Canada: Climate Change and the Cultural Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Submission to:
Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
Via email: [email protected]

May 1, 2020

Prepared by:

Indigenous Climate Action and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs


Indigenous peoples living on Turtle Island in the area of Kanáta - Canada are diverse. With approximately 56 different languages, peoples and protocols, they anxiously and precariously defend their tangible and intangible cultural rights. The common struggle to all Indigenous peoples living in Canada remains the racist colonial Doctrines’[1] persistent oppressive and assimilative laws and policies designed to dispossess Indigenous peoples from their Homelands and resources.

The enjoyment of Indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage remains a challenge in Canada despite advancements in the protection and promotion of Indigenous peoples’ human rights. These include the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) which is comprised of various human rights norms[2]. However, international human rights obligations in states such as Canada have yet to be implemented and indeed respected, particularly during this global pandemic of COVID-19. The suspension of public health safety standards for Coastal GasLink workers who continue to work on Wet'suwet'en lands and receive protection from the RCMP while the issue remains unresolved is evident of this fragility.

As various types of resource development proceed unabated within Indigenous territories, long standing Indigenous land rights issues persist, forcing more land dispossession and threatening Indigenous cultural heritage. These threats to Indigenous peoples’ land-based languages and culture must be addressed through Canada’s compliance with international human rights obligations.

Furthermore, climate change now compounds these threats, disproportionately impacting the cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Many aspects of Indigenous cultures are intimately tied to ecosystems and the biodiversity of the natural environment. In this context “Indigenous culture” is a broad concept that includes knowledge and traditions that intersect with aspects of spirituality, survival skills, language, and law and governance.[3]

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