June 13, 2011

Boarding School Apology Advanced

In recent years, Native Americans voices have grown louder in an appeal to the U.S. government and involved churches to publicly acknowledge the harm their boarding schools have done by extending a meaningful apology to the victims of cultural genocide.

The emerging, expert-driven Boarding School Healing Coalition has issued its report from a mid-May symposium convened by the University of Colorado (CU) Law School, Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Boarding School Healing Project and University of Wyoming College of Law. The report underscores the need for such an apology.

“The time to seek justice and healing for our ancestors who suffered the boarding school experience is long overdue,” said Jill E. Tompkins, Penobscot, director and professor, CU American Indian Law Program and conference organizer. “The establishment of the Boarding School Coalition and the development of a mutual shared vision for future action are critical steps forward.”

Crafting a national strategy to achieve an apology and reparations was a fundamental goal of the conference, which plans a future focus on public education, litigation, remedial legislation, and international policy advocacy.

In addition to a formal apology for the intergenerational trauma that plagues many Indian communities, the coalition said an apology is due to all Americans for the deaths and disabling wounds suffered by four to five generations of Native children whose contributions are lost forever.

“No apology has been offered from either the government of the United States or by the religious organizations that managed the boarding schools,” the report states, and the U.S.’ endorsement of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was the last offered, and was “qualified in substantial respects,” it states.

Among the last four signatories of the Declaration—the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia—only the U.S. “has taken no tangible legal action to accept responsibility for the disastrous boarding school policy,” it states, noting the other countries’ formal apologies, truth and reconciliation commission, reparations, and victim compensation.

“An estimated 100,000 children passed through the boarding schools between 1879 and the 1960s, and as late as 1973, 60,000 American Indian children were enrolled in off-reservation schools,” the report notes. “Thousands of these children died from disease, malnutrition, loneliness and abuse” and many are reported to have been buried anonymously, some in mass graves on boarding school grounds.”

“All school children graduate knowing about slavery in the United States and its devastating effects on black people and the human toll of the Civil War,” said Don Coyhis, president of nonprofit White Bison Inc., Colorado Springs and a Coalition member, who said students should not graduate without knowing about U.S. impacts on Natives and Native culture, as well.

Legal pressure is one avenue suggested in the coalition report to assist the effort toward a political/public policy solution, including the enforcement of protections from the Indian Peace Commission of 1867-68, the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie and other treaties, litigation in various courts, or intervention by international agencies under international law.

Healing could be furthered through many ways, possibly including a Council of Cultural Knowledge, which “could play an important role in identifying the culturally relevant ceremonies that would be crucial for healing,” and through cultural revitalization: “We want to get our language back to all of our people,” the report notes. “We don’t want to rely solely on the language of the colonizers. We believe we can be equally competent in both languages; be bilingual.”

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.com.

November 23, 2011

Respected Anishnabe Elder Among Aboriginal Achievement Award Honorees

Celebrities, a cabinet minister and a revered healer and elder are among the newly minted winners of the 19th annual National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.

Actor Adam Beach, Lake Manitoba First Nation, lately most known for his role in Cowboys and Aliens with Harrison Ford, won in the Arts; federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut, received the Politics award, and Elder Dave Courchene Jr., Manitoba (Nii Gaani Aki Inini—Leading Earth Man) of the Anishnabe Nation, Eagle Clan, was awarded in the Culture, Heritage & Spirituality category.

They and a dozen other award recipients were on Parliament Hill on November 22, where they received a standing ovation in the House of Commons, followed by a reception hosted by Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer. Tragically, the winners included one posthumous award: Youth award winner Earl Cook, who turned his lifelong health problems into a career speaking about fetal alcohol syndrome, died of bone cancer on September 18.

Courchene has been a member of the Wisdom Keepers of the United Nations since 1992, according to the foundation. He is an adviser to the United Nations regarding spirituality and sustainable environmental approaches. In 2002 he founded Turtle Lodge, an internationally known “place of learning, healing and sharing for all people,” the foundation states.

In accepting his award, the elder said the honor went beyond the ovations and accolades. He is known as a healer and promotor of peace. He shared the stage with the Dalai Lama at the Newark Peace Education Summit in May.

“We must look at the deeper reason for why we are being acknowledged here today,” Courchene said at the gathering, according to a Turtle Lodge statement.

