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Indigenous Peoples in Canada

    November 21, 2012
    ‘Everything around us was disappearing... The clean water, our way of life, our traditions, even the wild rice picking and blueberry picking were all disappearing. It's all connected to the land.’ - Judy DaSilva, Grass Narrows

    It has been called one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history. Between 1962 and 1970, a mill in Dryden, Ontario dumped more than 9 metric tons of untreated inorganic mercury into the English and Wabigoon Rivers in Northwestern Ontario.

    These waters had been a source of both food and jobs for the people of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) and neighbouring First Nations. Community members had worked as guides and as staff in the many commercial fishing lodges. When the mercury dumping was discovered, the commercial fishery was closed, cutting the people off from their most important source of income.

    Even worse, it was discovered that many of the residents had greatly elevated levels of mercury in their bodies and were exhibiting signs of the neurological degeneration associated with mercury poisoning.

    October 23, 2012

    The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta has filed a potentially groundbreaking legal challenge over the failure of the federal and provincial governments to protect Indigenous land rights in the face of oilsands development on their traditional territory.

    The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is challenging the proposed expansion of Shell’s Jackpine Mine north of Fort McMurray. The ACFN argues that the federal and provincial governments, which both have to give approval to the project, have not  taken proper account of Aboriginal and Treaty rights protected in the Canadian Constitution.

    A joint federal-provincial environmental assessment panel is scheduled to begin public hearings next Monday. The joint panel announced today that it will decide this week whether or not it will first consider the ACFN Constitutional challenge.

    October 18, 2012

    A joint review panel has determined that Amnesty International will be among a number of public interest organizations that will have the opportunity to make presentations to the upcoming environmental Impact assessment of the proposed "New Prosperity" gold and copper mine in central British Columbia.

    Amnesty International will comment on Canada's obligations under international human rights law to respect and uphold the land rights of Indigenous peoples in the licensing of resource extraction projects.

    The opportunity to present our analysis to the panel is significant for a number of reasons.

    In June, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld an earlier decision recognizing that the Tsilhqot'in people have Aboriginal land use rights in the territory. The Tsilhqot'in are continuing to pursue legal recognition and protection of their title or ownership of lands and resources in the territory.

    In 2010, a similar mine proposal by the same company was rejected by the federal cabinet on the basis of an environmental impact assessment that found that found that the mine would cause significant, unavoidable and irreparable harm.

    May 22, 2012

    When it comes to child welfare services in First Nations communities, the federal government spends 22 percent less per child than its provincial counterparts provide in other communities. This is despite often greater needs and the higher costs of delivering services in small and remote communities. The federal underfunding of First Nations children’s services has created a crisis situation in which First Nations children are much more likely to be put into foster care because the supports necessary to meet their needs in their own homes and communities simply aren’t available.

    The federal government’s longstanding failure to close the funding gap led the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society to file a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act in 2007. Five years later, there still hasn’t been a hearing into the evidence.

    May 22, 2012

    It’s been five years since a landmark provincial inquiry released its report into policing and Aboriginal land protests in Ontario. The Ontario Provincial Police claim that all the Ipperwash Inquiry’s recommendations directed to them have been addressed. For its part, the province appears satisfied that the OPP’s work is done.

    This week, however, a prominent United Nations human rights body meeting in Geneva is questioning this claim.

    The Ipperwash Inquiry was a response to longstanding concerns over how police and the provincial government responded to the 1995 occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park. Dudley George, an unarmed protester, had been shot and killed by a police sniper after the OPP moved to break up the occupation.

    During the Inquiry, the OPP pointed to a policy framework that it had adopted after the killing of Dudley George. The Framework for Police Preparedness for Aboriginal Critical Incidents states that the OPP will "make every effort prior to understand the issues and to protect the rights of all involved parties..." and will "promote and develop strategies that minimize the use of force to the fullest extent possible."

    May 11, 2012

    Do you see how I see?

    Many ghosts in the afterglow of sunset nights
    Nature's beauty lost by the loss of human rights
    Daughters deserted, mothers are murdered: the women of First Nations
    The afterglow is filled with all of our relations

    These words begin a powerful performance written by artists Khodi Dill and Theresa Point. The video Stop the Silence is being released today as part of a new online initiative to raise awareness of violence against Indigenous women and to raise funds for a gathering of affected families and ensure that they get the supports they need in their struggle for justice.

    The Embracing the Families initiative is a collaboration between Beverley Jacobs, a highly respected advocate for the rights of Indigenous women and long-time partner of Amnesty International, and Mix 3 Productions, an Aboriginal owned media company based in Vancouver.

    April 13, 2012

    Amnesty International has joined 14 other groups, including the Vancouver February 14th Women's Memorial March Committee, the Native Women's Association, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, in announcing that our organizations are unwilling to lend credibility to the deeply flawed B.C. Missing Women Commission of Inquiry by participating in its upcoming policy review processes.

