About the Canadian Commission for UNESCO


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was created in 1945 in the wake of the Second World War, and Canada was one of its 20 founding members. UNESCO champions equity, peace and sustainable development. The values of dialogue, knowledge-sharing and international cooperation in the fields of education, culture, communication, information and science are central to its mission. In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—to be achieved by 2030—inform the work of UNESCO and the other UN agencies. They are designed to support the development of fairer and more inclusive communities as well as sustainability in education, ecosystems, cities, consumption and economies.

The Extended Family of UNESCO National Commissions

To implement its ambitious mandate, UNESCO is supported by a global network of 199 national commissions in its member and associate-member countries. These act as bridges between UNESCO and its countries. The national commissions mobilize and coordinate partnerships with civil society to make substantial contributions toward achieving UNESCO’s objectives.

Canadian Commission for UNESCO

Created in 1957, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO) carries out the mandate and initiatives of UNESCO in Canada. Its members and partners come from all sectors across the country and include universities, non-governmental organizations, institutions, government departments and individuals. Together, with the support of a dynamic and independent Secretariat and the Commission’s Executive Committee, CCUNESCO’s members and partners consult, research, and collaborate in UNESCO’s mandated areas. CCUNESCO operates under the responsibility of the Canada Council for the Arts.

CCUNESCO's International Reach

At the heart of CCUNESCO’s work are ongoing efforts to ensure that UNESCO’s priorities take root in Canada and that Canadian perspectives are brought to global forums.

Normative Instruments

This term describes UNESCO’s various international conventions, declarations, and recommendations. These instruments play a unique and important role in promoting UNESCO’s priorities, and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO supports their implementation.

Key instruments in Canada include the:

The International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032)

This Decade is a key component of CCUNESCO’s commitment to see the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) fully implemented in Canada.

On Earth Day (April 2022), the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, CCUNESCO and the Canada Council for the Arts organized Languages of the Land to launch the UN’s International Decade of Indigenous Languages in Canada. This hybrid event was hosted by her Excellency, the Right Honourable Mary Simon and Chief Perry Bellegarde. It involved cultural sharings, musical performances featuring First Nations, Metis and Inuit artists, and an intergenerational circle talk.

CCUNESCO collaborated with the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris, the Canada Council for the Arts, and Global Affairs Canada to support an Indigenous delegation to the global launch of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages held December 2022 in Paris. The events included musical performances by Art Napoleon, Looee Arreak, James Arreak, Morgan Toney, and Keith Mullins.

Nin Exhibition in Paris

In April 2022, the exhibition Nin was presented at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Created by Minwashin, this nomadic exhibition is designed to share the worldview of the Anicinabek people and to foster interest and pride in their identity, language and ancestral heritage among Anicinabek youth. The exhibition was presented in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec.

Mondiacult 2022

The Mondiacult World Conference on Cultural Policies was held in Mexico in September 2022. Promoting the idea that culture is a public good, the conference aimed to support efforts to build a robust and resilient cultural sector, “fully anchored in the perspectives of sustainable development as well as promotion of solidarity, peace and security”. CCUNESCO co-hosted a side event on Culture and the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. Noting that little attention was being given to the perspectives of Indigenous Peoples, CCUNESCO developed a policy brief which presented ways to integrate Indigenous views and voices into international forums and the shaping of all recommendations, policies and measures that concern cultural development. The conference concluded with the adoption of a historic Declaration asserting the ongoing importance of culture in sustainable development.

Global Forum on Racism and Discrimination (November 28-29, Mexico City)

This UNESCO-led Global Forum brought together government officials, policymakers, and activists from around the world. The Forum looked at the post-pandemic recovery and addressing the negative impacts of the pandemic on racialized populations. CCUNESCO staff helped UNESCO plan the event, moderated panels, and participated as a panelist. Participants called for renewed global efforts to fight racism, and Canada announced a new North American Partnership for Racial Equity and Inclusion.

First meeting of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent (December 5-8, Geneva)

The creation of this Permanent Forum is a key outcome of the International Decade for People of African Descent (UNDPAD). Convened by the Office of the Higher Commissioner of Human Rights, The Permanent Forum was established to be "a consultative mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders as a platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of people of African descent".

