Genetic resources, Indigenous rights link a "red herring": Duncan


By Nigel Newlove and Annette Francis, APTN National News

Date of publication: 
22 October 2010

Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan said Friday there was no link between Indigenous rights and the control over genetic resources, dismissing criticism from Aboriginal leaders over Canadian moves this week at UN talks on biodiversity.

Canadian officials moved to strike two references to Indigenous rights during UN negotiations in Nagoya, Japan, aimed at developing international standards for accessing and sharing the genetic material of plants, animals and microbes.

Innu, Cree and Mohawk delegates from Canada at the talks reacted with outrage and issued statements condemning Canada’s move as another attack on Indigenous rights.

They also said it was an indication that the Conservative government was not serious about their promise to endorse the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Duncan, however, said the criticism was based on a misunderstanding of what the talks were really about in Nagoya.

“What transpired in Japan is actually a complete red herring,” said Duncan, in an interview with APTN National News. “What is being discussed in Japan is about intellectual property, so to think that has anything really significant to do with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is inappropriate.”

The controversy stemmed from the negotiations of the working group on access and benefit-sharing, which was created in 2000 under the umbrella of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which came into being in 1993.

The working group is developing international guidelines on the access and use of genetic materials and on who should benefit from their use.

Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo said there was a strong link between what was being discussed in Japan, Indigenous rights and the declaration.

In a letter sent Thursday to Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Atleo took exception to Canada’s move to strike references to Indigenous rights in a draft protocol laying the groundwork for more negotiations.

The offending texts included: “Taking into account the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as regards this protocol,” and “Affirms nothing in this protocol shall be constructed as diminishing or extinguishing the rights that indigenous and local communities have now or may have in the future.”

Atleo said in his letter that “the inclusion of these two provisions would send a strong signal to users of indigenous people’s traditional knowledge and genetic resources to deal fairly with indigenous communities.”

Atleo said Canada had taken a position that was “adverse” to the interests of First Nations peoples.

“The (convention on biodiversity) should contain clear acceptable standards for accessing First Nation traditional knowledge, traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources and the utilization of genetic resources,” said Atleo, in his letter to Prentice obtained by APTN National News.

The working group’s own literature says that Indigenous traditional knowledge initially unlocked many of the benefits of genetic material now used in food, medicine and industrial products.

The traditional territories of indigenous peoples also include large swaths of the world’s undeveloped natural environments which are vital repositories of biodiversity.

Article 31 of the UN declaration states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain control, protect…human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora.”

NDP Aboriginal affairs critics Jean Crowder said that Duncan was “dead wrong.”

Crowder raised the issue during question period Thursday, asking why the government was now opposing the references to Indigenous rights in the protocol when it supported them earlier this year.

Duncan responded by simply repeating talking points that the Conservative’s would “take steps” to endorse the “aspirational document,” a term the government uses when referring to the UN declaration on Indigenous rights.


Canada Seeks to Drop Native Peoples from New Biodiversity Pact

By Stephen Leahy, IPS

21 October 2010

NAGOYA, Japan (IPS) – Blame Canada if countries fail to agree to a new binding treaty to curb the rapid loss of plant, animal and species that form the intricate web of life that sustains humanity. That is the view of indigenous representatives from Canada in response to a late night move by the Canadian delegation to strike a reference to indigenous peoples’ rights at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) members’ conference here.

“Canada is stalling progress here, weakening our rights and fighting against a legally-binding protocol on access and benefit sharing,” said Armand MacKenzie, executive director of the Innu Council of Nitassinan, the indigenous inhabitants in northeastern Canada.

“Their opposition threatens global biodiversity… people need to speak out,” MacKenzie told IPS.

A protocol on access and benefit sharing (ABS) without a guarantee of the rights of indigenous people and local communities “would be totally void”, said Paulino Franco de Carvalho, head of the Brazilian delegation.

“Brazil will not accept any agreement on biodiversity without a fair ABS protocol…. We are not bluffing on that, I must be very clear,” Franco de Carvalho said in a press conference.

An ABS protocol is one of the three legs of the CBD “stool” – a new international agreement to halt the loss of biodiversity. The second leg is a strategic plan with 20 specific targets to be achieved by 2020, such as no net deforestation and the elimination of harmful subsidies. The third is the mobilisation of sufficient financial and other resources to support the other two.

ABS refers to way in which the genetic material in plants, animals and microbes can be used for food, medicines, industrial products, cosmetics and other goods. The use of such materials owes a great deal to the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples. Access refers to how such genetic material is obtained, and benefit sharing means how the benefits, financial and otherwise, of their use are distributed.

