Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Aboriginal rights: the right to be consulted, and Canada's broken promises

photo: Barriere Lake arrest Nov 2008.
Canadian governments have been engaged in a decade-long sabotage of aboriginal rights, land claims, and equity in health, education and social services for native people. Deliberately allowed to die were fully-researched recommendations by the 1996 Royal Commission, and the Kelowna Accord so painfully negotiated with First Nations in 2005. The RC urged a new deal to replace the obsolete Indian Act because
  • Canada's claim to be a fair and enlightened society requires it.
  • The life chances of aboriginal people, which are still shamefully low, must be improved.
  • Negotiation under current rules has failed to settle grievances.
At the UN, Liberal and Conservative governments voted against the aboriginal rights Declaration, contradicting the principle enshrined in Canada's 1982 Constitution Act. In 2005 an Army counterinsurgency manual called the Mohawk Warrior Society (first active at Oka) a terrorist group, although the label was withdrawn after a national outcry. Copying the Bush administration's gutting of the EPA, the Harper government has just announced plans to abolish environmental hearings for “small” (under $10 million) infrastructure projects.

Canadian governments remain committed to a white-colonialist policy which violates the rights and sacred places of First Nations who have lived in the land immemorially, overrides them in the name of economic “development” and invokes the full force of the law to support the religion of profit (at any cost to natives, their culture and their land) against any who protest. A few examples: the 1990 Oka Crisis, the Lubicon, airwar ranges in Nitassinan and Cold Lake (now opened for nickel and tarsands mining respectively), the Ipperwash murder, the Burnt Church claim, Gustafsen Lake, the Cayuga landfill, Caledonia, the Sea to Sky protest, Sharbot Lake, the KI 6, and Barriere Lake. In the four most recent, elders have been jailed, and one has died in jail. Their crime? To ask that their people be consulted before development begins.

Still unresolved and about to erupt again is the Oka/Kanehsatake crisis -- due not to a lack, but to political will to void the right to consultation. We reproduce in full two letters from the Mohawk negotiator (a role traditionally given to clan mothers) with explanatory links:
December 15, 2008

From: Ellen Gabriel [speaking for] Kanehsatà:ke Mohawk Territory
To: the Municipalité d’Oka. Government of Canada, Government of Quebec, and Mohawk Council of Kanesatake
Re: S-24, Niocan [uranium] mine, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

Shé:kon [Peace]

It has been 5 months since I wrote my last letter regarding the continued development upon the lands of the Kanien’kehá:ka [Mohawk] in Kanehsatà:ke also known as “Oka”. I am disappointed that I have not heard a single response from any level of government; municipal, provincial or federal. Your silence speaks volumes of racism, discrimination and lack of respect. I am one of many Kanien’kehá:ka citizens with the opinion conveyed to you all.

As you are all aware the whole issue during the “Oka Crisis of 1990” was the undermining of the authority of our traditional government the Iroquois Confederacy and our custodianship over our lands and its resources. Eighteen years later we are still at the same juncture as development continues upon Kanien’kehá:ka land without the consent of the Haudenosaunee [Longhouse people] who are the titleholders of this land.

I would also like to address the issue of S-24 [the Kanesatake Interim Land Base Governance Act] and remind you that it was agreed upon by only a few individuals from Kanehsatà:ke and that the majority of community members do not agree with it. In fact most community members were not even aware of its passing in Parliament. Furthermore, this bill was not even brought to the Haudenosaunee to be discussed and therefore must be considered as invalid.

There is also the issue of both levels of government, Quebec and Canada in granting Niocan the right to mine uranium on our territory. This in spite of the fact that all those who live in this area, including the non-Aboriginal population do not want this development to occur.

In Kanehsatà:ke, many of us still have well water sources for our daily use and this development will contaminate it. We do not believe assurances by Niocan that the current method of mining uranium is “safe” and “environmentally friendly”. While Niocan conducted numerous consultations in this region the citizens of Pointe Calumet, St. Joseph, Kanehsatà:ke/Oka are still opposed to this development as they were not convinced that this would not adversely affect their health, contaminate the land and our drinking water.

Supposedly, nuclear energy does not contribute to the level of greenhouse gas emissions but its waste is a threat to the health and well-being of the environment, this current generation and future generations. Current research only provides hypothetical estimates that the proposed storage and burial of uranium will not endanger the planet and its inhabitants 100,000 years from now. The Government of Canada must find alternatives to nuclear energy and stop its current practice of permitting the mining of uranium.

While the Government of Canada refused to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Parliament passed a resolution on April 8th of this year directing the present government to do so. The Government of Canada has a duty to consult in good faith and not just to go through the motions of consultation.

If we are to believe the June 11th apology for the Residential School experience then the current relationship we have with all levels of government must change. Canada’s current relationship with Aboriginal peoples continues to deteriorate with each passing year. One of the key factors that continues to contribute to this deterioration is the Indian Act. It is an archaic form of control over Indigenous peoples, our lands and our resources. It undermines our ability to care for Mother Earth as custodians of the land so that future generations may not only inherit a sustainable environment, but live in peace with Canadians as was the goal set out by the Two Row Wampum treaty.

