The Indigenous Rights Report

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Indigenous Rights Report #23

Indigenous Rights Report #23

November 23-29, 2019
Photo by Harrison Mantas | Cronkite News

This is the Indigenous Rights Report for the week of November 23, 2019. In this week’s Report:

  • Nine Pemon peoples killed in Venezuela
  • New set of Equator Principles criticized for failing to uphold Indigenous rights
  • A resurgence in Indigenous governance is leading to better conservation
  • UN Indigenous rights bill approved unanimously in B.C.
  • Human rights tribunal rebukes Ottawa for forcing delay in Indigenous child welfare case
  • Indigenous communities in Nepean Blue Mountains increase access to mental health care
  • Return of Nimiipuu dugout canoe renews canoe culture among Chief Joseph’s People
  • Land transfer to Squamish Nation sparks worries that climbers will be barred from an iconic wall
  • Noongars’ $290 billion compensation claim will transform Indigenous Australia
  • University of Saskatchewan water scientists find Canada falls short of UN sustainability goals
  • IP Australia welcomes ‘ground-breaking’ report on Indigenous knowledge
  • Nepal won its first climate grant
  • New measures could help tribal citizens who suffer from oil industry pollution
  • US Congress is following up on ‘Broken Promises’ report

The Council of General Chiefs of the Pemon have denounced the third massacre of Indigenous Peoples in Venezuela this year. Details are scarce, but according to various media reports, a total of nine Permon were killed on November 22 in the heart of the Gran Sabana municipality, in Bolivar state. The assailants behind the massacre have yet to be identified, but former Bolivar state governor Andres Velasquez insists that the “Nicolas Maduro regime” is responsible. In a series of tweets, Velasquez asserted, “there is no room for doubt, the repressive bodies of the State (helicopters, black uniforms, assault rifles and ski masks) are responsible for the massacre in the mining zone of Icabaru, Gran Sabana municipality. Maduro and Noguera Pietri, they can’t play dumb with this. They can’t remain silent.”

The Council of General Chiefs of the Pemon Peoples, however, rejected the claim that the Venezuelan Government was involved in a mass killing. A public statement signed by Jean Carlos Velazquez, executive secretary of the Council, calls on Venezuelans ‘not to echo ambiguous positions with partisan political elements that violate the objectivity of the investigations.’ The statement issued by the indigenous body also reiterated a complaint to the State security bodies made in 2013 about the existence of armed elements in the area, with the sole objective of controlling gold-bearing areas.


Equator banks at their annual meeting in Singapore agreed on a new set of Equator Principles that contain no meaningful improvements, and completely fail to meet the challenges of protecting Indigenous peoples’ rights and combating climate change. They ignored a passionate call from 312 civil society groups from 58 countries to take bold action on climate change and human rights. Regarding Indigenous rights, EP4 falls short of a clear commitment to uphold Indigenous peoples’ rights including their right to grant or withhold consent for projects situated on Indigenous land and territories (known as Free, Prior and Informed Consent, or FPIC), including in ‘designated countries’. Instead, in ‘designated countries’ like the US, the new Principles only require the consultation process with Indigenous Peoples to be ‘evaluated’ by an independent consultant. There is no explicit commitment to respect FPIC in all circumstances.

Faced with this extremely disappointing outcome of the revision process, the organizations that take part in the ‘Equator Banks, Act!’ campaign have vowed to actively resist the financing by Equator banks of all new fossil fuel projects and all projects that impact Indigenous peoples’ rights and territories that lack free, prior and informed consent.


A recent academic paper demonstrates how a resurgence in Indigenous governance can lead to more effective conservation. The paper, “Supporting resurgent Indigenous-led governance: A nascent mechanism for just and effective conservation,” concludes that, worldwide, “increases in conservation in some of the most globally significant areas of conservation interest will increasingly not only be unjust, but also impossible without Indigenous consent and leadership.” Kelly Brown, director of the Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) Integrated Resource Management Department, a co-author of the paper, notes that Indigenous people have the right to consultation when it comes to natural resource extraction but also when it comes to natural resource conservation and land use plans. It’s time for Indigenous communities to be given the power and authority to lead conservation on their own lands, which they live upon and know well, he said.

