75% of reports to Committee on racial discrimination sent by Indigenous organizations.
Last week, Canada switched arrogance and condescension for gestures of off-kilter desperation at the Assembly of First Nations’ general assembly. That is probably because on August 14 and 15, Canada will be under the microscope at UN headquarters in Geneva. Fifteen Indigenous Peoples’ organizations have already submitted extensive reports for the Session, detailing Canada’s “seek and destroy” approach to their internationally recognized human rights.
It is a typical Canadian tactic to invent meaningless distractions right before a review by a UN treaty body: their delegates to the Session can then reply to the Committee’s independent experts by talking about “initiatives” or “joint meetings” which do not substantially exist, instead of answering directly.
This time Canada sent four federal ministers to the AFN’s annual assembly, July 25-27, where they implied that Ottawa is going to rescind the Indian Act. Bennett (Minister of Indigenous Affairs), Wilson-Raybould (Minister of Justice), McKenna (Environment) and Goodale (Public Safety), all made vague references to bright promises yet to come.
The only concrete message from Ottawa to the AFN Chiefs – only half of whom showed up at the all-expense-paid meeting in Regina – was that it will no longer claw back unused capital funds to First Nation communities after twelve months of dispersal.
This miserable material figure can and should be unsuccessfully compared to the immaterial, yet golden, future intimated by Bennett’s and Wilson-Raybould’s reported remarks. “How will your nation and Indigenous government be organized? What is your territory?” Their remarks, on the other hand, will certainly be judged against the picture of Indigenous life under Canada which has been detailed in reports to the UN CERD.
“ Skeena watershed and coastal Indigenous communities depend on the salmon for food, their economies and cultures. This (LNG, Prince Rupert) project is a prime example of what’s wrong with Canada’s approach to engaging Indigenous communities in large-scale industrial developments: It continuously fails to honour the legal obligations to Indigenous Peoples in protecting their traditional resources; The Canadian government generally consults with Band Councils, which were created under the colonial Indian Act, and often fails to consult hereditary leadership or respect traditional governance systems; …”
. Skeena Indigenous Groups’ Submission to UN CERD. July 6, 2017
It is interesting to note that only weeks after this report to the CERD was posted for the Session, Petronas announced its withdrawal from this proposed project, “Pacific NorthWest LNG.”
The UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has dealt Canada sharp rebukes over the last two decades: stop extinguishing Indigenous Peoples’ titles; stop ignoring murderers who target Indigenous women; stop trying to destroy the Lubicon Cree to get oil access.
The UN treaty bodies have an internationally recognized judicial power to issue recommendations to member states in keeping with upholding international human rights conventions. Each committee periodically receives reports from the state under review, and also from non-governmental organizations, civil society, academia, and now from Indigenous Peoples’ organizations.
It is typically the reports from Indigenous Peoples and NGOs which have, in the past, resulted in strong recommendations from UN Committees to Canada. Many of those have produced changes in the government’s behaviour, although such changes have been isolated and usually only in direct connection to the issues reported. In British Columbia this includes instances of forgiveness of government treaty negotiation loans to small Bands; dissolution of treaty societies formed to negotiate in the BC treaty process – against community members’ protests; and possibly the current standstill in BC Treaty Commission business altogether.
Extinguishment “negotiations” are an ongoing problem that is at the center of the CERD’s focus on Canada:
“There are no viable options other than legal court action to counter the BCTC “treaty” process about these overlaps into St’át’imc territory. As negotiations with the outside First Nations progress, the eventual outcome will be the extinguishment of significant portions of St’át’imc territory without the St’át’imc having been involved in any negotiations to this effect.”
. SHADOW REPORT BY THE INTERIOR ALLIANCE: CANADA’S ONGOING COLONIZATION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES. UN CERD COMMITTEE JULY 2017
In contradiction to the Interior Alliance’s extensive documentation of the extinguishment effect of Canadian “negotiations,” however, Minister Wilson-Raybould remarked to the press on her government’s plans: “They are explicit in rejecting certain long-standing federal positions—such as the focus on extinguishment, surrender or denial of rights.” Incidentally, that’s what Canada told the CERD in 2007.
Extinguishment, surrender and denial are precisely what Canada offers Indigenous Peoples. There is a veritable firestorm of examples of this, enveloping Indigenous Peoples. It is highly suspect that a Canadian Minister climbs a prominent national stage and says “we’re just about to change,” (again) only days before Canada has to answer a lot of very pointed questions in front of the world.
Consistent Canadian practices are to assimilate and co-opt economic development, to municipalize isolated communities under provincial legislation, to criminalize traditional economies, to rigidly maintain dependency by an overbearing and constantly metamorphosing bureaucracy which can never be finally functional. There is the “First Nations Land Codes” – where a community votes to recognize Canadian supremacy in its traditional territories, just for the privilege to enjoy managerial duties on-reserve. There are the “Strategic Land Use Planning Agreements” – where communities have shared maps of their territories showing cultural values and inadvertently given tacit approval to development in huge “low cultural value” lands. In the national Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, crucial voices have undoubtedly been denied. Indigenous Peoples’ rights under Article 1 of the International Covenants on Civil and Political, and Social, Economic and Cultural Rights are completely denied. Canada specializes in the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their homes and communities, requiring parents and families to submit and surrender to provincial courts which have no jurisdiction whatsoever in the case of children and families who are not Canadian until they produce a referendum from their nation joining Canada.
