|Standing for What is Right: Harper Government attacked First Nations rights in 2012
News Release | Opinion. December 31, 2012
(Coast Salish Territories / Vancouver. December 31, 2012) Today, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, reflected upon the last year of devastating changes to federal environmental legislation and the deepening gap between the Harper Government's pro-industry agenda and the social and environment principles that First Nations share with the majority of Canadians.
"Looking back on 2012, I am proud and at the same time humbled that the Union of BC Indian Chiefs has had the opportunity to support the courageous, principled and inspirational stand of First Nations and grassroots to strengthen, assert and exercise our inherent, constitutionally-enshrined and judicially-recognized Title, Rights and Treaty Rights to our respective territories. As Indigenous Peoples we have the sacred duty and inherent obligation to defend the health and well being of our communities as well as the environmental integrity of our respective territories. We shall continue to take any and all measures necessary to defend our homelands. This is an absolute certainty.
Multi-national corporations and industry are desperately seeking certainty, unobstructed convenience of access and unfettered control of their government-granted tenures. Accordingly, they lobby, advocate and participate in federal and provincial processes with the sympathetic consideration of governments who this year have shamelessly demonstrated that they are full-pledged business partners by fast-tracking proposal reviews, gutting environmental legislation, slashing funding for government scientific research and entrusting regulatory oversight to the very same corporations who benefit the most from the completely weakened and deliberately undermined government oversight.
The reality is the dismissive and unilateral actions of the Harper Government have not brought certainty to mega-projects like Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans-Mountain Pipeline, Taseko Mines' New Prosperity Mine proposal or BC Hydro's planned Site C dam project. First Nations and local communities are vigorously opposing these mega-projects because of the detrimental long-term impacts on their territories and on their communities outweigh the fleeting, short-term economic gain promised by government and industry. As billions flow into industry and government coffers, First Nations and local communities are left to deal with the long-term social, economic and environmental consequences.
In early January public comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver openly advocated for Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to proceed even before the Joint Review Panel's environmental review had begun. First Nations and many Canadians questioned how the three National Energy Board panellists, appointed by the Harper Government, could fairly review this proposal after such comments. Minister Oliver raised the spectre of foreign-funded environmental radicals gumming up the legislated Canadian Environmental Assessment process as a prelude for a total overhaul of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
A positive consequence of such loud-mouthed, highly offensive comments and belligerent actions of the Harper Government was the UBCIC Chiefs Council formally endorsing the Coastal First Nations Tanker Ban and Save the Fraser Declaration that explicitly prohibit the transportation of crude oil by pipeline and tanker on the north and south coast and through the Fraser River watershed. As Indigenous Peoples, we continue to exercise our Indigenous laws and inherent jurisdiction to protect our lands, our waters, our coasts and our rivers, as we have done for thousands of years.
Close to 100 Chiefs and representatives from First Nations in BC along with 400 Chiefs from across the country attended the Crown-First Nations Gathering in Ottawa on January 24 2012. The Crown-First Nations Gathering was billed as an opportunity to begin a dialogue to re-set the relationship between First Nations and the Crown. The Governor General, the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and senior government officials were in attendance. Prior to the gathering, I had publicly stated that we can do better. We must do better. The Honour of the Crown and the very integrity of Canada as a nation are at stake. Otherwise, an Aboriginal uprising is inevitable.
The Crown-First Nations Gathering ended with lots of photo-ops, a pre-ordained Outcome Statement and a common condescending refrain from the Honourable Members of Parliament of the Harper Government to go home and meet with your local MP to discuss your concerns. Prime Minister Harper uttered the same refrain humbly suggesting that he was just one MP in the government caucus.
Shortly afterwards, a Government of Canada delegation led by Prime Minister Harper, Cabinet Ministers and industry representatives went on a trade mission to China which included the announcement of the conclusion of negotiations on a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPPA) with China. By inviting industry representatives, like Enbridge, the Harper Government continued to ignore First Nations’ deep concerns about such mega-projects.