“We are being propelled into a movement that is going to affect the whole world. This time belongs to us now. We must not be afraid to share the truth of our identity as a beautiful, beautiful people who have always been peaceful,” he said. “We need to bring that spirit and understanding to the world. We are being given everything we need to advance this ancient knowledge that can help take man beyond this separation and violence that we see in the world today.”

He acknowledged with “full credit” his mother and grandmother, and indeed all mothers, those who opened his eyes to “what a beautiful way of life that we have as Indigenous People.”

He predicted, “All these doors of opportunity will open for us. The National Aboriginal Achievement Awards will open a door of opportunity to speak even more about this ancient indigenous knowledge that has been handed to us from our ancestors.”

The awards were created by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation 19 years ago to “celebrate excellence in the Indigenous community and the limitless potential that Indigenous People represent,” the foundation said in a statement announcing the awards. “They recognize the highest level of achievement and provide terrific role models for indigenous youth to achieve their potential.”

Skyrocketing suicide rates among aboriginal youth make such visibility all the more critical.

“Each and every one of our award recipients is a leader and role model who has made a profound impact on communities across Canada and worldwide,” said Roberta Jamieson, president and CEO of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, in the group’s statement. “By honoring their achievement we continue to inspire many others waiting to demonstrate their potential—which is why the work of the foundation in providing much needed resources to First Nations, Inuit and Métis students is so essential.”

Aglukkaq was one of three Inuit women who received an award. She was joined by Nunatsiavut lawyer Violet Ford, for Law and Justice, and Nunavik Regional Government negotiator Minnie Grey, in the Public Service category.

Ford, the first Canadian Inuk woman to become a lawyer, helped draft the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She has also served as vice president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and is earning a doctorate in international law in Arctic regions at the University of Lapland in Finland.

Grey has fulfilled a number of public service roles, including heading the negotiations that led to the final agreement for the formation of the Nunavik Regional Government.

The rest of the award winners are: Candace Sutherland, Manitoba – Youth Award; Chief Victor Buffalo, Alberta – Business & Commerce
; Leona Makokis, Alberta – Education
; Richard Hardy, British Columbia – Environment & Natural Resources; Dr. Janet Smylie, Ontario – Health; Violet Ford, Newfoundland and Labrador – Law & Justice
; Richard Wagamese, Ontario – Media & Communications
; Grand Chief Edward John, British Columbia – Politics; Richard Peter, British Columbia – Sports; Senator Gerry St. Germain, Manitoba – Lifetime Achievement Award.

The awards will be presented at a gala on February 24, 2012. Stay tuned as Indian Country Today Media Network profiles each winner periodically after the turn of the year.

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December 12, 2011

UN Declaration’s One-Year Anniversary: ‘Much to Celebrate, Much More to Be Done’

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the United States formally reversing its opposition to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. While some involved in the indigenous rights struggle say little has changed since then, others say there’s a lot to celebrate—mostly because indigenous people are working hard to make sure that declaration is implemented in all interactions with nation-states.

At the second White House Tribal Nations Conference on December 15, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would “lend its support” to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “The aspirations it affirms, including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples, are one we must always seek to fulfill,” Obama said. “I want to be clear: what matters far more than words, what matters far more than any resolution or declaration, are actions to match those words.. . . ”

And, indeed, actions were what Indigenous Peoples were looking for after Obama’s announcement. It took indigenous representatives from around the world more than 20 years to draft and negotiate the declaration, which provides a human rights framework for the world’s approximately 370 Indigenous Peoples. The UN General Assembly adopted it on September 13, 2007, with 144 states in favor, four votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and 11 abstentions. Australia, New Zealand and Canada later endorsed the human rights declaration before the U.S. did. So when the president made his historic announcement one year ago, Indian activists in North America shifted their focus from advocacy to implementation. “There’s much to celebrate, but much more to be done,” said Andrea Carmen (Pasqua Yaqui Tribe), executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC).

A request for comment on the president’s view on progress in implementing the Declaration was referred to the State Department, where spokeswoman Tiffany Miller said in an e-mail that there’s no simple answer. “As you know, the Declaration has implications for many agencies across the U.S. Government. However, I can tell you that the Obama Administration is committed to making U.S. support of the Declaration meaningful.”

