Canada: talks with EU MPs on Indigenous rights violations

Further news from North America about indigenous peoples’  rights (ILO Convention 169) and fights against the impact of tars sands on health, livelihoods and human rights.  

On November 5 the Indigenous Environmental Network hosted an informal meeting between Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and elected leadership from First Nations in Alberta and BC to discuss Indigenous rights violations in their communities as a result of the world’s largest and most destructive development known as Canada’s Tar Sands. High on the agenda for the First Nations is the impacts of the current proposed EU Fuel Quality Directive that proposes to list Tar Sands as a dirty fuel.

Lorraine Hoffman, elected council member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation stated, “It is important to broaden the debate. It is not just about fossil fuels and alternatives, carbon emissions or potential technological fixes. The debate must encompass the impacts of tars sands development on health, livelihoods and treaty and human rights. Otherwise, the conversation will be narrow and technical and only create more injustice for Indigenous communities.”

Following this meeting First Nations representatives from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Saik’uz First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Assembly of First Nations along with trade lawyer Steven Shrybman, author of a new legal opinion on related impacts of a proposed Canada-EU free trade agreement attended a press conference at the Charles Lynch press room at the federal Parliament Building. The aim of this press conference was to highlight the greenwashing of the tar sands by both the Alberta and Federal governments during the EU MEP tour of the Athabasca region. The First Nations who traveled to Ottawa to meet with MEP’s on the final leg of the tour are optimistic this meeting and press conference will bring forward a fair and balanced perspective on tar sands development and infrastructure on Indigenous treaty and traditional territories to EU parliamentary members.

“Our greatest concern is to maintain our sacred responsibility to protect our land and way of life for future generations. To us this is not about being compensated or getting a better deal with oil companies,” stated Chief Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation. He went on to state, “This is about protecting our inherent treaty rights as Indigenous peoples, It was unfortunate that EU Members of Parliament could not meet with First Nations in our homeland earlier in their tour to hear our concerns as true stewards of our lands, instead of only receiving the one sided propaganda from government and industry.”

“The European Union should be designating tar sands as dirty fuel as part of its fuel emissions regulations.” says Chief Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation of Northern British Columbia on the EU Fuel Quality Directive. “Tar sands production is speeding up climate change, destroying land, forests and water, and it is subjecting Indigenous peoples to incalculable long-term harm. If Europe cares about climate change, is true to its commitment to Indigenous rights, they should take action to stop the tar sands and stop growth of tar sands infrastructure like the Enbridge pipelines and oil tankers.”

First Nations representatives commend EU leaders on the proposed Fuel Quality Directive. The European Union is very influential. Their policies are respected worldwide and often lead the way for environmental changes. If the European Union Fuel Quality Directive takes into account the higher carbon emission from the tar sands, it will help ensure other countries will follow their lead. Restrictions on markets for tar sands would have a drastic impact on the pace of Tar Sands development in Alberta and beyond.

The legal opinion from Mr. Shrybman, which was commissioned by the Council of Canadians and IEN, states that “While the terms of CETA have yet to be settled, it is clear that this proposed trade treaty is being viewed as an important test of EU priorities, particularly where the challenge of combating climate change conflicts with those of promoting further trade liberalization.” He goes on to state, “There can be no doubt that current CETA proposals have considerable potential to constrain policy, program and regulatory initiatives needed to address pressing ecological priorities, including those relating to the impacts of oil sands development.”

“The Assembly of First Nations strongly believes that any discussions – current and future – and agreements with regards to oil sands development must accommodate adhere to and respect Aboriginal titles and rights and Treaty rights of First Nations,” said AFN Vice Chief Morris of the Yukon region.

It should be noted that the European Union members are signatories to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the ILO Convention 169 on the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, as well as international treaties on human rights. These international standards must be applied to Canada and to Alberta, and the treatment of Indigenous peoples by governments and oil developers needs to be evaluated in accordance with those standards.

(Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources)

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