The Government of Canada has committed itself to a renewed relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Much of this commitment emerged following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), which acknowledged that the Indian Residential School system had a profound and lasting intergenerational impact on the cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019) follows the lead of the TRC by addressing the damage caused to Indigenous culture as a result of colonialism.

Both the Calls to Action in the TRC and the Calls to Justice in the MMIWG Report outline priority areas for the Government of Canada to address to begin reconciling its relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Many of these refer to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). The federal government officially adopted the recommendations of UNDRIP in 2016, but has not formally ratified the document. Together, these three documents – the TRC, the MMIWG Report, and UNDRIP – speak directly to the rights of Indigenous Peoples to maintain, control, identify, and protect their cultural heritage, and to the responsibility of Canada’s federal government to integrate Indigenous heritage into their policies and practices.

For example, Calls to Action 67 and 79 in the TRC call on the federal government to review and revise museum practices and cultural heritage policies:

Call to Action 67:

We call upon the federal government to provide funding to the Canadian Museums Association to undertake, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, a national review of museum policies and best practices to determine the level of compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to make recommendations.

Call to Action 79:

We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal organizations, and the arts community, to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration. This would include, but not be limited to:

  1. Amending the Historic Sites and Monuments Act to include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and its Secretariat.
  2. Revising the policies, criteria, and practices of the National Program of Historical Commemoration to integrate Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.
  3. Developing and implementing a national heritage plan and strategy for commemorating residential school sites, the history and legacy of residential schools, and the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canada’s history.

The MMIWG Final Report has a Calls for Justice section dedicated to Indigenous culture, which includes the following:

Call to Justice 2.1:

2.1 We call upon all governments to acknowledge, recognize, and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples to their cultures and languages as inherent rights, and constitutionally protected as such under section 35 of the Constitution.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a resolution passed by the United Nations in 2007. Although it is non-legally-binding, it is intended as a tool to aid in the elimination of human rights violations against the world’s Indigenous populations.

UNDRIP Article 31 pertains to the right for Indigenous Peoples to be in control of their own cultural heritage:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.

2. In conjunction with indigenous peoples, States shall take effective measures to recognize and protect the exercise of these rights

The IHC aims to respond to the needs of Indigenous communities in support of a systemic shift in approaches to Indigenous cultural heritage in Canada. As part of the process of reconciliation and new relationships with Indigenous Peoples, the IHC believes that the federal government, in collaboration with provincial and territorial partners, must be encouraged to support the development of a national Indigenous-led organization that will facilitate changes within organizations and communities across the country, and that will establish models and best practices that can be of use to others. The IHC sees its role as providing sustainable and long-term sources of support, advocacy, and education about Indigenous cultural heritage.

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