Carmen played an important role in the international forums that developed the Declaration and over the past year she has led and participated in dozens of workshops and presentation in front of tribal governments and organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians, educating Indigenous Peoples on the Declaration and how to use it as a tool in every interaction with federal, state and local governments. “The recognition of rights is the basis for peace. The denial of rights is the cause of conflict,” Carmen said. “The interactions of the past – we can’t forget them because there’s redress and restitution, which is also included in the Declaration. But the discussion can start on a new level based on recognition, upholding and defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples in this Declaration that the U.S. is now a party to. It’s an amazing step forward.”

The implementation of the Declaration is beginning both in the international arena and the U.S. A good example of progress in the international arena took place last January during the continuing negotiations in the drafting of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is being created under the auspices of the Organization of American States “When there was a challenge to the proposed language, the chair said, ‘We need to fall back on the language in the U.N. Declaration on this issue.’ That may not sound like much but it was the first time that happened. And previously the U.S. and Canada always opposed using the Declaration as the minimum standards for the discussion on the American level. But they didn’t say a word in opposition this time – they couldn’t because they support the Declaration now,” Carmen said.

The Declaration was instrumental in the U.S. in another important issue this year – the protection of a sacred shell mound at Sogorea Te in Glen Cove, California, said Mark Anquoe (Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma), IITC’s administrative and communications coordinator. “There was a 109-day spiritual encampment at the site, so it was huge and it was special because it was the first time the Bay area Indian community rallied around the Declaration,” Anquoe said.

Not everyone working in the arena of indigenous rights sees that kind of progress over the past year. Steve Newcomb, (Lenni/Lenape), a columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, says the U.S. State Department distorted the Declaration’s meaning of Indigenous Peoples’ right to self determination and needs to rectify its error before progress can be made. Article 3 of the Declaration says, “Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Newcomb says the State Department “did not tell the truth” about Article 3 in its 15-page white paper issued December 16, 2010. “In its statement, the State Department said it was ‘pleased to support the Declaration’s call to promote the development of a new and distinct international concept of self-determination specific to indigenous Peoples. (emphasis added)

“The State Department expanded on this falsehood by saying that the ‘Declaration’s call is to promote the development of a concept of self-determination for Indigenous Peoples that is different from the existing right of self-determination in international law.” This is patently and blatantly false! This was never the understanding of the process that led to the adoption of Article 3 and its relationship to the international human right of self-determination found in the International Human Rights Covenants. By its statements of bad faith—statements it has not disavowed in the past year—the United States destroyed the very basis for implementing the key provision in the UN Declaration that Indigenous Peoples were working toward in their efforts to create positive reforms in the area of Indigenous Peoples’ human rights. This needs to be rectified as a first step in talking meaningfully about ‘implementing’ the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Michael Leroy Oberg, Professor of History Co-coordinator of Native American Studies at the State University of New York, Geneseo, and author of Native America: A History, said Obama’s “lending of support” to the Declaration was a “nice gesture,” but he doesn’t think it will turn out to be more than that. The problems are both in the executive branch and the judiciary, Oberg said. “The meaning of ‘self-determination’ in the Declaration, is much more literal than that which has developed in the United States over the past half-century, and much less constrained by some of the long-standing and, I would argue, colonial assumptions built into American Indian policy.”

He argues that the courts have had a far more dramatic impact recently than the executive branch. “The Supreme Court especially—and especially with regards to Indians in New York State—has placed significant limitations on tribal sovereignty and the rights of Native nations,” Oberg said. “Only an optimist of the most sunny sort would expect the Declaration, I am afraid, to have any significant impact on the conduct of the judicial branch of the government.”

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February 5, 2012

Everything You Need to Know About How to Write a Shadow Report—Indigenous Reports to the UN on Human Rights, Racism in US

Indigenous nations, tribes, individuals and organizations now have a guide on how to prepare a “shadow report” for an upcoming review of the status of human rights and racism in the United States.

The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) has written a training manual on how to prepare submissions for the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a treaty monitoring body that reviews racial equality and non-discrimination for the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The convention, one of nine major human rights treaties, was ratified by the U.N. General Assembly in 1965 and came into force in January 1969. All states are required to submit regular reports to CERD on how they are implementing the Convention. The CERD examines the reports and makes recommendations, but it doesn’t rely completely on the state’s possibly biased perception of its progress toward justice for all; it also reviews alternative or “shadow reports” from “civil society actors.”

