Xeni Gwet’in chief returns from UN

Marilyn Baptiste says it was important that she appeared at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Initially Xeni Gwet’in Chief Marilyn Baptiste wasn’t sure if it was worth making the trek to Geneva, Switzerland to appear before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in February, but now that she’s back home says it was important that she was there.

“I don’t like that kind of travel and it was a very long way to go for a short period of time, but observing the UN review was a tremendous opportunity and experience. It was very important for the many Indigenous and NGOs, as well as Afro-Canadian representatives from Canada that attended,” Baptiste says.

On Feb. 23, Baptiste, during a “very brief” opportunity, put forth some of the issues and concerns of First Nations in Canada. The delegation from Canada only had about three minutes to make a presentation, she says.

“We met beforehand and had the different position papers being given to the committee. We didn’t have much time to prepare ours because we arrived later than some of the others, but by getting together we were able to focus each of the positions a little more in depth so the committee could hear the voices.”

Aside from her role as chief of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government, while at the UN she also represented the Tsilhqot’in Nation, BC’s First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining, of which she’s a founding member, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs as its secretary treasurer.

“We spoke just before the committee heard Canada’s report and that was really good. One of the great advantages of being there was being able to submit an additional position paper on our aboriginal rights and titles.”

One of the reasons why the Tsilhqot’in and others in BC have not entered into the treaty process is the issue and concern of extinguishing the rights and title of their territories, she says.

“That was huge and important. Just thinking if we were not able to be there then obviously our concerns would not be put forth.”

Baptiste says she and her fellow presenters felt like they were heard by the CERD. After the Canadian government gave its “very good” report, the head of the committee thanked the government for its “excellent” report, but also noted they’d heard from NGOs, Indigenous and Afro-Canadians that it’s not as good as Canada was reporting.

“That was really good to hear. All of the questions of the committee members put forth to Canada were good and it was important to be there and hear those.”

Another thing Baptiste appreciated was the feedback she received from others. “I heard there were more committee members engaged this time, where there were more committee members asking questions. I have to put my hand up to others that have attended in the past and to those who submitted position papers this time around.”

The next step, she notes, is to follow up on the CRED report when it comes out and to utilize it in all the steps going forward.

“I think it will be helpful because it’s a part of holding Canada accountable,” Baptiste suggests.