|Prime Minister must commit to the human rights of Indigenous Peoples
Joint Statement Supporting Chief Theresa Spence and #IdleNoMore. January 8, 2012
Canada must demonstrate a clear commitment to upholding the rights of Indigenous peoples affirmed in Treaties, and articulated in both domestic and international law. Such a commitment must ensure Indigenous peoples' full and effective participation in decisions that could affect those rights.
Prime Minister Harper will be meeting with First Nations leaders this Friday to discuss issues, including those related to economic development and Treaty implementation.
The meeting comes after more than a month of unprecedented public mobilization sparked by a government legislative agenda which has far reaching impacts on the rights of Indigenous peoples, and advanced without meaningful consultation or consent. The mobilization included grassroots demonstrations across Canada under the banner of "Idle No More". The mobilization has also included an ongoing hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat.
Last week, 36 prominent Indigenous peoples', human rights, and environmental organizations issued a public statement outlining very serious concerns with the government's actions with regard to its legislative agenda. Such actions erode democracy, the rule of law and integrity of Parliament.
The statement emphasized, "Cooperative and harmonious relations cannot be achieved by devaluing Treaties or by unilateral government actions." The statement concluded: "It is tragic that a hunger strike and Canada-wide protests are necessary in order for Indigenous peoples to bring attention to violations of their dignity, Treaties and human rights."
Updated Joint Statement
Indigenous and human rights organizations stand in solidarity with Chief Theresa Spence in her appeal for full respect for Aboriginal and Treaty rights by the government of Canada. There is an urgent need for Canada to demonstrate genuine respect and long-term commitment, initiated by a meeting between First Nations’ leadership, the Prime Minister and the Governor General.
Full honour and implementation of Indigenous peoples' Treaties are crucial to the evolution of Canada and the principle of federalism. Cooperative and harmonious relations cannot be achieved by devaluing Treaties or by unilateral government actions.
We firmly support grassroots actions of the "Idle No More" movement. It has put the spotlight on federal policy and legislative agendas that are trampling the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples affirmed in domestic and international law.
Human rights – not colonialism
In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada highlighted "the history of colonialism, displacement, and residential schools and how that history continues to translate into lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher unemployment, higher rates of substance abuse and suicide, and ... higher levels of incarceration".
Canada must abandon out-dated, discriminatory approaches from the colonial era, especially in relation to Indigenous peoples' lands, territories and resources. What is urgently required is a principled framework consistent with international human rights law.
Currently countless amendments and laws are being adopted that undermine Indigenous peoples’ human rights, including Treaty rights. These legislative measures were developed with little or no consultation with Aboriginal peoples and without their consent. Such actions erode democracy, the rule of law and integrity of Parliament.
Indigenous peoples’ rights and related government duties are an integral part of Canada’s Constitution. They are affirmed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The government should address this grievous situation in good faith. Justice, peace and reconciliation remain crucial objectives.
The omnibus budget bill C-45 introduced far-reaching changes. Amendments include changes to complex land provisions in the Indian Act that compound existing problems. It also re-writes environmental laws, including Navigable Waters Protection Act, Fisheries Act and Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, which were used to promote and protect a sustainable environment, clean water and healthy oceans. The integrity of the environment is being assaulted, to the detriment of present and future generations.
Canada is estimated to contain nearly 32,000 major lakes and more than 2.25 million rivers. Yet a new Navigation Protection Act reduces federal environmental oversight and covers only 3 oceans, 97 lakes, and portions of 62 rivers. Certain key rivers in British Columbia along the path of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline are not included.
Resource development projects on traditional lands of Indigenous peoples will be much less likely to be subject to rigorous public environmental impact assessment. These changes are on top of cutbacks on environmental safeguards already passed in the previous omnibus budget bill C-38. As concluded by the David Suzuki Foundation: "In reality, amendments to environmental laws account for about half of the 452-page bill. These amendments will weaken Canada’s capacity for environmental governance, threatening our land, climate and water."
International human rights standards require that decisions affecting the rights of Indigenous peoples be made with their full and effective participation. In the face of very serious issues concerning lands and resources of Indigenous peoples, the appropriate standard is free, prior and informed consent.
Canada’s Supreme Court has said that the "Crown ... cannot cavalierly run roughshod over Aboriginal interests". There must be "reconciliation" between the power of the state and the pre-existing sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. "In all its dealings with Aboriginal peoples ... the Crown must act honourably. Nothing less is required".
It is tragic that a hunger strike and Canada-wide protests are necessary, in order for Indigenous peoples to bring attention to violations of their dignity, Treaties and human rights. Our organizations strongly support human rights education. We urge all Canadians to engage with Indigenous peoples, to help educate others, and to support the current movement of awareness raising and ensuring vital reforms.
For more information on events in your area, please see www.idlenomore.ca.
Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto
Amnistie Internationale Canada
Amnesty International Canada
Arctic Athabaskan Council
Assembly of First Nations
Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador/Assemblée des Premières Nations du Québec et du Labrador
The Blue Planet Project
British Columbia Assembly of First Nations
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Canadian Unitarian Council
Canadian Unitarians For Social Justice
Chiefs of Ontario
Christian Peacemaker Teams Aboriginal Justice Team
Council of Canadians
Dene Nation/AFN Regional Office (NWT)
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
First Nations Summit
First Peoples Human Rights Coalition
Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)
Haudenosaunee of Kanehsatake
Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group
Indigenous World Association
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada
Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council
National Association of Friendship Centres
Native Women’s Association of Canada
Ontario Federation of Labour
Ontario Rivers Alliance
Quebec Native Women / Femmes Autochtones du Québec
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Vermilion River Stewardship
Yukon Aboriginal Women's Council
UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.