    In letters issued today, a wide range of organizations that had been invited to participate in upcoming Policy Forums and Study Commission, detailed a series of fundamental concerns about the Commission's ability to reach a fair and unbiased conclusion.

    To read the Coalition's letter, click here

    Photo: 14 organizations, including Amnesty International, have formed a coalition to express their concern and anger about the performance of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

     

    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."

    December 12, 2011

    A new report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women offers no real solutions to the widespread threats to the lives of Indigenous women in Canada.

    Last March, the Committee issued an interim report that called for a comprehensive, strategic and coordinated approach to end the vastly disproportionate rates of violence against Indigenous women. The final report tabled in Parliament today drops the call for a comprehensive response and instead focuses primarily on government initiatives that are already underway.

    Although the report discusses the housing crisis plaguing many Indigenous communities, the severe shortage of emergency shelters for Indigenous women, and the large numbers of Indigenous children being placed in foster care, the report offers no recommendations for countering these critical obstacles to Indigenous women escaping violence.

    December 08, 2011

    An emergency intervention by the Red Cross has focused political attention on the severe housing crisis in the northern Ontario Cree community of Attawapiskat. However, international human rights bodies have been raising concerns for years about the conditions in many Indigenous communities in Canada.

    After visiting a number of First Nations communities in 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing called on Canada to "intensify measures to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians." Basic services are taken for granted by most Canadians. Indigenous peoples' rights to these services are not diminished by the fact of living in remote communities.

    The federal government has never engaged in a proper, comprehensive assessment of Attawapiskat’s needs and why these needs are not being met. However, when the housing crisis became a national scandal, the government's first reaction was to remove the Chief and Council's authority by placing the community under third party management. According to media reports, the government’s offer of emergency housing is conditional on accepting this third party management.

    November 02, 2011

    "Access is a very serious problem on private land. The workers of a forest company kicked me and my family off a property. We were told we were trespassing. We live in fear of arrest or harm when we attempt to continue our traditional lifestyle in our own territory. We have difficulty carrying out our ceremonies, harvesting wood, medicines, food, hunting, bathing or fishing in our own territory. These have serious consequences for the health, strength, spirituality and survival of our Hul'qumi'num people." -- Hul'qumi'num elder Luschiim

    On Friday October 28, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights heard the moving testimony of a Hul'qumi'num elder, Luschiim, who talked about being denied access to lands that are essential for ceremonies, for hunting and fishing, and for gathering foods and medicines. The situation faced by the Hul'qumi'num people of British Columbia is avoidable and it is shameful. Amnesty International is fully in agreement with the Hulquminum Treaty Group that it  represents a clear violation of well established international standards for the protection and fulfillment of human rights.

    February 08, 2011

    Thousands of Canadians have asked for the opportunity to express their views to a public review of the proposed Enbridge oil sands pipeline across central British Columbia to the Pacific Coast. This extraordinary display of public interest has caught the attention of the federal government.

    In an open letter posted to his department’s website – just as the public hearings were about to begin -- the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, defined the export of oil sands crude to new markets in Asia as "an urgent matter of Canada’s national interest" and complained that opponents are "stacking public hearings… to ensure that delays kill good projects."
    While the Minister is careful to state that the regulatory system must be "fair, independent, and consider different viewpoints including those of Aboriginal communities," the clear implications of his letter are a) that the government had already made up its mind to support the proposed pipeline and b) that the government believes that hearing from everyone who has concerns about the pipeline will simply delay a project that would otherwise get under way much sooner.

    June 21, 2009

    The Indigenous community of Grassy Narrows in north-western Ontario, Canada, has experienced decades of  suffering and dislocation. This has included, among other violations of their rights, flooding of their traditional territory leading to the loss of wild rice crops, wildlife habitat and heritage sites; relocation of the community; mercury contamination of the river system; and, most recently, large-scale logging throughout much of their homeland.

    There are more than 1,200 registered members of the Asubpeeshoseewagong Netum Anishinaabek (Grassy Narrows First Nation). Like many First Nations’ reserves across Canada, Grassy Narrows faces high unemployment (as high as 80 or 90 per cent), poor and overcrowded housing, and other inadequate and underfunded services and community infrastructure. In stark contrast to the standard of living enjoyed by most Canadians, many of the people of Grassy Narrows live in conditions of extreme poverty and poor health.

    Read the report

     

    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.”

    Dr. Cindy Blackstock, a member of the Gitxan Nation, is a prominent researcher and advocate for the rights of children. As Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Cindy has brought a landmark discrimination case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to challenge the federal government’s chronic underfunding of children’s services on First Nations reserves and for First Nations children in the Yukon. The closing arguments in that hearing will take place October 20-24 and will be webcast live at fnwitness.ca.

    We spoke with Cindy as part of a series of conversation with Indigenous advocates and leaders to mark the 10th anniversary of Amnesty International’s report Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada.

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