Indigenous peoples say they are holders or caretakers of much of the world’s biodiversity and traditional knowledge, and omitting references to that reality is a non-starter for them and most countries.

“The Canadian government has been undermining the human rights of the world’s indigenous peoples since 2006, at home and internationally,” said Paul Joffe representing the Grand Council of the Crees, a large indigenous nation in central Canada.

Canadian indigenous representatives have expressed their views to the Canadian delegation but the Canadian government position is that there can be no reference to the rights of indigenous people in the final ABS protocol, Joffe told IPS.

“The government never consulted with us. It came as a complete surprise,” he said.

Few indigenous representatives are in attendance because Canada and many other governments do not provide financial assistance so that they can attend the conference as observers. Indigenous peoples have no official role here and can only offer their views when requested.

“We are at the mercy of state governments,” said Ellen Gabriel, president of the Quebec Native Women Association. “Indigenous people are utterly dependent on biodiversity for their livelihoods.”

Gabriel calls what Canada is doing a “new form of colonialism”.

“We are the peoples with the rights to the genetic resources of biodiversity,” she said.

Canada’s position reflects an ideology and is a political decision made by the current government in the capital of Ottawa, says Joffe. At previous international meetings, Canada has been widely if quietly called “obstructionist”. At the Copenhagen climate talks last December, international civil society gave Canada the “Colossal Fossil Award” for worst behaviour at those negotiations.

Not surprisingly, many United Nations member states declined to support Canada in its bid to get a highly prized seat at the Security Council earlier this month.

Joffe maintains this negotiation is simply politics for Canada’s government and it will take political and public pressure on the Stephen Harper government. However, at this point there are no Canadian media in Nagoya nor are any registered, according to organisers.

For his part, Brazil’s Franco de Carvalho is optimistic an ABS agreement can be reached by the end of next week at the conference conclusion when more than 120 ministers of the environment are expected to be in Nagoya to sign a new international agreement.

“I think we could find a good result,” he said.


Canada Accepts Reference to UN Declaration – And Continues to Undermine It

Quebec Native Women’s Association Press Releas

27 October 2010

Nagoya, Japan – Deluged by increasing international criticism, the Canadian government agreed to a minimal “noting” of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the preamble of the draft Protocol on access and benefit sharing from the use of genetic resources being negotiated in Nagoya. In other provisions, Canada joined other States in meetings that were closed to representatives of Indigenous peoples and continued to undermine Indigenous human rights and the Declaration.

As a result, the Convention of Biological Diversity’s central objective of “fair and equitable sharing of the benefits” is not being fulfilled in relation to Indigenous peoples globally. The objective requires “taking into account all rights” over genetic resources. Contrary to the UN Declaration, States are limiting any future domestic legislation to “established” rights of Indigenous peoples.

“Such a limited approach could lead to widespread dispossession and impoverishment”, explained Paul Joffe, lawyer representing the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee). “Genetic resources on Indigenous lands and territories have often been used in association with traditional knowledge for countless years. Such rights are most often not ‘established’ in the sense of being defined by domestic laws, agreements or court rulings.”

Canadian officials have refused to describe what is the meaning and intent of this wording. This could include altering inherent rights over genetic resources so as to be contingent upon recognition by domestic legislation.

“Just prior to the closed meetings, Canadian officials refused to disclose prejudicial positions being taken by Canada prior to the closed meetings”, declared Armand MacKenzie, Executive-Director of the Innu Council of Nitassinan (Innu Nation). “Canada and other States are using the potentially restrictive ‘established’ rights approach in regard to both ‘fair and equitable benefit-sharing’ and ‘access to genetic resources’. Such unilateral conduct is in violation of the government’s duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples under Canada’s Constitution.”

“In March 2010, the Canadian government affirmed that it would not oppose noting the ‘significance’ of the UN Declaration in the preamble of the draft Protocol. We do not accept Canada diluting this solemn commitment”, stated Ellen Gabriel, President of the Quebec Native Women. “Canada’s ongoing actions to weaken our rights in the draft Protocol are contrary to the Declaration. Such conduct is likely to adversely impact present and future generations of Indigenous peoples.”

Indigenous representatives in Nagoya have repeatedly requested a meeting with Canada’s Environment Minister, without success. As the former Indian Affairs Minister, Jim Prentice was the chief architect of the government’s 4½ year strategy to oppose Indigenous peoples’ human rights and the UN Declaration.


Contact: Aurélie Arnaud, Communication Officer Quebec Native Women’s Association, tel. 1-450-632-0088 ext 227, cell: 1-514-239-0088