During the long years when indigenous peoples spent their very limited resources to travel to Geneva, Switzerland to help formulate language for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) the Government of Canada joined by Australia, New Zealand and the United States did everything imaginable to block language that would provide justice to indigenous peoples. Oddly, these same states’ governments offered themselves as shining beacons leading human rights efforts in the UN system. Despite overwhelming world acceptance of the final UNDRIP in 2007, still these states–all of them immigrant states–opposed the new human rights declaration that would present the world with the minimum standards by which the rights of indigenous peoples should be judged. After some prodding by indigenous peoples and changes in government leadership, Australia and then New Zealand both reversed course and issued formal endorsements. Only the United States of America and Canada held back their endorsement and to this day remain the two major states claiming human rights authority still opposed.
It is true, both states’ governments have indicated they will “review our position.” Still, after three years, neither has actually presented a different position than “opposition.” Yes, it is true, the Russian Federation, China and nine other states “abstained” (a relatively safe position), but it is the outright opposition of the United States of America and Canada that had caused consternation world-wide.
For the better portion of four years, both Canada and the United States have failed to advance a sensible policy on Climate Change, and, indeed, both states have obstructed participation by indigenous peoples in these negotiations–even though indigenous peoples remain the stewards of more than 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Indigenous peoples have been attempting to engage the Climate Change negotiations constructively and with serious intent, yet, the US government and Canada have remained obstacles to what should be an open process for negotiations and compromise. Indigenous peoples are still not at the table (though states like Germany, Holland, Bolivia and Britain appear to be open to the idea).
Now, we are faced with the clear understanding that the government of Canada wishes (in U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity meetings in NAGOYA, Japan – 21 October 2010) to frustrate and is overtly working to prevent a legally-binding protocol on “access and benefit sharing” (ABS) within the framework of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Despite claiming authorship of the “benefit sharing” paragraph (8j) in the Convention that recognizes indigenous peoples as equal partners with the right to access and benefit from biological diversity, Canada stands in the way of ensuring that this paragraph in the Convention has practical meaning in a protocol.
Armand MacKenzie, Executive Director of the Innu Council of Nitassinan charged, “Their opposition threatens global biodiversity!”
The government of Brazil dubbed the absence of a protocol on access and benefit sharing that guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities as rendered in the convention “totally void.” Franco de Carvalho, speaking on behalf of the Brazilian government said at a press conference “Brazil will not accept any agreement on biodiversity without a fair ABS protocol…. We are not bluffing on that, I must be very clear.”
The “access and benefit sharing protocol” describes which genetic materials in plants, animals, and microbes can be used for food, medicines, industrial products, cosmetics and for other purposes. The fact that traditional knowledge is the source of information about these plants, animals, microbes and the rest requires that indigenous peoples are recognized under international law and practice to have access and benefits from such biological diversity. Canada wishes to obstruct indigenous peoples from having such access.
Paul Joffe of the Grand Council of the Cree charged that “The Canadian government has been undermining the human rights of the world’s indigenous peoples since 2006, at home and internationally.
The truth is that Canada has been obstructing indigenous peoples at home and abroad for more than a generation, and since it set in place its own constitution in 1982 Canada has become even more obstructionist–even as it continues to claim a clean human rights record.
Why is Canada (an by extension the United States of America) so adamantly opposed to indigenous peoples exercising rights on the same level as other human beings throughout the world? (Remember, there are more than 1 billion indigenous peoples–remaining resident in their traditional territories.) I can guess as can anyone who closely watches the politics of these two countries: Money and power! Neither Canada nor the United States actually has natural resources to feed the economic engine of society. They have to steal from indigenous peoples land and resources to support the wealth and power of very controlling elites. Both countries claim to be a democracy, but the truth is with capital ruling each country each is more a “plutocracy”–ruled by an economic elite. Virtually all of the natural resources of Canada are still in the domain of indigenous peoples though the government of Canada maintains a military force to ensure access for its businesses. The United States has done much the same thing though it has woven a legal framework that perpetuates a fiction that the US government is “protecting indigenous peoples” even as it confiscates water, natural resources, and land for its benefit.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on Biodiversity both open the door to the requirement that states’ governments recognize that indigenous peoples have prime and in many instances paramount rights pre-dating the state. Therefore, the requirement for free, informed and prior consent establishes the rule that indigenous peoples must give their consent to a state or other interest before land, water, air, natural resources and the like can be transferred.
The combination of UNDRIP and CBD challenge US and Canadian pocket books while affirming social, economic, political and cultural justice for indigenous peoples. Eventually both Canada and the United States of America will lose their gamesmanship as other states come to realize that stealing, confiscation and bullying are not appropriate behaviors in a civilized world. Canada and the United States must finally learn.