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Indigenous Peoples in Canada

    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 29, 2014

    OTTAWA - With federal political parties preparing for an election year, Amnesty International and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) are calling on Canadians to help make ending violence against Aboriginal women and girls a priority for all politicians. Our organizations will be working with women’s organizations and other allies across Canada to ensure that all parties make tangible commitments to end violence against Indigenous women and girls in the upcoming election.

    Recently released RCMP statistics report the murder of 1017 Aboriginal women and girls between 1980 and 2012, with more than 100 others remaining missing under suspicious circumstances or for unknown reasons.

    NWAC President Michèle Audette told a press conference on Parliament Hill today. “Each woman was somebody. She was also somebody’s sister, daughter, mother, or friend and every one of them deserved to be safe from violence. They deserve more from our Government than excuses and a patchwork of underfunded and inadequate programs and services. We need solutions and actions that will make a difference in women’s lives.”

    September 24, 2014

    Indigenous peoples’ organizations and human rights groups are outraged that the federal government used a high level United Nations forum on Indigenous rights as an opportunity to continue its unprincipled attack on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

    On Monday, the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples -- a high level plenary of the UN General Assembly in New York -- adopted a consensus statement reaffirming support for the UN Declaration.

    Canada was the only member state to raise objections.

    Chief Perry Bellegarde, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said, “The World Conference was an opportunity for all states to reaffirm their commitment to working constructively with Indigenous peoples to uphold fundamental human rights standards. Alone among all the UN members, Canada instead chose to use this forum to make another unprincipled attack on those very standards.”

    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.

    September 12, 2014

    September 13th marks the 7th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a consensus global human rights instrument. The Declaration calls on all states to safeguard the traditional land and resource rights of Indigenous peoples, including legal title to lands. The Declaration also requires fair and transparent mechanisms to ensure any disputes over lands and resources are resolved in a just and timely manner.

    The rights recognition and protection called for by the Declaration is increasingly reflected in decisions by Canadian courts.

    For example, in a unanimous decision, Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in June that the Tsilhqot’in people in central BC continue to hold title to 1700 km2 of their traditional territory. Accordingly, they have the right to control how the land is used and to benefit from its resources.

    September 10, 2014

    Open Letter to the Premier of British Columbia

    Dear Premier Christy Clark,

    In Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, the Supreme Court recognized the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s ownership of title land in its traditional territory. This decision provides a crucial opportunity to re-frame the relationship between First Nations and the province of British Columbia.

    The Tsilhqot’in situation is not unique. The legal principles informing the Court’s unanimous ruling in the Tsilhqot’in case are widely applicable and should be adopted as part of a just and principled framework for the long overdue recognition of Indigenous land rights in BC.

    Toward this end, our organizations would like to draw your attention to these conclusions of the Supreme Court:

    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 26, 2014

    Amnesty International Canada and Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers) extend our congratulations to the Tsilhqot’in people in their historic victory for the rights of Indigenous peoples.

    In an unanimous decision released this morning, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the right of the Tsilhqot’in people to own, control and enjoy the benefits of approximately 2000km2 of land at the heart of their traditional territory in central British Columbia.

    Today’s decision marks the first time that a Canadian court has awarded land ownership to a particular First Nation, rather than relying solely on negotiations between Canada and First Nations to resolve outstanding title disputes. In doing so, the Court also firmly rejected the federal and provincial governments’ position that Indigenous title should be restricted to small tracts of land under continuous, intensive use.

    Responding to the decision, the Tsilhqot’in Nation said today, “The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling ends a long history of denial and sets the stage of recognition of Aboriginal title in its full form.”

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