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The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

    October 28, 2013

    By Craig Benjamin, Campaigner for Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples


    It’s been called one of the most important Indigenous rights cases ever to come before Canadian courts.

    The Tsilhqot’in people in central British Columbia having been seeking court protection for their traditional territories for almost 25 years. Their case has now gone all the way to the Supreme Court where it will be heard on November 7th.

    At stake are issues of vital importance to Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples.

    Will First Nations be able to make their own decisions about lands and territories beyond the small reserves that have been imposed on them? Is there any place in contemporary Canada for the colonial doctrines, such as the doctrine of discovery, that have been used to justify the denial of Indigenous land rights?

    October 21, 2013

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

    The United Nation’s top expert on the human rights of Indigenous peoples says Canada is facing a “crisis” which must be addressed.

    James Anaya visited Canada this month as part of a fact-finding mission. At a press conference to conclude his visit, the Special Rapporteur said,

    “The well-being gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has not narrowed over the last several years, treaty and aboriginals claims remain persistently unresolved, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among aboriginal peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels.”

    The Special Rapporteur went on to note that while “Canada consistently ranks near the top among countries with respect to human development standards… aboriginal people live in conditions akin to those in countries that rank much lower and in which poverty abounds.”

    Some of the specific examples raised by the Special rapporteur included:

    October 07, 2013

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

    Over the next week, the United Nation’s top expert on the human rights of Indigenous peoples will be meeting with government officials and First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations, communitie,s and activists across Canada.

    In his mandate as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya has carried out research missions to developed and developing countries around the world and published reports on the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Russian Federation, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Botswana, Namibia, Republic of the Congo, Nepal, and New Caledonia, among others.

    October 07, 2013

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

    Today, October 7th, is an important moment to reflect on Canada’s long unfulfilled promise to respect the land rights of Indigenous peoples.

    Two hundred and fifty years ago today, on October 7th, 1763, King George of England formally proclaimed that even as the British Crown asserted its control over North America, Indigenous peoples’ lands would continue to be protected for their use.

    The Royal Proclamation of 1763 set out a clear commitment that non-Indigenous peoples’ access to the lands of Indigenous peoples would only take place if the Indigenous nations “should be inclined” to sell or cede their lands to the Crown.

    The Proclamation is not merely an historic document.

    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.

    August 08, 2012

    When the El Cercado dam opened in November 2010, its Colombian project managers trumpeted it as an engineering triumph built entirely with national know-how.

    Moreover, the project was touted as a way to help combat the effects of recurrent droughts in La Guajira, a north-eastern region.

    But for the Wiwa Indigenous Peoples native to the area’s Sierra de Santa Marta mountains, the dam’s arrival signalled a devastating change in their way of life accompanied by a series of serious human rights abuses.

    From 2002 onwards, Wiwa communities living in and near the planned construction area suffered a consistent pattern of intimidation, destruction of homes, attacks against places of cultural significance and threats and killings of their spiritual and community leaders, carried out by the security forces operating in alliance with paramilitary forces. Guerrilla groups operating in the region were also responsible for killings and threats against members of the Wiwa population.

    By the time construction on the dam began in 2006, many members of Wiwa Indigenous communities were forcibly displaced from their homes.

    March 14, 2012

    The United Nations’ highest body for combating racism is urging Canada to take comprehensive action to end discrimination against Indigenous peoples.

    In a report released this week, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern over Canada’s failure to properly respect the land and Treaty rights of Indigenous peoples, noting "the rigidly adversarial positions taken by Canada" in land negotiations and that decisions over resource development are often made without proper consultation or the consent of the affected peoples.

    The Committee also expressed concern over a wide range of inequalities and disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada, including the high rates of violence faced by Indigenous women, the large numbers of Indigenous children being placed in state care, "excessive use of incarceration" in respect to Indigenous people in trouble with the law, persistent levels of poverty among Indigenous communities and inadequate access to employment, housing, drinking water, health and education, “as a result of structural discrimination."

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