IITC’s 30-page training manual, which is available on its website, was developed to provide information to indigenous “civil society actors” on how to utilize the CERD and participate effectively in the process. Andrea Carmen, the IITC’s executive director urged indigenous tribes and organizations to participate. “This will be an important opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to make their own submissions, or ‘shadow reports,’ providing updates on current conditions, threats and violations. These submissions can also include information about the status of implementation by the U.S, of the CERD’s previous recommendations.”

CERD’s last report issued in February 2008 found racial discrimination alive and thriving in 26 areas where the U.S. government fell short on its obligations, beginning with its definition of “racial discrimination,” which was cited as inadequate in an earlier report. The U.S. government’s definition of racial discrimination in federal and state legislation and in court practice does not line up with the Convention’s definition, the report says. The Convention requires states parties to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination “in all its forms, including practices and legislation that may not be discriminatory on purpose, but in effect.”

The manual is also a mini-course on the history and development of international human rights laws. It begins with a brief history on how the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination came about. In 1948 after World War II’s “barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind,” the U.N. adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights – the international peace organization’s founding human rights standard that human rights are equal and inalienable for “all members of the human family.” While member states ratified the Declaration, they considered it to be a “moral” or “aspirational” document that was not legally binding (later, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama would describe the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as “aspirational”). So the U.N. began drafting covenants, conventions and protocols to strengthen the Universal Declaration and make it binding among member states. That work resulted in the adoption of the ICERD in 1965. To date 175 states have ratified the Convention. The U.S. ratified it in 1994 and is legally bound to uphold and implement it.

The manual outlines the Convention’s broad definition of racial discrimination and what states are required to do to repudiate and eliminate it. And it includes CERD’s general recommendation on Indigenous Peoples, which among other things, calls on states “to recognize and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples to own, develop, control and use their communal lands, territories and resources and where they have been deprived of their lands and territories traditionally owned or otherwise inhabited or used without their free and informed consent, to take steps to return those lands and territories. Only when this is for factual reasons not possible, the right to restitution should be substituted by the right to just, fair and prompt compensation. Such compensation should as far as possible take the form of lands and territories.”  The manual says the recommendation “is of central importance because it addresses a range of vital issues including land, resources, cultural, language and free, prior and informed consent” and advises Indigenous Peoples to refer to the CERD recommendation when preparing shadow reports.

That’s not the only helpful hint in the manual. It also advises those preparing shadow reports to highlight the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and link its implementation to compliance with the International Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination. “The UNDRIP provides an important framework and ‘minimum standard’ for presenting and interpreting the human rights obligations contained in the ICERD relationship to Indigenous Peoples. Using it in this context further encouraged the CERD to apply the Declaration in its assessment of State compliance,” the manual advises.

Subjects raised in previous shadow reports include the destruction of sacred sites; denial of religious freedom for Indigenous prisoners; physical and sexual violence against Indigenous women; U.S. imposition of membership criteria on tribes; export of banned pesticides by U.S. corporations; the continuing generational legacy of boarding school policies; land appropriations; treaty violations, lack of access to equal justice under the law; imposed development such as uranium mining and other extractive activities and environmental racism; and denial of traditional subsistence and right to food.

A section of the manual gives detailed step-by-step instructions on preparing a shadow report from cover letter to where the report should be sent.

The IITC is a nonprofit organization founded in 1974 in South Dakota that works for sovereignty and self-determination for Indigenous Peoples and the recognition and protection of their human rights, treaties, traditional cultures and sacred lands.

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February 23, 2012

Canada Blasted at U.N. for Treatment of Indigenous Peoples

A United Nations expert panel on human rights has blasted Canada for its treatment of the country’s Indigenous Peoples.

During hearings in Geneva on February 22, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) asked why Canada has not made progress in improving the disparities between First Nations communities and the rest of the country. In its last report on Canada, CERD found disparities in funding for education, housing, health and other social services for indigenous peoples, issues around violence against women and child abuse, equality before the law, and over-representation of indigenous peoples in prisons, among other things.

“This problem should not continue the same way as it has in the past,” said Noureddine Amir, CERD’s vice-chairman, Postmedia News reported. “How long will this be ongoing?”

CERD is the body of independent experts that monitors compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, one of the six major international human rights treaties. All U.N. members are obliged to submit regular reports to the committee on how they perceive they are implementing human rights. The committee also accepts “shadow reports” from indigenous nations, organizations and individuals that counter-balance the self-interested reports submitted by states.

