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Indigenous Peoples in Canada

    July 24, 2013

    Craig Benjamin, Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples

    Independent journalist Maggie Padlewska is the midst of a one year project to document under-reported stories in communities around the world. In May, her One Year, One World project took her to the northern British Columbia First Nation of Nak'azdli at a crucial moment for that community.

    A large gold and copper mine is under construction on lands where the Nak'azdli people hunt, fish, trap and gather berries and medicines. When Maggie visited Nak'azdli, the community, which had no say in the decision to open the mine, was holding a sacred ceremony to pray for their land and for the safety of the mine workers.

    Maggie's short video, The Farewell Ceremony, tells the powerful and moving story of a community that remains determined to protect their culture and way of life.

    May 23, 2013

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

     

    Anne Marie Sam of the Nak'azdli First Nation stands near her great-grandfather's grave on the shores of the Nation River and points to Mt. Milligan, site of a gold and copper mine now under construction.

    Walking up the long dusty road to where the Mt Milligan gold and copper mine is now under construction, Anne Marie Sam of the Nak’azdli First Nation describes the many ways – including hunting, fishing and gathering plant medicines – that her family has lived on the land that is now consumed by the mine’s footprint.

    “This mine,” she says, “means that my children will not have the opportunity to grow up experiencing that same connection to the land.”

    The Mt. Milligan mine, located northwest of Prince George in British Columbia is expected to begin operation this year and to continue production for at least 22 more years.

    The mine affects lands, rivers and streams that are the subject of unresolved legal claims involving four First Nations, including Nak’azdli, which has never entered into a treaty with Canada.  In their traditions, the people of Naka’zdli follow a Keyoh system in which responsibility to care for specific areas of the territory are handed down with the family from one generation to the next. The Mt. Milligan mine development consumes most of Anne Marie Sam’s family Keyoh.

    The mine development was approved by environmental assessments carried out by the provincial and federal governments. The federal assessment acknowledged the importance of Indigenous peoples’ multigenerational use and traditional management of the land. Nonetheless, the assessment concluded that the mine would not cause significant harm because this use could resume some day in the future after mining ends.

    March 12, 2013

    The Federal Court of Appeal has firmly rejected government efforts to shut down an important inquiry into discrimination against First Nations children.

    The case concerns the well-established fact that the federal government allocates less funding per child for family services in First Nations reserves than its provincial counterparts provide in other communities.

    In 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal began hearings into the case this year. If the Tribunal agrees that this underfunding is discriminatory, the Tribunal has the power to order the government to change its policies.

    The federal government has argued that its funding of services in First Nations communities is outside the scope of the Human Rights Act. At one point, the government succeeded in having the case thrown out by the Tribunal, but the Federal Court reversed the decision and ordered new hearings.

    February 21, 2013

    Recent comments by the RCMP concerning the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada do a great disservice by creating uncertainty, where clarity and urgency are required. The lives of Indigenous women and girls count. These are some well-document facts and figures about violence against Aboriginal women in Canada:

    January 29, 2013

    The community hearing phase of the Northern Gateway Pipeline environmental impact assessment wraps up this week in Vancouver. Craig Benjamin, Amnesty International Canada's Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples will be making a presentation on February 1, the final day of these hearings.

    Amnesty International takes no position either for or against oil and gas development, mining, logging and other resource development per se. However, we do call for the rigorous protection of international human rights standards in every phase of the decision-making process. Meeting these standards means that some projects must be substantially amended or rejected altogether.

    International human rights standards require governments to protect the right of Indigenous peoples to use and benefit from their traditional lands, and to be full and effective participants in all decisions affecting those lands. When it comes to projects that could have a significant impact on those lands, the standard of protection that is required is that of free, prior and informed consent.

    January 08, 2013

    Take action > Send a letter to Prime MInister Harper demanding that the Canadian government commit to upholding its legal and moral obligations to Indigenous peoples.

    Grassroots rallies across Canada under the banner 'Idle No More' have put the spotlight on a federal legislative agenda that is trampling the rights of Indigenous peoples set out in  domestic and international law.

    December 17, 2012

    The final report of the British Columbia Missing Women Inquiry will be released today, December 17th. Amnesty International continues to stand in solidarity with all the families whose sisters and daughters were murdered or who remain missing.

    Today, we are joining a coalition of more than 25 Indigenous peoples' organizations, women's groups and frontline service providers to issue a joint statement of support for the families, to be released after the Inquiry report is made public.

    The report itself is estimated to be about 1500 pages long. We will join with partners and allies to respond to the report itself once we have had more time to review the content in depth.

    We are continuing to call for a comprehensive and coordinated response to violence experienced by Indigenous women across Canada.

    December 06, 2012

    Reports published this week in the Toronto Star and on indy media sites reveal that a special RCMP unit was formed in 2007 to produce intelligence updates on potential Indigenous protests "incited by development activity on traditional territory." The RCMP shared this information with other police forces, with government and with “industry partners."

    Many of the communities under surveillance by the RCMP had been subject of reports by Amnesty International and by United Nations human rights bodies. These include the Lubicon Cree in Alberta and Grassy Narrows and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in Ontario.

    The latest revelations about surveillance of Indigenous activists raises serious concerns about the complicity of police and government in defining legitimate defense of human rights as “threats” requiring a law enforcement response – and the consequence that this has had for the rights and safety of those activists.

