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The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

    February 19, 2016

    Before and after images show destruction that has already occurred as construction of Site C dam presses ahead
     

    Indigenous activist explains the importance of halting the Site C dam

    When Helen Knott talks about the importance of the Peace Valley, she inevitably also talks about her grandmother. About time spent together out on the land, learning the stories that have been passed down through the generations. Learning the skills of how to live on the land. And trying to ensure that this knowledge can be passed on to her own son.

    “All my grandmother’s stories are connected to land,” says Helen. “It’s like that for our elders. You have to be on the land to be able to share those memories.”

    November 24, 2015

    Respect for Indigenous peoples' right of free, prior and informed (FPIC) must be a matter of urgent priority for any government committed to a respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples.

    This is part of a message to the the new Prime Minister and his Cabinet from Indigenous peoples' organizations, human rights groups, environmentalists and others.

    In an open letter sent today, 16 organizations from across Canada called on the federal government to collaborate with Indigenous Peoples’ governments and organizations to ensure that:

    June 08, 2015

    Last week, a summary report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission described Canada’s Residential Schools as “part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.”

    The statement affirms something that is now well-established –and which was, in fact, acknowledged in Canada’s official apology to residential school survivors.

    Quite simply, the residential school policy had at its heart an insidious agenda to eradicate First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples as distinct cultures, societies and nation. And the tragic effects of the harm that was done --  including the terrible deprivations and abuses inflicted on so many of the girls and boys who were torn from their families and communities to attend these schools, as well as the loss of language, community cohesion and cultural knowledge and skills -- continue to be felt today.

    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 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.

    November 22, 2014

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

    I'm honoured to have contributed a chapter to a new book examining crucial issues for the human rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world. Indivisible: Indigenous Human Rights is edited by Joyce Green and published by Fernwood Books.

    In her introduction to this new book, Joyce Green writes, "Somewhere between the universality of our humanity and the particularity of our social, political, cultural, gendered and historical experiences, the lives of human beings are lived in specific, often inequitable and unjust contexts that benefit from human rights protection."

    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.

    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.

    May 12, 2014

    by Craig Benjamin,
    Indigenous Rights Campaigner, Amnesty International Canada

    A leading United Nations human rights expert says the situation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada has reached "crisis proportions in many respects."

    In a just released report, James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, highlights a wide range of concerns documented during his 2013 research mission to Canada.

    February 27, 2014

    In a decision released on February 26, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq rejected the proposed New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine, stating that the significant environmental impacts of the proposed mine could not be justified.

          “The Panel is convinced that the Tsilhqot’in cultural attachment to Fish Lake (Teztan Biny) and the Nabas areas is so profound that they cannot reasonably be expected to accept the conversion of that area into the proposed New Prosperity mine.”   -Federal Environmental Review Panel

    The Tsilhqot'in people have consistently opposed plans to mine near Teztan Biny or Fish Lake which is part of their traditional territory in central British Columbia.

    February 27, 2014

    Amnesty International is joining the Tsilhqot'in people and their many other allies and supporters in celebrating the Government of Canada's decision to reject a proposed gold-copper mine on their traditional territory.

    This is the second time that the federal government has rejected plans by Taseko Mines to open a mine near Teztan Biny or Fish Lake in central British Columbia.

    The Tsilhqot'in people have consistently opposed plans to mine near Teztan Biny, calling the proposed New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine the wrong mine at the wrong place.

    In late October, a federally-appointed environmental assessment panel concluded that the proposed mine would have “severe” and “irreversible” impacts on the culture and traditional practices of the Tsilhqot’in people. The panel also found a wide range of serious environmental impacts on the lakes, rivers and wetlands of the area.

    In a decision released on February 26, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said that the significant environmental impacts of the proposed mine could not be justified.

    January 31, 2014
    Amnesty members in Regina taking part in the annual Have a Heart Day campaign.

    Every child has the right grow up safely at home, get a good education, be healthy, and be proud of who they are.

    It’s hard to imagine anyone disagreeing.

    Yet year after year, First Nations children are denied these basic rights.

    For most children in Canada, health care, education and family services are funding through the provincial or territorial governments. But for First Nations children on reserves, these same services are funded by the federal government.

    Numerous studies - including reports by the Auditor General - confirm the Federal government provides less funding per child for services First Nations children on reserves than the provinces provide for children in their jurisdictions.

    This is despite often higher costs of delivering such services in small and remote communities, and the greater need experienced by many First Nations communities.



    The math is simple: less money plus higher costs = inadequate services for those who need them most.

    November 21, 2013
    Chief Joe Alphonse of the Tsilhqot'in Nation spoke outside the Supreme Court

    A case before the Supreme Court could mark an important turning point for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada. At stake is the right of the Tsilhqot’in Nation to own lands at the heart of its traditional territory in British Columbia.

    Amnesty International and Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers) have joined together to urge the Court to seize this moment to give practical application to human rights standards affirmed in international law. This includes rights to lands and territories affirmed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

    Read our joint statement on the case

    Want to know more?

    November 04, 2013
    by Craig Benjamin, Campaigner for Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples

    Photo:  Tsilhqot'in healer Cecil Grinder

    A proposed gold-copper mine would have “severe” and “irreversible” impacts on the rights of the Tsilhqot’in people of central British Columbia.

    This is the conclusion of an independent federal panel that examined the potential impact of the proposed “New Prosperity” mine. The environmental impact assessment also found a wide range of serious environmental impacts on the lakes, rivers and wetlands.

    Under federal environmental legislation, the actual decision about whether the project should go ahead is in the hands of cabinet. The federal government is under considerable pressure to approve the proposed “New Prosperity” mine because of the promised economic benefits to the region.

    The Tsilhqot’in people, however, have been clear that the mine is unacceptable to them.

    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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