Consequently I am requesting that a moratorium be placed upon Niocan’s permit to mine on Kanien’kehá:ka territory and that any form of development by the Municipality of Oka also be halted. I would also like an answer to my concerns from both my letters along with an opportunity for your representatives to sit with the Longhouse people so that we may continue these discussions in person.

Respectfully, Ellen Gabriel

Cc: Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada
Chief Alan McNaughton, Iroquois Confederacy
Anita Neville, Liberal Party
Marc Lemay, Bloq Québecois
Jean Crowder, NDP
Bev Jacobs, NWAC
Phil Fontaine, AFN
Various Media outlets

June 6, 2008

From: Ellen Gabriel, P.O. Box 4056, Kanehsatà:ke Mohawk Territory, J0N 1E0
To: Municipality of Oka – Municipalité d’Oka, Oka Town Council – Mayor Patry, la Mairie, au 183, rue des Anges, Oka – Kanehsatà:ke, QC J0N 1E0

Re: Building of Garage near Oka Park and Housing Developments

As you are aware, on September 13, 2008, the United Nations sanctioned the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) obligating states such as Canada to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples. Specifically, please refer to UNDRIP Articles 26, 27, 28, 29 and most importantly, article 32 which will bring to your attention the position at hand:

Article 26

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.

3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

Article 28

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.

2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.

Article 27

States shall establish and implement, in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have the right to participate in this process.

Article 29

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination.

Article 32

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.

2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.

3. States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.

These UN-sanctioned articles protect the further erosion of our rights to our land and territories and duly emphasize that there is a responsibility to consult with Indigenous peoples before any kind of development is conceptualized .

To date, a garage has been built adjacent to the Sureté du Québec office and there is development at the Oka Inn. Furthermore, unjustifiably, the excavation of the basement at the Oka Inn has [uncovered] bones of our ancestors, the Mohawks of Kanehsatà:ke, once a burial ground for our people.

All the land where development is taking place including the housing projects are situated on lands that have been under dispute for the last 300 years. Under Canadian law your council has a responsibility to consult with the Mohawks of Kanehsatà:ke. Your disregard for the international rights of the Kanienkehá:ka – Mohawk people is in clear violation of the UNDRIP article 19.

Article 19

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

On April 8th, 2008, Parliament passed a resolution for Canada to support and implement the UNDRIP. It is understood through such conventions that a level of sincere and honest reconciliation in the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and State would be inculcated.

For hundreds of years there has been a strain on the relationship between Kanienkehá:ka and the Quebecois - who were brought to live on our Territory. This strain has become even stronger since the “Oka Crisis” and such actions as development without consent of the Kanienkehá:ka continues to uphold that strain.

I reiterate to the Municipalité d’Oka that it is the Longhouse people who have the legitimate and international right to such lands which you fraudulently claim as belonging to Oka or its parish.

While I cannot claim to represent the nation of the Kanienkehá:ka – Mohawk people, as a citizen and Turtle Clan woman of my nation, I am reiterating what previous generations of the Mohawk nation have informed the Municipalité d’Oka and the Canadian Government which is that you cannot take nor lay claim to anymore of our land.

As a Kanienkehá:ka I can no longer wait for politicians to act or wait for the divisions within my community to be healed. The Municipality of Oka has been put on notice many times over the last few decades for their fraudulent claim to the territory of the Kanienkehá:ka.

How many more times do we have to restate the fact to you before you understand that you do not have the right to take by force or take through fraudulent legislation, land belonging to the Kanienkehá:ka of Kanehsatá:ke.

I request that a moratorium be invoked on any further development and that an environmental assessment be undertaken.

You do not have the right to provide permits to any housing developments like the Colline d’Oka and other companies that are vying for land interest in what is known as Oka but which is in fact, Kanehsatà:ke Mohawk Territory.

Sincerely, Ellen Gabriel

Cc: Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada
Ministre Benoit Pelletier, Sécretariat des affaires Indien
Minister Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs
Anita Neville, Aboriginal Affairs critic, Liberal Party of Canada
Jean Crowder, Aboriginal Affairs critic, NDP
Marc Lemay, Aboriginal Affairs critic, Bloc Québecois
Steven Bonspille, Mohawk Council of Kanesatake
Geoffrey Kelley, member for Jacques Cartier, Liberal Party of Québec
Chief Alan McNaughton, Turtle clan traditional chief

Those unfamiliar with the deep roots of these native claims should see NFB videos by Alanis Obomsawin, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), Rocks at Whiskey Trench (2000), Is the Crown at War With Us? (Burnt Church, 2002); and Christine Welsh, Keepers of the Fire (1994) on the role of Mohawk women at Oka.

See also previous posts tagged native in this blog; Canadian interchurch Kairos; the NGOs Survival International, Cultural Survival, Tebtebba - its Guide on Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples (2008) and its links. More indigenous organizations are listed in Wikipedia and WiserEarth.

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