CCUNESCO lead a delegation of Black Canadian thinkers, writers, and activists to participate in the historic first session of the Permanent Forum. Richard Sharpe, a delegation member, said “My Canadian community colleagues were the talk of the forum” and his additional reflections on the event can be found here. The article Recognition, justice and development: the promise of Black diplomacy and the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent by delegation member Candies Kotchapaw discusses the significance of the establishment of the Permanent Forum.

Advancing CCUNESCO's 2021-2026 Strategic Plan

CCUNESCO’s activities are guided by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UNESCO Medium-Term Strategy, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and CCUNESCO’s 2021-2026 Strategic Plan which includes three strategic objectives and four cross-cutting priorities. This report highlights activities undertaken in 2022-2023 to advance CCUNESCO’s strategic objectives as well as its four cross-cutting priorities which are:

  1. Implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to support Truth and Reconciliation

  2. Promoting gender equity and justice

  3. Mainstreaming youth leadership

  4. Fighting against racism

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Education, culture, freedom of expression and anti-racism advance an inclusive, just, and peaceful society

In 2022-2023, in order to advance this strategic objective CCUNESCO:  

  • Strengthened Canada’s engagement in UNESCO’s Routes of Enslaved Peoples project by hosting its International Scientific Committee in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in June 2022 in partnership with the University of Dalhousie and the Government of Nova Scotia. This meeting provided committee members with insight into the history, cultures and heritage of the African Nova Scotians. Since its launch in 1994, the UNESCO Routes of Enslaved Peoples: Resistance, Liberty and Heritage Project has contributed to the production of innovative knowledge, the development of high-level scientific networks and the support of memory initiatives on the theme of slavery, its abolition and the resistance it generated. 
  • Hosted a webinar Gikinoo'amaadiwinan (Learning from Each Other) in partnership with the Canadian School of Public Service to educate over 2,500 public servants about how they can support and promote Indigenous languages at work as an act of reconciliation. This included participation by the musical group Twin Flames, who spoke about the importance of Indigenous languages, and a Q&A session with language keepers. 
  • Supported Indigenous representation at the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference held in Barcelona. The conference occurs once every 10 years and gathers representatives including UNESCO Chairs from higher education institutions around the world. CCUNESCO coordinated a special session on Indigenous perspectives on Higher Education. Led by Dr. Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams it was the only Canadian-led session at the conference.
  • Welcomed 3 new members to our Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities.These municipalities work to improve their policies against racism, discrimination, exclusion and intolerance. The new members are:
    • Blainville (Quebec);
    • Clarington (Ontario); and
    • Durham Region (Ontario).
  • Continued to work closely with its Youth Advisory Group (YAG), hosting the group for its first post-pandemic meeting in November, in Ottawa. YAG members also participated in the Youth Bootcamp organized by the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities (ICCAR) in July 2022. The goal was to guide the young people attending through the initiatives of UNESCO and the Coalition cities on the issues of racism and discrimination, in order to create local and global perspectives from the youth to be bring back to their countries of origin.
  • Engaged CCUNESCO’s Youth Advisory Group members in the lead up to the National Black Canadians Summit, held in Halifax. The Summit, which has been held biannually since 2017, is the key gathering of Canadians of African Descent. Group members also participated in the working group that developed the Halifax Declaration, a major outcome of the Summit.
  • Partnered with World Press Freedom Canada to mark World Press Freedom day and highlight UNESCO’s work to raise awareness about issues of press freedom globally and protect the safety of journalists.
  • Welcomed Edmonton as Canada’s first UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities member, recognizing its dedication to fostering learning for all to enhance social inclusion, economic development and cultural prosperity.
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Science, technology, education and culture contribute to sustainable development

In 2022-2023, in order to advance this strategic objective CCUNESCO:

  • Continued its partnership with Ingenium and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to mark the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and celebrate women and those who identify as non-binary in ocean science and STEM. #2 Promoting gender equity and justice.
  • Welcomed 2 new appointments to the Canadian UNESCO Chairs Network: Philip Buckley and Ping Cheng Hsiung (UNESCO Chair in Global Asia and Humanities at McGill University) and Agnieszka Pawlowska and Kristin Catherwood (UNESCO Chair on Living Heritage and Sustainable Livelihoods at University of Northern British Columbia).
  • Supported the Festival Afropolitain Nomade in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts. This initiative of Canadian artist Vanessa Kanga is well aligned with CCUNESCO’s efforts to promote the International Decade for People of African Descent as it brings together Canadian artists of African descent and amplifies the work of Black women entrepreneurs in the creative industries. The festival took place in Cameroon in cooperation with Femme Aussi du Tchad and the Koura Gosso Festival.
  • Participated in COP15, a gathering of the state parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which will determine the global framework for the conservation and protection of the world's biodiversity for the next 10 years. Taking place in Montreal in December, UNESCO headquarters and CCUNESCO were present to highlight Canada’s 19 Biosphere Regions, which are promoting solutions that reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. CCUNESCO also reinforced the links between nature and culture – which are so strongly evident in Indigenous worldviews. Such links naturally lend themselves to interdisciplinary work bringing together scientists, heritage practitioners, knowledge keepers, activists, youth, and elders.
  • Partnered to support the 2022 edition of the KWE! Festival, an event held in Quebec City in collaboration with the 11 Indigenous Nations of Quebec. This event is well aligned with the objective of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages as it provides opportunities for the public to learn about Indigenous languages and cultures and the importance of maintaining and revitalizing Indigenous languages.
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Governments and civil society safeguard natural, cultural and documentary heritage for future generations

In 2022-2023, in order to advance this strategic objective CCUNESCO:

  • Advanced the work of Canada’s UNESCO Biosphere Regions, a national network of Biosphere Regions that span over 235,000 square kilometers within the traditional territories of over 50 Indigenous nations, and work to protect biodiversity and promote sustainable development. In June 2022 CCUNESCO welcomed the announcement by Environment and Climate Change Canada of a Federal investment of $10.7M over three years to elevate biodiversity conservation in Canada’s 19 biosphere regions. The funding will help the biosphere regions work with Indigenous partners to contribute to Canada’s goal of conserving 25% of lands and waters by 2025. This excellent news is the culmination of work by the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association and the CCUNESCO to raise the profile of biosphere regions in Canada among key partners within the federal government, and to build trust with Indigenous partners on whose traditional territories the biosphere regions are located.
  • Hosted an intergenerational panel at the Arctic Arts Summit on Indigenous languages, land, and biodiversity. Each Indigenous language contains invaluable knowledge of the territories from which they originated over millennia. These links were explored during the session by presenters Harald Gaski (Professor in Sámi Culture and Literature), Skaydu.û, Haa Yoo X’atángi Deiyí (Language Pathways Scholar at the University of Alaska Southeast), Tina Jules (Indigenous Education, Culture & Language Consultant), and artist Hans Henrik Suersaq Poulsen.
  • Collaborated with the UK National Commission for UNESCO to launch the landmark study Sites for Sustainable Development: Realizing the Potential of UNESCO Designated Sites to Advance Agenda 2030 at a number of events: the Annual Meeting of the Organization of World Heritage Cities, a conference for European and North American biosphere regions, a meeting of Asia-Pacific Geoparks, and the UNESCO Executive Board. This study examines how UNESCO sites (World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Regions, and Geoparks) advance sustainable development by fostering economic development that is culturally and environmentally sustainable; managing cultural and natural landscapes with an inclusive and equitable approaches that considers the needs of local communities and stakeholders; and protecting natural and cultural heritage.
  • Welcomed the inscription of the Joan Gillis fonds to the Canada Memory of the World Register, which safeguards documentary heritage of national significance. The Joan Gillis fonds includes letters and photographs exchange between high school student Joan Gillis and 13 Japanese Canadian friends of hers who were transported to internment camps and farms during the Second World War. The correspondence offers a unique perspective by youth on the war and the internment of Japanese Canadians.