The authors cite another study that found biodiversity within Indigenous-managed areas is often higher than, or at least equal to, biodiversity in colonial or state-run parks at the provincial or federal level in Canada. Including Indigenous leadership in a national conservation strategy could help the federal government reach its target to protect 17 per cent of terrestrial areas and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020, he said.


British Colombia has become the first province in Canada to formally implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The bill was passed unanimously in the legislature. The bill mandates the provincial government to bring its policies and laws into harmony with the aims of the UN declaration. “Today, we have made history,” the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and the First Nations Leadership Council said in a joint statement. “This legislation advances a path forward to true reconciliation for all of us in B.C. that will uphold Indigenous rights and create stronger communities, stable jobs and economic growth.”


The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is pushing back until January 29 the deadline for Ottawa to get rolling on compensation for First Nations children and their families over child-welfare services, but the delay comes with a sharp rebuke for the federal government. The tribunal has ordered the federal government to pay what likely totals billions of dollars for harm done by chronic underfunding of those services for children on reserves, including families’ being split up needlessly.

The tribunal ruled in September that Ottawa was to pay $40,000 to each First Nations child who had been inappropriately placed in foster care because of the federal government’s continued underfunding of the child-welfare system for children living on reserves. The same compensation was to go to any parents or grandparents whose children or grandchildren were taken away, and to kids who were refused essential services.


Indigenous communities throughout the Nepean Blue Mountains region now have increased access to mental health, drug and alcohol counseling delivered by Aboriginal health professionals. Nine students have completed a customized Diploma of Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs tailored by TAFE Digital for the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, Sydney University to provide training to Indigenous communities. Wentworth Healthcare CEO, Lizz Reay said, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often face extra barriers when accessing health services and these graduates will help our community by providing culturally safe and appropriate support that will help break down some those barriers.”

This program was commissioned by Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network (NBMPHN) and funded by the federal government.


A canoe carved by Nez Perce tribal member Allen Pinkham Junior marked the completion of the first Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) dugout canoe to float on the waters of the Walwaama Nimiipuu homeland (in what is now Northeast Oregon) since Chief Joseph and the Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce Tribe were extirpated from there during the Nez Perce War of 1877.  His people have been carving canoes to cross Wallowa Lake to their (now extinct) sockeye salmon fishing grounds and mountain hunting grounds since the last ice age formed that lake. Many tribal members, like Allen Jr., believe that a full recovery of the Columbia River watershed will not happen until the dams are removed. He hopes that reviving the Nimiipuu canoe culture will help inspire the drive to finish the work of ecological and cultural recovery.

Canoe culture is one of the essential elements that kept relationships between the Indigenous peoples of the Columbia River watershed strong for thousands of years. It connected Inland Northwest tribes like the Nimiipuu to peoples living on the Pacific coastline via canoe traffic up and down the rivers. To the Wanapum, or “River People”, the Columbia River is known as Chiawana, meaning “Big River”.


The Squamish Nation has been fighting for decades to assert its rights and title throughout its territories. And it does have implications across the province. “Once the land is returned to us, we’ll engage our community — our own members — in terms of developing a land use provision that our community wants for the area. We’re going to make decisions that are in the interest of our people.” Some people see the idea that the First Nation might end access to the Pet Wall as deeply unfair. Many in the climbing community feel left out of the process and are upset they weren’t consulted.

For many Canadians, reconciliation and land title are abstract concepts. Issues around access to land for recreation can force people to confront the realities of the country’s history and its ongoing status as a colonial state. It can be an unsettling experience.


The Noongar peoples $290 billion compensation claim against the West Australian government for loss of its land will be transformative both for them and all Indigenous Australia, says the lawyer leading the action. The action lodged in the Federal Court will be, if successful, the largest compensation litigation in the world, and the Brisbane-based legal firm involved is preparing other cases in WA, New South Wales and Queensland.

The claim is for economic, cultural and spiritual loss caused by loss of traditional land, and has been in the making at ESJ Law since the decision on the Northern Territory’s ‘Timber Creek’ was handed down by the High Court on March 13, awarding $2.5 million compensation for 127 hectares of land.


