Laws, treaties, programs, services with and for Indigenous peoples are the net: these are the mechanisms that together form the framework in Canada that recognize, support, and put into practice Indigenous peoples’ rights. UNDRIP sets minimum standards for those rights: it is the tool that can be used to identify and repair the holes in the net, the rights-supporting framework. UNDRIP can be used as a way to understand if there are holes in the net (laws, authorities, agreements, policies, actions to recognize and uphold rights that are missing), and is the tool that can provide the basic guidance to come up with framework elements that are missing. It is the tool that can mend the holes in the net.
Frank Channel, near Behchokǫ̀, was created by a giant beaver that scratched great tributaries to Tindeè (Great Slave Lake). Islands were created where diamond willows grow. These willows were used by the people, usually women, to weave fishnets, called Idi-too-mee, or called mee in Tłįchǫ. The bark is stripped and then woven into mee. The stripped willows are supple and strong, and the nets made from them are kept in birch bark baskets, covered with moss to keep them wet and pliable, when not in the water. That area, Frank Channel, is known as K’òòta Nı̨ı̨lı̨ı̨̀ in Tłįchǫ, “the waters flowing through the willows (nets)”. The tool used to weave and to fix the nets is called K’àlaàghaa. It is made from a live tree.
The nets are used to catch fish. The fish fed both people and dogs. It was dried during the summer. All winter long, people would be cold and winter was harsh. Fish camps in the summer would be warm, and fish were bountiful. In comparison to winter, this time of year could be warm and the work as a result easier, with time to relax while nets filled. Traders and settlers relied on the fish the people made. Traders would buy loads of fish sticks in the fall and sell it back to the people when winter hunger came.
When treaty came, twine was offered for the people to make nets. Twine was easier to use and to maintain compared to the willow bark. The K’àlaàghaa would still be used to fix the twine nets.
The laws, regulations, policies, programs, and services that shape the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada consist of those set up by governments (Federal, territorial, local, Indigenous), and the cultural knowledge, practices, and laws of Indigenous peoples. They are all interconnected. For example:
an Indigenous self-government passes laws to govern their own people, programs, and services, in ways that meet standards for residents throughout the NWT;
staff working on a GNWT child wellness program support Indigenous families and children to be healthy and well by centering Indigenous cultural practices as the basis for support;
self-directed Indigenous Guardians programs monitor changes to the land and share information on what is needed to help land and animals thrive in relationship with humans, with governments who have law making and regulatory authority.
These types of laws, programs and services interconnect to create a single net that supports and implements Indigenous people’s individual and collective rights.
We can think of all of these together forming a net that recognize and operationalize the rights and ways of life of Indigenous peoples.
We know that this net needs to be fixed. Some of the laws and policies in place have created damage. Others do not ensure that Indigenous peoples can reach their full potential. There are areas where mechanisms are missing and need to be put in place. And there are other mechanisms that are strong. Overall, that net needs fixing. There are strands that need to be strengthened or replaced. There are holes in the net that must be repaired, and part of the net has not yet been woven.
UNDRIP is like the K’àlaàghaa: it is the tool we will use to fix the net. It describes standards that the whole net must be woven to support. It describes standards that different strands of the net must reach. It describes how different strands must be strengthened, whether a strand is strong enough, and shows us areas of the net that we still need to weave. Some of the strands will be done by governments, made from twine. Some of the strands will be ones that Indigenous governments and people will weave, made of the stripped willow bark. Together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners can work together to fix the net, and develop a shared understanding of what the net needs to look like, and use the same tool to fix it.