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Indigenous Peoples in Canada

    April 23, 2015

    Never am I seen as strong, as proud, as resilient, never as I am
    Finally given the stars laid to gaze at them on back roads and in ditches on ghostly stretches of forgotten pebbled pathways your vastness swallows me. Do I fall in your line of sight? Do you see me now?
    Because I get this feeling that your eyes they curve around me
    —Exerpt from “Your eyes,” a poem by Helen Knott, an Indigenous woman from Fort St. John, BC

    April 15, 2015

    By Craig Benjamin and Jackie Hansen

    Last month, federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt disclosed previously unreleased RCMP statistics about the numbers of murders committed by Indigenous men. The Minister appears to believe that these figures support the federal government’s current approach to the issue, including the ongoing refusal to hold a public inquiry or initiate a comprehensive, coordinated national action plan.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Responding to the letter from Commission Paulson, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), stated, “We are absolutely shocked and appalled that the RCMP would hastily release these serious statistics without providing a full, publicly accessible report detailing how they are collecting and compiling this information.”

    April 14, 2015

    Amnesty international is urging Canadian Parliamentarians to support Bill C-641, a private member’s bill to help implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

    Adoption of Bill C-641 would commit Parliament to “take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent” with the UN Declaration.

    The Declaration, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, consolidates existing international human rights protections into a framework of minimum standards for the “survival, dignity and well-being” of Indigenous peoples around the world.

    February 19, 2015

    By Craig Benjamin and Jackie Hansen

    The shocking levels of violence faced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls requires nothing less than a comprehensive, coordinated national response to ensure effective, unbiased police investigations, to support the families of those who have been murdered or gone missing, and to address the factors putting Indigenous women in harm’s way in the first place.

    To get there, we need an independent public inquiry to ensure that the policies and programmes that make up a national action plan are based on a clear, unbiased understanding of the issues, and help hold government accountable for acting on the recommendations brought forward by affected families, communities and Indigenous peoples’ organizations.

    Next week, a national roundtable on missing and murdered Indigenous women will focus public attention on the need for action.

    February 09, 2015
    Have a Heart Day at the University of Regina

    This week, communities across Canada are speaking out for the future of First Nations children and youth.

    The annual Have a Heart Day campaign (on and around February 14th) is an opportunity for ordinary Canadians to show their support for basic principles of fairness and equity.

    The campaign was launched by our friends at the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society in response to the shocking gap in basic government services – including education, healthcare and family services – facing many First Nations children and families on reserves.

    This year’s Have a Heart Day campaign is particularly timely.

    In the coming weeks, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will rule whether the federal government’s persistent underfunding of family services on reserves is a form of discrimination. The complaint was launched by the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations in response to the large numbers of First Nations children being put into foster care because on reserve children’s didn’t have the resources  carry out less drastic forms of intervention.

    October 15, 2014
    The Peace River in northern British Columbia

    The federal government has approved the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam  in northern British Columbia despite the severe impacts it would have on the cultures and economies of Indigenous peoples in the region.

    The Site C dam would flood more than 80 km of the Peace River Valley. A joint federal/provincial environmental assessment found the dam would cause “profound” loss of natural habitat, would “severely undermine” First Nations, Métis and non-Aboriginal use of the area, and would submerge First Nations graves and others sites of cultural significance.

    In a decision released on October 14th, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said that the impacts of the project are “justified in the circumstances.” The Minister’s statement refers to jobs that will be created in the construction of the dam and the “clean, renewable energy” that will be produced.

    However, the joint review characterized the dam as imposing significant social and environmental costs that would be borne by the very communities least likely to share in its benefits.

    October 08, 2014

    “Our people have a deep connection with this land because our ancestors told the stories and legends that are connected to that valley.” Chief Liz Logan, Treaty 8 Tribal Association, testifying before the environmental impact assessment of the proposed Site C hydroelectric dam.

    It would be impossible to flood more than 80 km of pristine river valley without having a massive impact on local ecosystems and the people who depend on them.

    The environmental impact assessment of the proposed $8 billion Site C hydroelectric dam in Northern British Columbia is clear that flooding such a large section of the Peace River valley would “severely undermine” First Nations, Métis and non-Aboriginal use of the area for hunting, trapping, and gathering plant medicines; would make fishing unsafe for at least a generation; and would submerge burial grounds and other crucial cultural and historical sites.

    In short, the panel concluded that the project would have “significant environmental and social costs” and that these would be borne by the people least likely to benefit from the project.

    October 01, 2014

    Bev Jacobs, a Mohawk lawyer and grandmother from Six Nations, was the lead researcher on Amnesty International’s 2004 Stolen Sisters report.  Bev went on to serve as President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Her cousin Tashina General was murdered in 2008. Bev has recently been working with Ending Violence Association British Columbia, to design and lead knowledge sharing workshops on how to build safety in Indigenous communities. 

    I spoke with Bev as part of a series of conversations with Indigenous women activists and leaders to mark the 10th anniversary of the Stolen Sisters report and the ongoing struggle to stop violence against Indigenous women and girls.

    What’s the most important thing for Canadians to understand about what’s happening to Indigenous women and girls in this country?