In December, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya took Canada to task for allowing housing and other conditions in the community at Attawapiskat to deteriorate so badly that people’s lives were in danger.

The Chiefs of Ontario issued a statement on February 22 announcing that more than 20 Indigenous nations and organizations “are holding Canada accountable during the country’s periodic review.” The chiefs submitted an alternate, or “shadow” report to identify gaps, misrepresentations, and assumptions made in Canada’s official report.

“We value this opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to relay their stories directly to the world on how we are treated,” commented Regional Chief Angus Toulouse. “While we understand there are no explicit penalties for violations by the State, these reviews serve to increase awareness at the international level and within Canada. The observations and recommendations made within the Alternate report are by no means new. Indigenous nations and organizations have been raising awareness and advocating action on these priorities for years.”

The chiefs recommend that Canada “commit to honor the true spirit and intent existing in the Treaties, resolve matters of jurisdiction, realize Treaty implementation, and exercise the principles established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These are the key vehicles for conducting and maintaining relationships with Indigenous Nations and addressing socio-economic challenges.”

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March 4, 2012

The American Indian Empowerment Act – a ‘Radical’ Tribal Land Plan

The American Indian Empowerment Act is going nowhere in Congress, but its sponsor, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), is still fighting for a plan that would upend the current federal-tribal trust status quo, and put tribes in control.

Young’s legislation would allow tribal nations to request from the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior that tribal land be taken out of trust status and conveyed directly to them. Interior currently holds approximately 56 million acres of lands in trust for tribes and Indians, and in many circumstances the department gets to decide if a tribe’s plans for how to use that land are appropriate.

Young’s bill would convert federal trust lands to what’s known as a “restricted fee tribal land status.” This means the land would be protected against alienation and taxation. And the legislation would still ensure that lands retain their Indian country status, including the ability of Native nations to pass tribal laws on the land and conduct other related business.

It’s a bold proposal, one that would fulfill some major tenets of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that call for Native empowerment on land and resource ownership. Problem is, few members of Congress support the bill, and Interior Department officials are lining up against it. Even some tribal leaders are worried about the possible ramifications.

In early February, the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs chaired by Young held a legislative hearing on the bill. In his opening statement, Young said, “One often thinks of a ‘trust’ as a sacred duty to do what’s in the best interest of the beneficiary. But the term ‘trust’ means something different in the context of federal Indian land. When Indian land is held in trust by the Department of the Interior, legal title to the land is effectively owned by the federal government. Nothing can occur on trust lands without the permission of Washington, D.C. In practice, on some reservations nothing does occur… [the] detailed, sprawling rules for the use of trust lands are designed not for maximum benefit to a tribe, but for minimum risk to the taxpayer.”

Young said he wants to move federal policy “in a completely new direction” by allowing a tribe, at its sole discretion, to take its lands out of federal trust, and to pass tribal laws governing them.

In his written testimony to the subcommittee, Donald Laverdure, principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, warned that the legislation could lead to “confusion” for tribes. “There are critical ambiguities that must be addressed… ”

One of the ambiguities Laverdure highlighted was that the bill does not clarify that once land is converted from trust to restricted fee whether there would be a mechanism to convert the land back into trust status if the tribe so desires.

Laverdure pointed to H.R. 205, the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act (HEARTH Act) as a model for Young to consider. Currently being considered in Congress, that legislation would restore tribal authority to govern leasing on tribal lands and to modify regulations for the governance of those leases, while making it possible for the Secretary of the Interior to carry out the trust responsibility to tribes. “This model ensures that tribal regulations provide a mechanism for environmental review and public comment, exempting the Secretary for liability from claims by parties to the lease, and authorizing the Secretary to cancel a lease that is not in accordance with approved tribal regulations,” he said. In a nutshell: the bill allows Interior to maintain quite a bit of control.

Robert Odawi Porter, president of the Seneca Nation of Indians, presented a more favorable view of the legislation, saying that it would provide Indian tribal governments with greater control and flexibility over some or all of their lands. “It would do this by enabling Indian nations and tribes to voluntarily convert some or all their existing tribal lands from tribal trust lands held by the United States to tribal restricted fee status held by the tribal government and thereby enjoy the enhanced flexibility that attaches to restricted fee land holdings,” Porter testified. “That flexibility should produce great savings in time and cost that otherwise would burden development on tribal trust land.”

