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Indigenous Peoples

    October 27, 2017

    One of the first acts of the recently elected provincial government of British Columbia was to order an independent review of the economic case for and against the massive Site C hydro-electric project. After releasing an interim report in September, the BC Utilities Commission held a series of public meetings across the province. The final report is due November 1 after which the decision on the fate of the project - and the Peace River Valley - will rest with the provincial government.

    Gary Ockenden, the Vice President of Amnesty International Canada shared this note from a hearing that he attended:

    The Chair and three Commissioners of the BC Utilities Commission came to Nelson, BC on September 26th and held a public hearing on the Site C project. I was fortunate enough to get a five minute slot to present to them as a BC ratepayer.

    September 22, 2017

    By: Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada

    On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the UN General Assembly that Canada is prepared to learn “the difficult lessons” of its long history of mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples and, as a result, other countries have much to learn from Canada’s example.

    “We know that the world expects Canada to strictly adhere to international human rights standards including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – and that’s what we expect of ourselves too,” is how he framed the imperative. 

    Ironically, the prime minister’s presentation to the General Assembly came less than a month after the UN’s top anti-racism body sharply rebuked his government for dodging its responsibilities to Indigenous Peoples, even as immediate action is urgently needed.

    Read Alex's full OPED in the Ottawa Citizen.

    September 13, 2017

    "The tragic and brutal story of what happened to us, especially at the hands of governments is well-known.... But today, with the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations General Assembly, we see the opportunity for a new beginning, for another kind of relationship with States in North America and indeed throughout the world." - Statement to the United Nations made 10 years ago by Indigenous representatives from North America when the UN Declaration was adopted. 

     

    The adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was a landmark moment in the advancement of global human rights protections.

    For decades, Indigenous peoples had been working within the United Nations and regional human rights bodies such as the Inter-American Commission in an effort to ensure that existing, universal human rights standards were understood and applied in ways that would make a real difference in addressing the many profound abuses faced by Indigenous peoples around the world.

    September 12, 2017

    "Let them drink the water we have to drink" - Loydi Macedo, Indigenous community of Cuninico, Peru

    Today, as we mark the 10th anniversary of the global adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Amnesty International is releasing a devastating new report documenting the callous failure of government authorities in Peru to address the urgent health needs of Indigenous peoples in that country who live in the midst of intensive mining and oil and gas development.

    The human rights concerns set out in this report – the refusal to listen to Indigenous women’s concerns about the safety of the water on which they depend, the reluctance to investigate and hold companies responsible for the contamination of Indigenous lands and waters, and the failure to provide culturally-appropriate health care to those in greatest need – are all too familiar.

    July 10, 2017

    By Alex Neve

    To be here – to see, listen, learn and feel this place – the enormity of what is at stake with the construction of the Site C Dam and why it is so crucial that it be stopped is everywhere.

    It shines through in the Valley’s beauty; serene and majestic at the same time.  My first views of the Peace River were from lookouts offering sweeping views of a magnificent valley painted with more shades of green than I knew existed, always with the curving ribbon of water flowing through.  Each panorama was unbelievably more breathtaking than the last; topped by an early morning viewing that offered a low-hanging bank of mist that hugged the curves of the valley in ways that felt both mystic and mysterious.  

    July 06, 2017

    "We will continue to bring unrelenting opposition to a project that can only be described as an unqualified disaster." -Chief Lynette Tsakoza, Prophet River responding to Supreme Court of Canada ruling closing off one part to justice in the Site C struggle

    Whatever your feelings about British Columbia’s Site C dam, whether you think the hydro-electric megaproject is needed or if you think there are better ways to invest in the province’s future, it should be clear that an unacceptable injustice is taking place.

    The 100 km of the Peace River and its tributaries that will be flooded by Site C are part of the territory of Treaty 8, an historic Treaty between First Nations and Canada. Like other Treaties, the rights protected under Treaty 8 are recognized and affirmed in the Canadian Constitution. In other words, they are part of the highest law of the land.

    Yet, the federal and provincial governments openly admit that they approved the Site C dam without ever considering whether the “severe”, “permanent” and “irreversible” harms identified by their own environmental assessment would violate Treaty 8.

    June 09, 2017
    Lolita Chavez Guatemala Indigenous defenders

    Maya-K’iche human rights defender Lolita Chavez is known to Canadians for her determined and principled stance on the right of Indigenous peoples to determine what happens in their territories. Lolita has spoken to Canadian leaders, investors and the public about the ways in which the Guatemalan government has failed to protect Indigenous peoples and how this leaves them exposed to abuses by corporate actors, such as mining, hydro-electric or logging interests. Most people in the region rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods and are concerned that these industrial activities would destroy sources of water needed for irrigation and drinking. Lolita organized a community referendum on resource development in Santa Cruz del Quiche, Quiche department and residents overwhelmingly voted ‘NO’ to any form of industrial development on their lands.

    May 26, 2017
    Alicia Keys and Indigenous Rights Activist Delilah Saunders: In Conversation

    Ahead of the Ambassador of Conscience Awards this weekend in Montreal, Alicia Keys talked with Indigenous rights activist Delilah Saunders in Teen Vogue.