A new report from researchers at the University of Saskatchewan-led Global Water Futures program (GWF) says Canada is currently not on track to meet United Nations sustainability goals as they pertain to water. One concrete step would be to fill in those gaps with consolidation of data and collaboration between levels of government and with communities and organizations to put research into practice. While those include Indigenous-led research initiatives, more generally traditional knowledge and including Indigenous voices in those discussions is critical, Corinne Schuster-Wallace Schuster-Wallace, a University of Saskatchewan professor and co-author of the report, said.

The report points to inadequate access to clean drinking water on First Nations as a challenge. While the Liberal government has committed to lifting all long-term boil water advisories by March 2021, water scientists say the overarching issues that lead to water insecurity still need to be addressed.


IP Australia has published what it says is a “ground-breaking” report on methods for valuing the contribution of Indigenous knowledge to the economy. The report marks the first effort to bring together various “piecemeal” attempts made at establishing a framework for measuring the economic value of Indigenous knowledge, according to the IP office.  The office commissioned the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) to produce the report, noting that there was an “information gap” on the value of Indigenous knowledge to the economy. CAEPR said it had tried to design an approach to market valuation of Indigenous knowledge “through the use of IP instruments including patents, trademarks, licenses, geographical indications, plant breeder’s rights and copyright”.

“The fundamental challenge is to ensure that Indigenous knowledge is both adequately rewarded, and that the owners or custodians of that knowledge are primary beneficiaries,” the report said. “Many non-Indigenous people are not aware of the cultural protocols surrounding the ownership and use of Indigenous knowledge or the offence caused by misappropriation,” IP Australia said.


Nepal is set to receive its first grant under the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund, a mechanism established under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change. The funds will go to support the people of Nepal’s Churia region cope with and recover from the shocks and stresses of a changing climate; the area is particularly vulnerable to floods, landslides and soil erosion. U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), initiated the idea for the project, and developed it further by consulting communities living in the project areas, such as community forest user and Indigenous groups.

Tunga Rai, national coordinator of the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities Climate Change Partnership Program, also has a list of challenges project managers are likely to face. “So far we have seen that while the consultation process has been satisfactory, the substance of the consultations needs to be improved. We see that only around 10-15 percent of the issues raised by local Indigenous communities have been addressed.” Rai says he believes the root challenge, however, is to incorporate local Indigenous people’s traditional knowledge and skills into the programs of the project.


New oil-and-gas pipeline protection measures could help people like Mandan Hidatsa & Arikara tribal member Lisa Deville and her family, who suffer from pollution leaking into air, land and water at the heart of the fracking industry’s Bakken Formation here on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation. The DeVilles live less than a mile away from facilities that produce, store, and transport natural gas. In August of 2017, she and her husband became ill with what she termed “debilitating respiratory infections.” She claims it took them eight weeks to recover, despite a steroid injection for him and a prescription of more medication for her. “We were miserable during those eight weeks, and we live in constant fear of the next devastating illness caused by exposure to heavily polluted air,” she told the Native Sun News Today.

The proposed “SAFER Pipelines Act of 2019” provides them some cause for optimism. The bill aims to reinstate a languishing 2016 EPA final rule that set limitations on methane emissions across the natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline sector. A rollback to that rule had been slated, with comments having been due Nov. 25.


Tribal leaders went before Congress to demand the government address longstanding problems in Indian Country – and not for the first time. They were among the witnesses at a House hearing on “Broken Promises,” a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report detailing decades of underfunding, poor data collection and lack of coordination that have hamstrung federal programs intended to help Native Americans. Civil Rights Commission Vice Chair Patricia Timmons-Goodson said little has changed since 2003, when the commission first looked at the problem of funding for tribal programs. “These past 15 years have resulted in only minor improvements, at best, for Native Americans as a group,” she said in her prepared testimony. “In some areas, such as housing, conditions have actually worsened in that time span.”

Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said the report reiterates a lot of what Native communities already know – that the federal government hasn’t lived up to agreements made with tribes. That has led to dire consequences for Indian Country and hampered tribes’ ability to help themselves, she said.

This is the Indigenous Rights Report.

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