As designed, many believe that the ratification of this FIPPA, China investors and state-owned enterprises will be granted protection and would thus greatly increase their investment in the development of the tarsands, expansion of pipelines, mining projects and possibly future offshore drilling projects. We believe the agreement would enable Chinese investors to challenge the already weakened federal environmental regulations, policies and legislation as well as reducing the benefits of current reconciliation negotiations, accommodation measures and treaty negotiations.
Our reality of appalling, devastating and dehumanizing conditions of poverty is not captured in the glossy photo-op after photo-op events that appear to consume the interest of the Harper Government. Our working relationship with governments and industry is the key issue and it must change. It is not a mutually beneficial working relationship when the Harper Government is selling the resources of our territories to the highest overseas bidder or slashing federal environmental processes to bolster bigger and bigger projects in our territories.
Increasingly, First Nations are seeking redress at the international level. Specifically, the UBCIC, as a Non-Governmental Organization in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, is working with other Indigenous and human rights NGOs to formally present to different United Nations bodies including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
This year, more than 35 Indigenous Nations, regional and national Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, human rights and social justice organizations filed their own alternative reports with CERD. The submissions covered the urgent concerns of violence against Indigenous women, mega-projects in Indigenous lands, the high rates of incarceration of Indigenous peoples, protection of Indigenous peoples’ economic, social and cultural rights, implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Canada’s actions in the international arena to undermine the Declaration and others standards for the protection of Indigenous rights.
On behalf of Canada, the Harper Government endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010. Frankly, the endorsement loses its meaning when the Harper Government repeatedly takes action that devalues this human rights instrument in Canada and internationally.
The Harper Government introduced two omnibus bills, Bill C-38, the Budget Implementation Act, and Bill C-45, Jobs and Growth Act, both bills drastically weakened the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, gutted the Fisheries Act, sapped the Navigable Waters Protection Act and other vitally important legislation which safeguard the environment and offered opportunities for First Nations and the general public to have their say about major industrial projects that could threaten the air, water, soil and natural ecosystems.
The Harper Government cannot legislate itself out of its duties to consult and accommodate our inherent Title, Rights and Treaty Rights. It is clear, that the weakening of these environmental laws have created greater political unity and grassroots solidarity as more and more people appreciate that once corporate third party interests are granted, those interests are protected at the great expense of the environmental values that we all share and to the great detriment of all future generations.
We have witnessed the Harper Government's blatant abuse of democratic process to serve its own needs, and we completely object to the government's questionable and underhanded tactics of including major changes to the environmental assessment process within omnibus bills that were rammed through Parliament with an expedited process that does not allow for the standard debate and checks and balances that such significant and substantive changes deserve and require. There were hundreds of proposed amendments to Bill C-45. In the end, the Harper Government used its majority to force Bill C-45 through Parliament unchanged. Thousands of waterways that were protected by the Navigable Waters Protection Act are now exempt from federal protections. The water that sustains our communities and feed our territories are now at great risk.
The omnibus bills allow the Harper Government to continue its attack on our collective and inherent Title, Rights and Treaty Rights. The government has amended the Indian Act to allow for the leasing of reserve lands and imposed funding cuts to tribal councils, regional and national representative organizations. It is unmistakable, the support for duly elected First Nation governments has been challenged and the voices of First Nations' political advocacy are being told to stay home and shut up.
In recent weeks, there have been a growing number of flashmobs, round dances, marches, rallies organized by grassroots under the Idle No More banner. Many organizers are using social media to organize, educate and network with their families, communities and Nations. They are rallying support for the ongoing hunger strike of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Like many First Nation governments, tribal councils, regional and national representative organizations, the UBCIC fully support Idle No More. It is a rising grassroots movement ignited by the intransigence of the Harper Government and it is a movement that the Harper Government ignores at their peril.
In closing, the UBCIC will always uphold the principles and standards articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the establishment and maintenance of a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of First Nations. We will continue to advocate for our Right of Self-Determination under international law including the pursuit of economic, social and cultural development. The UBCIC affirms and supports all First Nations’ rights to own, use, develop and control their lands, waters and resources, according to their own laws, and the requirement of federal and provincial governments to give legal recognition and protection to these rights.
Happy New Year.
For further comment contact:
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President, Union of BC Indian Chiefs: (604) 684-0231 or firstname.lastname@example.org
UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.