Minister Wilson-Raybould, apparently speaking for those Indigenous individuals who have exercised their right to choose a nationality, appealed to the Chiefs to imagine their future as Canadians whose Indigenous rights are recognized and respected.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Canada expresses the state’s right to own Indigenous nations it has no treaties with. It is certainly a matter of interest in any investigation of racial discrimination. Apparently the key to Canada’s jurisdiction over nations with which it has no constructive agreements is owing to the fact that the British monarch, appointed by the Christian god, had sent a sailor with orders to discover and possess others’ lands in His name, and he was successful in this because the Christian god was superior, so the Supreme Court of Canada seems to say, to any of the existing nations’ gods. We know it is the presence of other Christian nations which is at issue in the matter of the Canadian court’s opinion on sovereign possession, because the issue was finally settled in 1846, according to Canadian judges, when the USA agreed in the Oregon Treaty to withdraw from pursuing any interests north of the 49th parallel. From that date, Great Britain and now Canada enjoys sovereign possession of all lands from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean above that parallel, except Alaska, as per SCC, because all other Christian nations had, by that time, also promised Great Britain they would pursue no interests there.
Unfortunately for that internationally repugnant display of Canadian faith, which is the state’s current legal precedent, it is not clear that any Indigenous Peoples have formally joined and adhered to Canada. Wilson-Raybould was referring to that popular understanding among the Chiefs. The CERD has been made aware of that understanding, and again in the reports for this Session:
“In particular, we bring to the Committee’s attention the state’s use of its own imposed Indian Band administration, under the Indian Act, on the state-defined Indian Reserve, to manufacture the appearance of Líl’wat consent to Canada’s disposal of the remainder of Líl’wat customary titles to lands and wealth outside the Reserve.
“Líl’watmc ask that the Committee question Canada about the origins of any rights of jurisdiction it may have in relation to Líl’wat which could justify Canadian licensing and development without the consent and against the Interests of the Líl’watmc under the Convention, and resulting in the continuing displacement and dispossession of Líl’wat.”
Líl’wat report to UNCERD, July 2017, with the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities
The picture developed by fifteen Indigenous Peoples’ organizations shows Canada’s unabated attempts to assimilate Indigenous Peoples – their worldview, identity, economies, individuals, children, histories, and especially their lands and natural wealth – into Canada. Unilateral, non-consensual assimilation is categorically prohibited as a matter of human rights norms, and yet that end of the spectrum of Canada’s colonization is not the worst.
“If Ontario and Canada insist on excluding us from meaningful consultations on the Agreement in Principle, then we insist that Canada and Ontario exclude the areas where our First Nations’ asserted Aboriginal title and rights overlap with the “Algonquins of Ontario” claims, or at least suspend negotiations over such areas, until such time as we have engaged in meaningful consultations and reached an acceptable accommodation.
“Despite our objections in March 2016, the “Algonquins of Ontario”, Canada and Ontario have proceeded to hold a referendum vote on the AIP.”
“How does one start to describe the horrific conduct of Canada in their relentless efforts to extinguish the rights of Indigenous peoples within their ancestral homelands?”
“While the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that the Canadian and provincial governments have a duty to consult, negotiate, and accommodate Indigenous rights, the governments use these consultation and negotiation processes to coerce, terrorize, terminate, extinguish, and discriminate against Indigenous peoples and our rights.”
“Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek, also known as Grassy Narrows First Nation, is located on the English-Wabigoon River system in North Western Ontario, and is infamous for mercury contamination from an upstream pulp and paper mill. … In 2016, a former mill worker came forward to confess the mill had illegally buried barrels of waste along the river, leading to the persisting contamination and inability of the river system to recover naturally.”
Chiefs of Ontario report to UNCERD, July 2017
“On November 29, 2016, the Canadian Federal Cabinet directed the National Energy Board to approve the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. This pipeline poses an unacceptable risk to the health, safety and livelihoods of First Nations throughout British Columbia, and will contribute to the negative environmental and health impacts experienced by Indigenous Peoples downstream of the tar sands, and of all peoples throughout the world as a result of accelerating global climate change. The Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, Musqueam, Coldwater, Upper Nicola, Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc, Aithchelitz, Shxwhay Village, Yakweakwioose, Kwawkwaw-apilt, Tzeachten, Skowkale, Soowalie, and Squiala peoples have commenced legal proceedings seeking to challenge the federal approval for the Trans Mountain project… It is well established that diluted bitumen contains toxic chemicals that are a threat to drinking water, health, and the well-being of salmon and other beings.”
Submission to the UNCERD 93rd Session, 2017. Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.
Minister Bennett, for the federal department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said to the AFN Chiefs last week: “We want to partner with you on building on the strengths and assets you have in your communities. You have the power to determine the future of your communities.”
The international community is quite aware that Canada still wishes to build on the strengths and benefits belonging to Indigenous communities, whether Canada co-opts the participation of those communities through “benefits sharing” or “land management” or other agreements achieved under duress. The international community is also aware that Indigenous Peoples have the power to determine the future of their communities, and that Minister Bennett and her government may well have nothing to do with that.
As the Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ report articulated, “We are presently witnessing a great divide between the words of the Canadian government and its actions on the ground. We would like to highlight the term “rights ritualism” for the consideration of the Committee in respect to Canada’s present actions: a way of embracing the language of human rights precisely to deflect real human rights scrutiny and to avoid accountability for human rights abuses. Countries are often willing to accept human rights treaty commitments to earn international approval, but they resist the changes that the treaty obligations require.”