    On May 27, human rights organization Amnesty International will honor music artist and activist Alicia Keys and the Indigenous rights movement in Canada with its prestigious Ambassador of Conscience Award at a ceremony in Montreal. One of six powerful activists accepting the award and standing for Canada's Indigenous people — arguably the wealthy nation's most marginalized community — is Delilah Saunders, who has committed her life to support the cause after her sister, Loretta, was murdered. At the time of her death, Loretta was writing her thesis on the history of violence against Indigenous women and girls, an ongoing crisis that went unaddressed by Canada's government until a national inquiry was opened in 2015.

    February 09, 2017

    For the overwhelming majority of Canadians, access to safe drinking water is something we take for granted. Any interruptions to the flow of clean water from our taps are rare and momentary, lasting a few hours or perhaps days at most.

    It’s an entirely different story for a shocking number of First Nations.

    As of last Fall, 110 First Nations were living under advisories to either boil their water or not drink it at all. The number is often much higher. In many cases, these advisories have been in place for years. In some instances, First Nations have lived a generation or longer without safe, reliable water.

    Prime Minister Trudeau has made a public commitment to end this water insecurity by 2020. It’s a welcome and important promise. But unfortunately it’s one that the federal government is in very real danger of breaking.

    The barriers to water justice – bureaucratic and financial – are set out in an important new study released by the David Suzuki Foundation and Council of Canadians, and with advisers Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

    January 17, 2017

    By Craig Benjamin

    It’s information that the Ontario government could – and should – have brought to light, but failed to do so.

    Last year, the provincial government stated that it had not been able to find any evidence to support claims by a former millworker that barrels of mercury had been buried at a site upstream from the Grassy Narrows First Nation and might now be leaching into their water system.

    Last week, however, the Toronto Star reported that members of the environmental NGO Earthroots had conducted their own soil tests at a location identified by the mill worker and found mercury levels as much as 80 times higher than normal. The findings were replicated by tests done by the Toronto Star. Scientists who reviewed the finding said there was little doubt that this was industrial mercury.

    The story is particularly concerning because it is the latest revelation of Ontario’s persistent and shocking disregard for the basic safety and well-being of the people of Grassy Narrows.

    November 28, 2016
    Jerry holding a sign saying 'Save the Arctic, It's my home'

    It’s been almost 20 years since the Supreme Court of Canada first ruled that the Constitutional protection of Indigenous rights requires governments to consult in “good faith” with Indigenous peoples so that their concerns can be “substantially” addressed before decisions are made that could affect their rights.

    While the federal, provincial and territorial governments now all accept that there is a duty to consult, their interpretation of this duty is often so narrow and impoverished that serious concerns over the impact of planned development are simply ignored. Rather than being a source of reconciliation and rights protection as intended in decisions like Delgamuukw (1997) and Haida Nation (2004), the duty to consult as applied by governments in Canada has been a source of ongoing conflict with projects like Northern Gateway and the Site C dam all ending up in court at tremendous cost to Indigenous peoples.

    November 24, 2016

    By Jackie Hansen, Women’s Rights Campaigner

    Annually since 1991, women’s rights activists from around the world have joined together to take action as part of the 16 Days of Activism to end Gender-based Violence campaign. Women and girls continue to experience violence directed at them because of their gender. Indigenous women and girls experience higher rates of violence than any other group of women and girls in Canada. The federal government has launched a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This is a laudable effort and one that Indigenous womens’ organizations, Amnesty International and many others long called for, but action to end violence against Indigenous women and girls must not be delayed until the Inquiry finishes its work two years from now.

    October 28, 2016

    Christy Jordan-Fenton is a grassroots activist, educator, and author who lives with her family on a farm outside of Fort St. John, a small community in northeast British Columbia. Being raised in part by a Cree stepfather who attended residential school, and later residing with her residential school survivor mother-in-law, as well as being dedicated to Indigenous ceremonial practices, fueled Christy’s activism in support of the rights of Indigenous peoples. It also inspired her to write four children’s books about her mother-in-law’s experience at residential school. Christy uses her books as tools to educate young people about the residential school system and its legacies. Christy is also part of the grassroots effort to respect Indigenous rights by halting construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam. Amnesty International caught up with Christy in Fort St. John.

    October 26, 2016

    In an extraordinary victory for Indigenous rights and environmental protection, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has agreed to measures to reduce immediate risks to Inuit health and culture from the Muskrat Falls dam.

    Following almost two weeks of protests, including a hunger strike, occupations of the dam site and a journey to Ottawa, the government met yesterday with Inuit and Innu leaders. The result was an agreement to:

    October 24, 2016
    Muskrat Falls hunger strikers at Human Rights Monument, Ottawa

    A hunger strike by three Inuit land defenders - Billy Gauthier, Jerry Kohlmeister and Delilah Saunders – is a powerful symbol of the tragic choices that will face Inuit hunters and fishers if planned flooding for the Muskrat Falls dam goes ahead.

    Flooding will release deadly methylmercury into the water system where it will accumulate in the fish, seals, duck eggs and other wild food that are central to the diet of Inuit people living around the downstream Lake Melville Estuary.

    The provincial government plans to monitor the fish and issue warnings when the mercury levels become unsafe.

    A government MP summed it up this approach in a facebook post: “Just measure MeHg [methylmercury] levels, eat less fish.”

    What this approach means for Inuit families is an impossible choice between abandoning the food that sustains them and their culture, or risking the devastating impacts of mercury poisoning.

    “I come from a very large family that couldn’t get by without country food,” Delilah Saunders explained.

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