    December 03, 2012

    Ten years ago, on 2 December 2002, young people from the Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario went out onto a road leading past their reserve and stopped the logging tracks carrying away trees cut on their traditional territory. Community member Judy DaSilva says of the blockade, ‘It was the last thing we could do because everything around us was disappearing. The clean water, the clean air, our way of life, our traditions, like the wild rice picking and even blueberries were disappearing.’

    The blockade catalyzed one of the most  successful campaigns in recent Canadian history for the recognition and protection of the human rights of Indigenous people rights. But the campaign is not over.

    The logging has stopped, for now. And Grassy Narrows is in high level talks with the province over the future of the forest. But there is still no guarantee that their rights will be upheld.

    November 30, 2012

    Thousands of Canadians have asked for the opportunity to express their views to a public review of the proposed Enbridge oil sands pipeline across central British Columbia to the Pacific Coast. This extraordinary display of public interest has caught the attention of the federal government.

    In an open letter posted to his department’s website – just as the public hearings were about to begin -- the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, defined the export of oil sands crude to new markets in Asia as "an urgent matter of Canada’s national interest" and complained that opponents are "stacking public hearings… to ensure that delays kill good projects."
    While the Minister is careful to state that the regulatory system must be "fair, independent, and consider different viewpoints including those of Aboriginal communities," the clear implications of his letter are a) that the government had already made up its mind to support the proposed pipeline and b) that the government believes that hearing from everyone who has concerns about the pipeline will simply delay a project that would otherwise get under way much sooner.

    October 23, 2012

    The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta has filed a potentially groundbreaking legal challenge over the failure of the federal and provincial governments to protect Indigenous land rights in the face of oilsands development on their traditional territory.

    The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is challenging the proposed expansion of Shell’s Jackpine Mine north of Fort McMurray. The ACFN argues that the federal and provincial governments, which both have to give approval to the project, have not  taken proper account of Aboriginal and Treaty rights protected in the Canadian Constitution.

    A joint federal-provincial environmental assessment panel is scheduled to begin public hearings next Monday. The joint panel announced today that it will decide this week whether or not it will first consider the ACFN Constitutional challenge.

    October 18, 2012

    A joint review panel has determined that Amnesty International will be among a number of public interest organizations that will have the opportunity to make presentations to the upcoming environmental Impact assessment of the proposed "New Prosperity" gold and copper mine in central British Columbia.

    Amnesty International will comment on Canada's obligations under international human rights law to respect and uphold the land rights of Indigenous peoples in the licensing of resource extraction projects.

    The opportunity to present our analysis to the panel is significant for a number of reasons.

    In June, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld an earlier decision recognizing that the Tsilhqot'in people have Aboriginal land use rights in the territory. The Tsilhqot'in are continuing to pursue legal recognition and protection of their title or ownership of lands and resources in the territory.

    In 2010, a similar mine proposal by the same company was rejected by the federal cabinet on the basis of an environmental impact assessment that found that found that the mine would cause significant, unavoidable and irreparable harm.

    May 22, 2012

    When it comes to child welfare services in First Nations communities, the federal government spends 22 percent less per child than its provincial counterparts provide in other communities. This is despite often greater needs and the higher costs of delivering services in small and remote communities. The federal underfunding of First Nations children’s services has created a crisis situation in which First Nations children are much more likely to be put into foster care because the supports necessary to meet their needs in their own homes and communities simply aren’t available.

    The federal government’s longstanding failure to close the funding gap led the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society to file a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act in 2007. Five years later, there still hasn’t been a hearing into the evidence.

    May 22, 2012

    It’s been five years since a landmark provincial inquiry released its report into policing and Aboriginal land protests in Ontario. The Ontario Provincial Police claim that all the Ipperwash Inquiry’s recommendations directed to them have been addressed. For its part, the province appears satisfied that the OPP’s work is done.

    This week, however, a prominent United Nations human rights body meeting in Geneva is questioning this claim.

    The Ipperwash Inquiry was a response to longstanding concerns over how police and the provincial government responded to the 1995 occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park. Dudley George, an unarmed protester, had been shot and killed by a police sniper after the OPP moved to break up the occupation.

    During the Inquiry, the OPP pointed to a policy framework that it had adopted after the killing of Dudley George. The Framework for Police Preparedness for Aboriginal Critical Incidents states that the OPP will "make every effort prior to understand the issues and to protect the rights of all involved parties..." and will "promote and develop strategies that minimize the use of force to the fullest extent possible."

    May 11, 2012

    Do you see how I see?

    Many ghosts in the afterglow of sunset nights
    Nature's beauty lost by the loss of human rights
    Daughters deserted, mothers are murdered: the women of First Nations
    The afterglow is filled with all of our relations

    These words begin a powerful performance written by artists Khodi Dill and Theresa Point. The video Stop the Silence is being released today as part of a new online initiative to raise awareness of violence against Indigenous women and to raise funds for a gathering of affected families and ensure that they get the supports they need in their struggle for justice.

    The Embracing the Families initiative is a collaboration between Beverley Jacobs, a highly respected advocate for the rights of Indigenous women and long-time partner of Amnesty International, and Mix 3 Productions, an Aboriginal owned media company based in Vancouver.

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