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Pamela Palmater to United Nations: Canada must set right its relations with Indigenous peoples

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Statement of Pamela Palmater to the 114th Human Rights Committee Session: Formal Briefing on Canada
(July 6, 2015 Geneva, Switzerland)

Kwe, n'in teluisi Pam Palmater. I am from the sovereign Indigenous Nation of the Mi'kmaq in Mi'kma'ki, Canada. I am here as an impacted Indigenous individual thanks to the support of Franciscans International. Today I would like to testify to three urgent situations related to Canada's obligations under the Covenant which are also raised in the joint submission presented by the NGO Mining Working Group in response to the List of Issues which I fully support:

First, the criminalization of Indigenous peoples in Canada for our human rights advocacy and defense of our lands.

Federal and provincial laws and regulations have criminalized Indigenous peoples' traditional occupations and trade economies by making it illegal to hunt, fish, gather or use our natural resources within our traditional, treaty, title, trapping or reserve lands. Engaging in Indigenous rights advocacy or defense of the environment to protect the health of our lands, waters, plants, animals and people also results in our public vilification, beatings, arrests, imprisonment, and/or deaths.

The incarceration rate for Indigenous peoples is 10 times higher than the national average. Since 2000, the Indigenous inmate population has increased by over 56 per cent and in some prisons, represent as much as 65 per cent of the inmate population. The government's own studies have consistently concluded that it is the result of racism in Canada's justice system.

The recently enacted Anti-Terrorism Act (C-51) threatens to treat peaceful Indigenous activists as potential terrorists. There are several examples in which Canada's Ministers, military, and RCMP have already labelled First Nations as "insurgents", "eco-terrorists" and "threats to national security." Given this context, we feel that we will be targeted under this law if we continue our traditional practices.

Second, the Committee ought to emphasize the growing crisis of poverty and discriminatory treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Despite being less than four per cent of the population, Indigenous children make up nearly 50 per cent of all children in state care (90 per cent in Manitoba). 73 per cent of all water systems in First Nations are at high risk -- for those that have running water. The majority of houses on reserve are in need of major repair and/or overcrowded (upwards of 25 people to a home). Indigenous peoples suffer higher rates of ill health, accidents, and injuries and have some of the highest suicide rates in the world. Indigenous women and girls are over-represented in those that are murdered or missing -- 16 per cent nationally, but as high as 55 per cent in provinces like Saskatchewan. Indigenous peoples have lower rates of education and employment and live 7-20 years less than Canadians.

As different UN mechanisms have consistently found, this crisis is particularly jarring in a wealthy and highly developed country like Canada -- especially since the majority of the wealth comes from Indigenous lands.The situation is aggravated by the Government's failure to protect Indigenous peoples' rights, to remedy harms, and to properly fund Indigenous institutions.

Third and finally, I emphasize Canada's failure to consult with Indigenous peoples regarding legislation and actions impacting Indigenous lands and waters.

Despite decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada directing Canada to consult, accommodate, and obtain the consent of Indigenous peoples, Canada has unilaterally limited debate and refused to consult with Indigenous peoples on legislation which impacts our inherent, Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Peaceful civil actions by Indigenous peoples to protect lands and waters from clearcutting, mining, hydro-fracking or pipelines are met with heavy RCMP intervention. State law enforcement is used to protect state subsidized corporations to engage in the extraction of Indigenous lands, waters and resources without our consent, to our social and economic detriment, to the destruction of our lands and waters and in violation of our human rights.

Together with the NGO Mining Working Group, I urge the Committee to consider the following recommendations for Canada:

1. Repeal Bill C-51 Anti-Terrorism Act and all recent legislation unilaterally imposed on Indigenous peoples and start a comprehensive study and consultative process in partnership with Indigenous peoples;

2. Develop independent and more robust oversight, reporting, and redress mechanismsfor Canada's national security activities, law enforcement, and surveillance of Indigenous peoples and other environmental and human rights defenders;

3. Take all measures necessary to ensure that all domestic and international extractive activities by Canadian corporations comply with human rights obligations, including obtaining the free, informed and prior consent of Indigenous peoples;

4. Provide adequate funding to Indigenous peoples to address the multiple, over-lapping crises in education, health, housing, food, water, infrastructure, flooding;

5. Take emergency action to address structural discrimination especially the over-representation of Indigenous children in care; murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls; and the over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples; and

6. Implement treaties, address outstanding claims of lands and resources; and develop a more equitable revenue sharing structure in partnership with Indigenous peoples.

Note: The Committee only allows three minutes to present. Therefore, all presenters had to pick only two or three core issues to discuss. I could not read the entirety of even this small submission, so I hit the highlights of the issue and read the recommendations. Sharon McIvor was there to make a submission on two issues: murdered and missing Indigenous women and sex discrimination against Indigenous women and their descendants in the Indian Act registration provisions. Art Manuel presented on self-determination and Canada's failures in this regard. Amnesty International spoke on a variety of issues, one of which was Bill C-51 and recommending its repeal. 

 

Image: ryerson.ca

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