Business Ethics

11 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Learning Objectives

  • Explain why the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples had to be adopted to uphold Indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • Understand the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how it relates to business.

What does the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) have to do with a business ethics course?

The declaration is key for Indigenous people in Canada to have their rights acknowledged and addressed when Industry wants to conduct business with Indigenous people and their territories. Past practice before UNDRIP was incorporated, Industry, whether it be a logging company, pipeline industry or fishing company would either ignore the Supreme court rulings on Rights and Title and conduct their business sometimes without any communications to the indigenous communities they were doing business on.  Even though it has taken over eight years for Indigenous people to be identified as Humans according to the United Nations. With these rights clearly identified in the UNDRIP document, Indigenous people and Industry can refer to and follow the declaration as it is outlined in the UNDRIP document.

UNDRIP [PDF] is a document that declares the collective rights of Indigenous peoples as well as their rights to culture, identity, employment, health, education, and other rights that need to be addressed for indigenous people around the world (UN General Assembly, 2007).

This document was created because the rights of Indigenous peoples were being ignored for too long and not doing anything about it was morally and ethically wrong. For world leaders claiming to care about their nations, they could not ignore this major injustice any longer. For your own reflection, consider: What injustices did Indigenous Peoples suffer in British Columbia?

In the conclusion of this book, we talk about the relationship between UNDRIP and court cases in Canada.

UNDRIP Articles Relevant to Indigenous Peoples of British Columbia

The United Nations General Assembly adopted UNDRIP on September 13, 2007. At the time, Canada was one of four countries to vote against the motion, but has reversed this position and now supports UNDRIP.

Below, we have outlined several articles from UNDRIP that are relevant to legal cases in British Columbia and Canada. Even though UNDRIP is addressed to governments, the government has put the onus on businesses to implement the articles in their dealings.

Article 10

Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.

When Industry wants to do business with indigenous people and communities Article 10 is essential. Canada’s history shows that past practices with Industry extracting the rich resources from Indigenous land without consent resulted in disaster. Indigenous people have defended their land through the courts and blockades against development companies.

Article 20

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and develop their political, economic and social systems or institutions, to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities.
  2. Indigenous peoples deprived of their means of subsistence and development are entitled to just and fair redress.

How this relates to conducting business is that Industry has to consider that when conducting business, they need to understand that the communities have their governance, so it will do the business well to know that each Indigenous community is different from another Indigenous community. One example of governance in Indigenous communities is the two separate governance within the Indigenous community. One governance will be band elected chiefs that deal with the administration of the funds from the government, and the other will be specific territorial chiefs that oversee the territory that their House owns.

It may be easier to relate the territorial chief for a particular area in the same context as Canada’s Minister of Natural resources. Both  roles “gather, compile, analyze, coordinate and make decisions for the land and resources.” The Minister works for the government of  Canada, and the Territorial chief works for the House that they belong to and that is rightfully assigned to protect and oversee.

Article 20 means that if an outside group stops the Indigenous people from engaging in these traditional activities, they have the right to be compensated and seek justice.

Article 23

Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, Indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programs affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own process, which may differ from what is deemed “formal business practices and process” in the business world.

To conduct business with Indigenous people, Article 23 means that Indigenous people have the right to prioritize their development and social and community goals through their own process. It would benefit businesses to get informed of the community’s priorities before engaging in business. It would be good to understand. For example, Traditional Ecological Knowledge is a priority for Indigenous people when dealing with land and resources. Indigenous communities want economic opportunities that will advance and benefit their community, but their priority to protect the land at all costs is usually the most important. Incorporating Traditional Ecological knowledge into decision-making regarding land and resources will be of high importance to the indigenous people, Understanding their priorities first will benefit good business dealings in the future.

Article 26

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
  2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
  3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

Article 26 is to protect Indigenous Peoples’ lands, territories, and resources. Canada is full of natural resources that can be used for economic purposes. This article ensures that Indigenous territories are not disproportionately impacted by the adverse effects and potential risks of resource development. For best practices, businesses must get informed about the need to get “Free, Prior Informed Consent from the Indigenous communities to conduct business effectively.

Scenario: Stacey signs the contract

Daniel gives Stacey a quick overview of the pipeline project and asks for her permission to go forward. Daniel places the contract in front of Stacey and tells her that there is a signing bonus of $10,000 just for her if she signs. Daniel informs Stacey that the company will cut a 500 km path through the Gitxsan territory through the rivers and forest, but it will not affect the community. He argues that there is little risk, really nothing to worry about. Daniel also tells Stacey that he is only here to help her tribe and that she is lucky the company chose them since they considered many other communities. Stacey feels pressured, so she signs the contract and tells Daniel that she needs to discuss it with the community and will contact him after she discusses the opportunity with the band members. Daniel doesn’t really listen because he is happy that Stacey has signed the contract. He lets her know that there is an urgency because they are working on a tight deadline to start this project.

  1. Does Daniel have any knowledge of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
  2. What is going on in this situation? Is Daniel acting ethically? Is he informing Stacey fully? Is this offer free of coercion and bribery?
  3. What are the next steps both need to take so that they are both operating ethically for the corporation and the community?
  4. What article is relevant in this case and why?


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Indigenous Perspectives on Business Ethics and Business Law in British Columbia Copyright © 2022 by Annette Sorensen and Scott van Dyk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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