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Canada: Amnesty International Urges Federal and Provincial Governments to be Resolute in their Commitment to Reconciliation in the Face of Racist Backlash

    Photo credit: Wikimedia
    May 10, 2019
    • Partnership Agreement on Caribou Protection in Northeast BC

    “When caribou disappear, a piece of our culture disappears and we lose a little bit of who we are as the Indigenous people of the area.” - Chief Roland Willson, West Moberly First Nations

    A Partnership Agreement between First Nations and the federal and provincial governments is an important opportunity to take practical steps to recover endangered caribou populations in British Columbia and take meaningful action on reconciliation.

    In the face of a public backlash characterized by racism and bigotry, Amnesty International is urging Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be resolute in fulfilling their commitments and obligations, including recovery of endangered species, reconciliation with First Nations, and combatting racism, by seeing the Partnership Agreement on Caribou Recovery through to implementation.

    On May 6, 2018, the federal government declared an “imminent threat” to the survival of caribou in British Columbia. Under the Species at Risk Act, the federal government is now required to adopt emergency measures to protect caribou unless a sufficiently robust protection and recovery plan is put in place.

    The draft Intergovernmental Partnership Agreement for the Conservation of the Central Group of the Southern Mountain Caribou, currently undergoing public consultation, was developed through negotiation between the federal and provincial governments and the Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations. The agreement is grounded in traditional knowledge and years of scientific study regarding caribou and caribou habitat.

    Caribou are central to the culture and identity of Treaty 8 First Nations in British Columbia and to other Indigenous peoples across Canada. The protection of caribou in northeast BC has direct implications for rights set out in Treaty 8, entrenched in the Canadian Constitution, and protected in international human rights law.

    Treaty 8 First Nations have long demonstrated leadership in caribou conservation. In the 1970s, elders decided that their communities would voluntarily place a moratorium on exercising their Treaty right to hunt caribou out of concern for the impacts that industrial development and habitat loss had on the herds. The Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations have developed an innovative penning program to protect female caribou and their young calves.

    The draft partnership agreement is intended to protect critical habitat while creating new employment opportunities in landscape restoration and conservation. The agreement will have no impact on existing mining and oil and gas operations in northeast BC. The agreement does not restrict any hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, or other recreational activities. Snowmobile activity within caribou habitat will be addressed through a future dedicated consultation process with local user groups. And while the agreement will defer logging activities within a protected area, the reduction in timber volume is limited to about 300,000 cubic metres, a small fraction of the 7,900,000 cubic metres of annual allowable cut in the region.

    Amnesty International is concerned, however, that not only have the impacts been misrepresented and exaggerated in public debate around the agreement, but that much of this debate has taken on an antagonistic, racist and often hateful tone.

    Indigenous peoples have been systematically excluded from decision-making for so long, and their rights so routinely denied, that no doubt some people find it hard to imagine things being done differently.

    However, if Canada is to live up to its commitments to reconciliation and respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples, intergovernmental collaborations with Indigenous Nations must become the norm. For that to occur, it is clear that the federal and provincial governments must be stalwart in defending the role of Indigenous peoples in decision-making and to stand with Indigenous peoples when confronted with backlash.

    Respecting human rights benefits all of society. Reconciliation is in the best interest of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.

    Amnesty International has written to the federal and provincial governments urging them to be resolute, clear and consistent in support of these values, whether in response to overt expressions of hate or in the face of more subtle and insidious rhetoric that tries to depict the “interests” of an Indigenous minority as being a threat to the non-Indigenous majority.

    In our 2016 major report, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Amnesty International documented some of the ways that decisions made without adequate involvement of Indigenous peoples or proper consideration of their rights have had complex, far-reaching and profoundly harmful affects on their health and well-being of First Nations families and communities in northeast BC.

    Amnesty International looks forward to the implementation of the partnership agreement as concrete indication that another, better approach to decision-making is indeed possible.

    For more about Indigenous rights and caribou recovery initiatives in northeast BC, read our FAQ.