboriginal Rights, not to have them bundled together, but to have both sets of rights recognized and respected. Unfortunately in British Columbia both Human Rights and Aboriginal Rights have been violated on numerous occasions, some more tragic than others. This is not an issue of the past, as the rights continue to be violated today, especially with regard to land and culture.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights | United Nations.” UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Kulchyski, Peter Keith. Aboriginal Rights Are Not Human Rights: In Defence of Indigenous Struggles. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring, 2013. Print.

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