Date: Sun, 18 Apr 1999 14:23:07 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: RIGHTS: Indigenous Canadians Join Forces with US Indians
/** ips.english: 510.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS: Indigenous Canadians Join Forces with US Indians **
** Written 2:09 PM Apr 16, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
OTTAWA, Apr 13 (IPS) - Indigenous leaders in Canada have forged a political link with their counterparts in the United States in the wake of a UN report that listed Canada's treatment of aboriginals as the country's most pressing human rights issue.
On Monday, Phil Fontaine, head of the Assembly of First Nations which represents more than 300 Native communities in Canada, announced a formal partnership with the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), based in the United States.
Fontaine said the two organisations would press for full self- government and sovereignty for all native North Americans.
He said the group also would seek partnerships with aboriginal groups in Mexico.
The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Committee said in a report last week that the Canadian government had failed to implement recommendations of the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples - proof that Ottawa was not complying with the international covenant on civil and political rights.
The Royal Commission, made up of eminent Native leaders, lawyers, and academics, recommended full self-government, control over resources, and a separate traditional legal system. It also recommended major improvements to Native health care.
The United Nations also called on both the Canadian federal government and the administration of the province of Ontario to establish an inquiry into the 1995 police shooting of Dudley George, an Ojibwe man who died while protesting the seizure of Native land on the shore of Lake Huron.
George's death has been the focus of Native protests in Canada, despite the conviction of a police officer for manslaughter.
Indigenous leaders claimed the police attack on the protesters was orchestrated by senior politicians and government officials and they hailed the UN report as an important blow for Native rights.
This is above our expectations. It's a great day for the rights
of all aboriginal people, said Armand McKenzie, lawyer for the
Innu Council of Nitassin, which represents 7,500 people on the coast
of Labrador, one of the most isolated and inaccessible places on
There are no roads or railways into the Innu territory, and coastal ship traffic is limited to about four months a year.
The Innu have fought for years against low-level training flights by NATO fighter pilots.
We will no longer be beggars in our own homeland. We have the
right to benefit. This is important because it says the government has
to revoke its practice regarding the extinguishment of aboriginal
rights, he said.
Other Native leaders said the UN report could spur the Canadian government into implementing reforms.
This is a very stern rebuke, it's a drubbing, said Andy
Orkin, legal advisor to the Grand Council of Crees, which is locked in
a battle to keep power companies from damming the rivers in its
The 12,000 members of the Cree first nation have one of the country's highest levels of alcoholism and suicide.
This is a pretty important development, and a pretty sad one.
Canada plays international human rights Boy Scout, but to get a ruling
like this in our own back yard demonstrates considerable
Fontaine, whose group has been losing clout with the Canadian government during the current Liberal administration, declared that Canadian indigenous communities could get the attention of the world by allying itself with Native Americans.
What we're doing is in our recognition that there is strength
in numbers, there is strength in organizing ourselves better, there is
strength in elevating our issues so there is international attention
given to these issues, he said.
Reports such as the one out of Geneva reinforce what we have been
saying about our situation in Canada, which is no different from the
position in the United States. It's of the utmost importance to us
to go where we need to go.
I think one thing that has worked against us is that we've
restricted and confined ourselves domestically when it's clear
that international attention is what drives efforts
internationally. It's just time to do this.
Fontaine said that
bringing our considerable resources together
will make things better for us.
NCAI president Ron Allen said a partnership between the two groups would also help indigenous people get more attention from the United Nations.
Beyond those in North America, we have indigenous brothers and
sisters around the world. They are fighting for sovereignty, for
protection of their land bases and their cultural ways of life. As we
join forces, that message becomes a common message that is heard both
in the capitals of Canada and the United States, but also in
international forums such as the United Nations, he said.
A Canadian government spokesman said some of the UN's criticisms were being dealt with through new self-government initiatives.