    September 17, 2014
    How many Indigenous women and girls have gone missing in Canada?

    The best available data, an RCMP report released earlier this year, identifies 1,017 women and girls who were murdered between 1980 and 2012—a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times higher than that of all other women in Canada. In addition, the report states that as of November 2013, at least 105 Indigenous women and girls remained missing under suspicious circumstances or for undetermined reasons.

    As explained below, the actual numbers may be even higher.

    These women were daughters, sisters, mothers and wives. They were loved and valued and they are missed by their families. Every missing or murdered Indigenous woman and girl is a tragedy. The combined numbers are nothing less than a national human rights crisis.

    Who is responsible for this violence?

    The RCMP report does not identify how many of the perpetrators are Indigenous or non-Indigenous, but we know from individual cases that attacks on Indigenous women are carried out by Indigenous and non-Indigenous men alike.

    August 27, 2014

     

    “It is long past time for the government to take responsibility to fix what they have broken, clean up our river, and help us out rather than kicking us while we are down.” -- Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister Sr.

    For almost a decade, Amnesty International has stood with the people of Grassy Narrows in their long struggle to determine for themselves the fate of the forest and waters on which they depend. This campaign--  led by the people of Grassy Narrow, and supported by a wide range of social justice and environmental organizations --  has had remarkable success with company after company announcing that they will not log at Grassy Narrows, or handle wood cut  at Grassy Narrows, unless the community gives its consent. These remarkable victories, however, have taken place against the backdrop of an ongoing, unresolved and largely unacknowledged tragedy.

    August 08, 2014
    "We lived at the side of the road, we lived badly. Several members of the community died in accidents, of disease. Nobody respected us. Now this is our victory. I am very happy, and I cry because my grandmother, my father and many members of my family did not have the opportunity I have today to enjoy our land. I'm grateful to everyone" --  Aparicia Gonzalez, an Indigenous Enxet woman from the Sawhoyamaxa community in Paraguay

    This week, as the United Nations marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (August 9th), we want to take a moment to celebrate two crucial recent victories in the long struggle for the recognition of the rights of Indigenous peoples.

    July 14, 2014

    The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline has galvanized public debate over resource development in Canada and the potential for both economic benefit and environmental harm. Like many other large-scale resource development projects, Northern Gateway has another critical dimension that is often overlooked. Northern Gateway is also a human rights issue because of the risk that it could further undermine the ability of First Nations families and communities to practice their cultures and pursue traditional livelihoods.

    Amnesty International isn’t opposed to all resource development or pipeline construction, but we have said that Northern Gateway should not go ahead. As international human rights bodies have long recognized, a high standard of precaution is essential in any decision that could compound the harms that have already been inflicted on Indigenous peoples. The federal government, which gave conditional approval for Northern Gateway in a decision announced in June, has fallen far short of this standard of precaution.

    July 11, 2014
    Trapper Andrew Keewatin Jr. at Grassy Narrows

    Today’s Supreme Court ruling on logging at Grassy Narrows reaffirms important limitations on the power of governments in Canada to make decisions that could undermine the ability of Indigenous peoples to live off the land.

    The court case was initiated by Grassy Narrows trappers whose traplines were threatened by clearcut logging licensed by the Ontario government.

    In the original trial decision, an Ontario court concluded that – because of the terms of the Treaty and the particular history of the region – only the federal government, not the provincial government, has the authority to make decisions about development on the portion of the Grassy Narrows traditional territory called the Keewatin area.

    The Supreme Court rejected this argument, concluding instead that the powers of the Crown to “take up” Treaty lands applied to the provincial government.

    However, the Court also stated that the legal obligations and restrictions on Crown powers resulting from the Treaty must also apply to the province.

    July 10, 2014
    By Craig Benjamin, Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples

    This week, I had the honour of spending a deeply moving, and incredibly inspiring day with people of the Shoal Lake #40 First Nation on the Manitoba - Ontario border.

    Their story is one that more Canadians need to hear because it can tell us so much about the deeply flawed relationship between the federal government and First Nations. Their story is also important because the people of Shoal Lake have their own solution to some of their most pressing concerns and today, after decades of struggle, that solution is now almost within reach.

    One hundred years ago the Shoal Lake #40 community was relocated as part of the development of the city of Winnipeg's water supply system.  One of the cruel ironies of life in Shoal Lake is that while water from the lake is piped 150 km to Winnipeg to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of people in that city, the people of Shoal Lake #40 must rely on bottled water because they don't have an adequate drinking water system of their own.

    June 09, 2014

    By Craig Benjamin, Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples

    A few years ago I heard a young First Nations woman describing the unsafe drinking water, the poor quality school and other conditions that she faced every day growing up in her home community. “What did we do to be treated like this?” she asked.

    In most communities in Canada, government services like education, health care and family services are provided by a combination of municipal and provincial governments. However, in the case of First Nations people living on reserves these services are instead funded through the federal government.

    Critically, study after study has shown that federal funding for basic services on reserves routinely falls short of what is required to provide First Nations families with access to the same quality of services--  like education and health care -- enjoyed other communities in Canada.
    Here’s what the Auditor General of Canada had to say about the situation in 2011:

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