Five years ago today, on September 13, 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was ratified. It took the United States, Canada and Australia a few years to finally sign on, but now these nations too are ostensibly on board.
None of those countries have earned points with the Indigenous Peoples of the world, and the U.N. representative charged with advocating for the rights set forth in the document is calling for more adherence to its tenets. James Anaya, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, on September 11 said the United States must make more concerted efforts to reconcile with its Native peoples and heal the historical wrongs that hinder the putting of these rights into practice.
“Indigenous peoples in the United States—including American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian peoples—constitute vibrant communities that have contributed greatly to the life of the country,” Anaya said in a statement on his upcoming report detailing the status of Indigenous Peoples today in the United States. He will officially present his report on September 18 during the current session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. “They face significant challenges that are related to widespread historical wrongs, including broken treaties and acts of oppression, and misguided government policies, that today manifest themselves in various indicators of disadvantage and impediments to the exercise of their individual and collective rights.”
Meanwhile, in Canada, a human rights groups and tribal leaders, among others, signed a joint statement condemning that country’s treatment of aboriginals, hitting especially on the government’s push toward resource development and the gutting of its environmental assessment procedures.
Canada’s government, the groups said, “has not collaborated with Indigenous Peoples to implement the rights and related government obligations affirmed in the Declaration. To date the government has failed to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are meaningfully involved in decisions regarding resource development. Government practice and policy, as well as new legislation brought forward by the federal government, continue to undermine Indigenous Peoples’ rights.”
The signees—Amnesty International Canada, Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), Chiefs of Ontario, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining, First Nations Summit, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, MiningWatch Canada, Native Women’s Association of Canada, The Treaty Four First Nations and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs—cited in particular the push for the Northern Gateway pipeline that Enbridge Inc. wants to build from the Alberta oil sands to the coast of British Columbia through dozens of First Nations territories.
“A proposed pipeline to export oil sands crude to Asia has become a flashpoint for Indigenous Peoples whose territories would be crossed,” the statement said. “Before public hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline began, government ministers declared that increased export of oil sands crude was a matter of national interest. The federal government then limited the scope of environmental impact assessments, as well as the instances in which resource development projects would be subject to federal assessment.”
Indigenous Peoples need to be informed of, and have time and ability to analyze, all potential risks, the groups said. Moreover they must have “meaningful participation” in making decisions.
“Reliance on the often perfunctory reviews carried out at the provincial level is an abdication of the federal government’s responsibilities to Indigenous peoples and of its obligations to ensure that all levels of government comply with international human rights standards,” the groups said.
Further, a parallel disregard for indigenous rights has led the federal government to allow those rights to be compromised by Canadian companies operating outside its borders, the groups said.
“ Canadian corporations account for a significant proportion of extractive activities in the global South and are especially active in the territories of Indigenous Peoples,” the statement said. “The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has twice urged Canada to implement measures to hold Canadian corporations accountable for violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The federal government has failed to establish a mechanism with real power to hold corporations accountable or protect the rights of victims. The government has instead relied on voluntary measures and the poorly enforced weak laws of the host countries.”
“The Declaration, which is grounded in widespread consensus and fundamental human rights values, has been accepted by the United States at the urging of indigenous peoples from throughout the country, and it is an extension of the United States’ international human rights obligations”, said Anaya, who based his report on information gathered during a tour of Indian country from April 23 through May 4, 2012. During his visit he met with United States officials, indigenous peoples, tribes and nations in Washington, D.C.; Arizona; Alaska; Oregon; Washington State; South Dakota, and Oklahoma, in urban areas as well as on reservations. “With these characteristics, the Declaration is a point of common understanding to address indigenous peoples concerns and develop measures of reconciliation, and it should be a benchmark for all relevant decision making by the federal executive, Congress, and the judiciary, as well as by the states of the United States.”
On this occasion, we bring you the reading of the declaration that took place this year at the Montreal First Peoples’ Festival in August.