Dear Prime Minister Harper,
Two years ago, under your leadership, Canada endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, despite initially voting against it at the UN General Assembly. Canada's decision to reverse its position to support international efforts that recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples was heralded by your government as an important milestone on the road to respect and co-operation with Aboriginal Canadians.
The official statement from the government on its decision to endorse the UN Declaration offered a strong commitment to Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Métis to work towards reconciliation and outlined an ambitious vision whereby the health and wellbeing of Canada's Aboriginal peoples were guaranteed and communities were empowered and supported.
"The Government's vision is a future in which Aboriginal families and communities are healthy, safe, self-sufficient and prosperous within a Canada where people make their own decisions, manage their own affairs and make strong contributions to the country as a whole."
The commitments laid out in the UN Declaration and in subsequent promises by Canadian governments to Aboriginal communities across the country cannot be taken lightly. Canadian and international experts, and well-respected human-rights organizations, such as Amnesty International , have found that Canada's Aboriginal peoples suffer unacceptable risks to their health and wellbeing from poverty, poor housing, and ongoing environmental degradation of their lands and waters.
For example, the David Suzuki Foundation recently released a study of industrial resource tenures in the Peace Region of northeastern BC on the lands of First Nations that are signatories to Treaty 8 . The study found that forestry, energy, and mineral tenure concessions to industry are widespread and often multilayered in the same area. More than 65 per cent of the region has now been impacted by industrial development and too little intact wildlife habitat remains to sustain local First Nations communities and their activities such as subsistence hunting of caribou.
Similar environmental impacts are being felt in other Aboriginal communities across the country.
For this reason, the David Suzuki Foundation believes that Canada's efforts towards improving the wellbeing of Aboriginal peoples must be guided by our commitments under the UN Declaration, including obtaining free, prior and informed consent when it comes to resource development on lands and waters that have sustained Aboriginal communities for millennia.
The growing Idle No More movement was sparked by concern over the weakening of environmental laws and undermining of Aboriginal governance with Bill C-45. Along with the ongoing hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence, this is evidence that despite old lofty commitments, Canada must do far more to engage First Nations, Inuit and Métis in a manner that is respectful and conducive to reconciliation.
The David Suzuki Foundation urges you to meet with Chief Spence and other First Nations leaders to address their immediate concerns pertaining to poor housing, chronic underfunding, lack of safe water and other pressing issues, and to initiate a dialogue on the concrete actions that are necessary to ensure that Canada effectively promotes and protect the rights of Aboriginal peoples, including the right to a healthy environment.
Peter Robinson, CEO
Dr. Faisal Moola, PHD
Director General, Ontario and Northern Canada