First Nations assert rights to resources on international stage

Date of publication: 
7 December 2012

First Nations leaders are reaching out to leaders of other nations and linking arms with activists here to get the message out that anyone who wants to a piece of Canada’s resources must be prepared to do business with them, first.

In a press conference Friday, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader Derek Nepinak presented a united front with activists behind a national campaign for a Day of Action next Monday.

And he announced Manitoba’s leaders are working with prairie chiefs in talks with OPEC and with Ontario chiefs in similar talks with China, with a view to advancing the land and treaty rights profile of Canada’s First Nations on the world stage.

“What we’re hoping to get across is to send a message to the members of OPEC, to China and other members of the international community that we did not cede, release or surrender our natural resources to a colonial government… we are waking up from a 100-year slumber and we are going to impose our own laws,” Nepinak declared.

Nepinak was among the chiefs on Parliament Hill this week who protested the federal omnibus budget bill on the grounds it attacks aboriginal land rights. That, along with a suite of federal legislation that would alter treaty rights, are behind a grassroots movement spreading through links on Facebook and Twitter. Right now the focus is to roll out rallies in cities across Canada next week in support of aboriginal rights.

Nepinak, flanked by Southern Chiefs leader Murray Clearsky, said across the country there is momentum building among aboriginal people from the kitchen to the podium to assert land and treaty rights in the streets and internationally.

It’s born of a sense of frustration over broken treaties in this country that has boiled over now because of federal bills in the House of Commons and the Senate that chip away at aboriginal rights that are supposed to be protected by Canada’s constitution, aboriginal activists said.

“I need to make something clear,” said Leo Baskatawang, one of half a dozen First Nation social activists who shared the podium Friday. “Treaties are nation-to-nation agreements and I think that’s not understood in Canada and it’s something that needs to be recognized. There are movement growing across Canada and this is going to be the beginning of further action that takes place.”

The rally planned for Winnipeg takes place Monday on the steps of the provincial legislature at noon until 5 p.m.

It isn’t the first time Manitoba chiefs have shown a united front against poverty and the social conditions that plague aboriginal people on and off reserve. What’s different this time is the momentum appears to be building up from the grassroots and not trickling down from the leaders, a point made earlier this week in a column by University of Winnipeg’s director of indigenous inclusion, Wab Kinew.

Manitoba’s Grand Chief picked up on that element Friday by paraphrasing a quote from India’s Mahatma Ghandi who famously said that when people lead, leaders must follow.

“The chiefs across this country, particularly in Manitoba, have grown tired of dealing with a Conservative government that continues to act like we do not exist,” Manitoba’s Grand Chief said.

Most of the Facebook and Twitter buzz is generated under the banner “Idle No More.”


Joint Statement Supporting Chief Spence and “Idle No More”

2 January 2013

Indigenous and human rights organizations stand in solidarity with Chief Theresa Spence in her appeal for full respect for Aboriginal and Treaty rights by the government of Canada. There is an urgent need for Canada to demonstrate genuine respect and long-term commitment, initiated by a meeting between First Nations’ leadership, the Prime Minister and the Governor General.

Full honour and implementation of Indigenous peoples’ Treaties are crucial to the evolution of Canada and the principle of federalism. Cooperative and harmonious relations cannot be achieved by devaluing Treaties or by unilateral government actions.

We firmly support grassroots actions of the “Idle No More” movement. It has put the spotlight on federal policy and legislative agendas that are trampling the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples affirmed in domestic and international law.

Human rights – not colonialism

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada highlighted “the history of colonialism, displacement, and residential schools and how that history continues to translate into lower educational attainment, lower incomes, higher unemployment, higher rates of substance abuse and suicide, and … higher levels of incarceration”.

Canada must abandon out-dated, discriminatory approaches from the colonial era, especially in relation to Indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources. What is urgently required is a principled framework consistent with international human rights law.

Currently countless amendments and laws are being adopted that undermine Indigenous peoples’ human rights, including Treaty rights. These legislative measures were developed with little or no consultation with Aboriginal peoples and without their consent. Such actions erode democracy, the rule of law and integrity of Parliament.

Indigenous peoples’ rights and related government duties are an integral part of Canada’s Constitution. They are affirmed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The government should address this grievous situation in good faith. Justice, peace and reconciliation remain crucial objectives.

The omnibus budget bill C-45 introduced far-reaching changes. Amendments include changes to complex land provisions in the Indian Act that compound existing problems. It also re-writes environmental laws, including Navigable Waters Protection Act, Fisheries Act and Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, which were used to promote and protect a sustainable environment, clean water and healthy oceans. The integrity of the environment is being assaulted, to the detriment of present and future generations.

Canada is estimated to contain nearly 32,000 major lakes and more than 2.25 million rivers. Yet a new Navigation Protection Act reduces federal environmental oversight and covers only 3 oceans, 97 lakes, and portions of 62 rivers. Certain key rivers in British Columbia along the path of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline are not included.

Resource development projects on traditional lands of Indigenous peoples will be much less likely to be subject to rigorous public environmental impact assessment. These changes are on top of cutbacks on environmental safeguards already passed in the previous omnibus budget bill C-38. As concluded by the David Suzuki Foundation: “In reality, amendments to environmental laws account for about half of the 452-page bill. These amendments will weaken Canada’s capacity for environmental governance, threatening our land, climate and water.”

International human rights standards require that decisions affecting the rights of Indigenous peoples be made with their full and effective participation. In the face of very serious issues concerning lands and resources of Indigenous peoples, the appropriate standard is free, prior and informed consent.

Canada’s Supreme Court has said that the “Crown … cannot cavalierly run roughshod over Aboriginal interests”. There must be “reconciliation” between the power of the state and the pre-existing sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. “In all its dealings with Aboriginal peoples … the Crown must act honourably. Nothing less is required”.

It is tragic that a hunger strike and Canada-wide protests are necessary, in order for Indigenous peoples to bring attention to violations of their dignity, Treaties and human rights. Our organizations strongly support human rights education. We urge all Canadians to engage with Indigenous peoples, to help educate others, and to support the current movement of awareness raising and ensuring vital reforms.

For more information on events in your area, please see

Supported by:
Amnistie Internationale Canada
Amnesty International Canada
Arctic Athabaskan Council
Assembly of First Nations
Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador/Assemblée des Premières Nations du Québec et du Labrador
British Columbia Assembly of First Nations
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Chiefs of Ontario
Dene Nation/AFN Regional Office (NWT)
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
First Nations Summit
First Peoples Human Rights Coalition
Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)
Haudenosaunee of Kanehsatake
Indigenous World Association
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada
MiningWatch Canada
Native Women’s Association of Canada
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs