Defending Water, Defending Land

The climate crisis is becoming ever more urgent. It is nothing less than a global emergency and the greatest human rights challenge of our time. Indeed, climate change threatens the rights of hundreds of millions of people to water, food and health. The risks to people and nature are greater with each passing year. 

Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world are on the front lines of this emergency — and at the forefront of vital efforts to avert it.

Their courageous voices together with those of other affected communities have become a powerful, collective call for action to protect humanity and our planet. 

Business as usual is simply not an option. Far reaching transformation is needed to an emissions-free future that protects the environment and human rights.

Amongst other things, governments, businesses, investors and civil society must transition quickly away from fossil fuel use and extraction. However, energy alternatives must not cause human rights harms of their own or fuel further victimization and discrimination. Moreover, people who denounce negative impacts, challenge projects and press for justice must be protected from the dangerous reprisals that many now face.

It is with these goals in mind that Amnesty International Canada is rolling out new actions in solidarity with environmental human rights defenders during the weeks between the International Day of Action for Rivers (March 14), World Water Day (March 22) and Earth Day (April 22).

Developed in coordination with rights holders, the actions focus on three emblematic struggles:

  1. Solidarity with the land and water defenders of Ríos Vivos (Living Rivers), who are under attack for speaking out against troubling impacts of a dam project in Colombia built with financing assistance from Canada;
  2. The campaign to stop mine waste from polluting Quesnel Lake in British Columbia; and
  3. The need to end harassment and violence against Indigenous Peoples, and in particular Indigenous women, at the camp housing construction workers building the Keeyask hydroelectric dam in northern Manitoba.

Join Amnesty as we advocate for energy solutions that are not only green, but consistent with human rights standards. Join us as we take action for climate justice, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, women’s rights, and the right to remedy. Join us as we advocate together to ensure that environmental human rights defenders can peacefully take action without fear of harassment or violence.

“Without foreign money, Hidroituango would not have been possible.” ~ Isabel Zuleta, Rios Vivos spokesperson 

The massive Hidroituango dam cuts across the Cauca River in a region of Colombia hard hit by decades of armed conflict and horrendous human rights violations. The company building the dam received millions of dollars in loans from Export Development Canada, a crown corporation. 

Families and communities dependent on the Cauca River for fishing and other livelihoods joined together in a movement called Rios Vivos – Spanish for Living Rivers – to speak out against environmental impacts of the dam and destruction of ancestral ways of living, along with forced evictions and worsening violence. Their protests have been met with threats and attacks, including the assassination of six community leaders.

They are asking for our support. Learn more here about their story and why our action is so important. 


Speak out on Twitter  

Use your online voice to support Rios Vivos.


Your message will be added to the wave of solidarity below with Rios Vivos.

“Addressing the harms caused by the Mount Polley mine disaster is a small part of what the Province must do to safeguard the rights of Indigenous peoples to our land and cultures.” – Bev Sellers, acclaimed author and former Chief of the Xats’ull Indian Band. 

In August, 2014, the tailings dam at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine burst, sending 25 million cubic metres of tailings and waste water into pristine Quesnel Lake, causing the largest environmental mining disaster in Canadian history. The company in charge of the mine has not been fined or charged, the tailings remain in Quesnel Lake and the company has a permit to discharge mine water into the lake until 2022. Residents fear exposure to toxins if they fish or drink water from the lake.

We must take action. Learn more about this issue and why your support is needed.


“Violence against Aboriginal women has been so normalized we don’t recognize it. Racism is so normalized that we don’t recognize it. I didn’t know my rights. I didn’t know where to turn.” – community member

Indigenous peoples – particularly Indigenous women – have reorted experiencing racist, sexist, and homophobic harassment and violence, including sexual violence, on the construction site of the Keeyask megadam in northern Manitoba, in the camp housing workers building the dam, and in nearby urban centres. Some of these incidents have been reported to police. Others have been reported to media. Fearing reprisals at work and mistrusting police, many incidents have been reported to trusted community memebrs. 

First Nations partners in the dam project have called on Manitoba Hydro to urgently address the harassment and violence at the project site. Manitoba Hydro has stated it has “numerous initiatives to combat these issues,” but Manitoba Hydro’s efforts have not put an end to the harassment and violence.

We must take action. Learn more about this issue and why your support is needed.