Porter said the bill would eliminate the cumbersome and expensive federal review and approval process, and it would clarify that land use law adopted by the Indian tribe preempts all law, including federal, with respect to development and use of the lands. “In other words, if an Indian nation chooses to enact its own laws governing its own lands it holds in restricted fee, those are the only laws that apply,” he testified, adding that the legislation would remove the obstacles to economic development that are inherent in the federal trusteeship.

Robert Coulter, executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center, testified that the legislation would make it possible for Indian nations to have greater legal certainty about the status of their lands and resources, would remove a number of unfair and obsolete barriers to Indian nations’ management and use of their lands, and would provide explicit legal protections against taxation by state and local governments and against alienation without approval of the federal government.

Not all tribal leaders are totally supportive of Young’s bill. W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’kallum Tribe and treasurer of the National Congress of American Indians, said in written testimony that he is concerned about potential legal challenges and court interpretations “to this broadened scope of tribal jurisdiction that might end up impeding rather than helping expand tribal self-governance and lead to more federal oversight.”

Allen noted that past court decisions have tied the scope and nature of the United States’ trust responsibility to how much management, regulatory and other control federal agencies have over tribal trust assets. “We are concerned that any legislation of this nature be drafted carefully so that it does not undermine the duty of the federal government to protect tribal assets and defend tribes’ sovereignty and jurisdiction.”

He urged Young “to reach out more broadly to tribal leadership throughout the country so that the bill can be discussed fully.”

In response, Young said he views this bill as a starting point and wants tribes to analyze and discuss it with him and his staff. “If there is any confusion on this bill or what the effect of this legislation would be, Congressman Young looks forward to clearing up any such confusion during future hearings and through tribal consultation,” his spokesman, Luke Miller says. “Congressman Young’s goal with this legislation is to return power back to the tribes and allow them to have more discretion over their lands. Regardless of what the Department of Interior says, Congressman Young will not change this part of the legislation, because for far too long the federal government has stood in the way of tribal empowerment.”

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Mining Companies Attempt to Connect With Aboriginals at Conference

Mineral nerds are pouring into Toronto this weekend for the annual meeting of the Prospect & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC).

Among the programs and meetings on its docket are several pertaining to aboriginal relations, as mining companies attempt to get the indigenous on their side to get access to the vast mineral deposits that lie under territorial lands.

Miners are paying more and more attention to the aboriginal communities that sit atop mineral deposits. With the advent of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the need to consult aboriginals on matters of digging up their turf has become paramount. Mining industry leaders have created several workshops and panels during the conference to help members understand how to approach and work with the indigenous of Canada.

Mining the opportunities: Training Aboriginal people for the 21st century aims to tap aboriginal talent in a “new approach to aboriginal community engagement,” the agenda says.

An aboriginal awareness training workshop that took place on March 2, before the conference proper began (that runs from March 4-7 in Toronto), focuses on helping its members understand more about how to work with aboriginal communities.

“This program has been designed to create greater understanding and enhance communications between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people,” PDAC’s brochure said. “It serves as a tool for gaining awareness and understanding of a group of people who, through historical events, location, law, legislation and policies have remained separated, isolated, segregated and marginalized from mainstream society. The building of trusting and respectful relationships will occur through awareness, comfort, confidence and much improved communications.”

The description of the panel “The Consultation Conundrum” highlights some of the gaps in understanding and expectations faced by both the mining companies and aboriginals.

“The concept and practice of aboriginal consultation has raised different expectations and produced different terms of engagement,” PDAC’s agenda says. “The duty to consult lies with the Crown; how- ever, the procedural aspects have been delegated to project proponents. Many aboriginal communities have developed their own consultation protocols that may not align with both the Crown and industry.”

PDAC expects 1,000 exhibitors and 27,700 attendees from 120 countries, according to the conference brochure.

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March 14, 2012

U.N.: Canada Continues Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples

The federal government of Canada has not addressed the issue of persistent poverty among Indigenous Peoples, nor has it implemented the right to free, prior and informed consent before undertaking projects that affect them or their lands, a United Nations body has found.

Those critiques of the Canadian government’s failure to address continuing racial discrimination against the country’s aboriginal and minority populations were among two dozen “concerns and recommendations” cited by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). CERD monitors states’ compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, one of the six major international human rights treaties. Each U.N. member country is reviewed cyclically.

CERD released its concluding report on racial discrimination in Canada on March 9, following a review of Canada’s self-assessment and so-called shadow reports from more than three dozen First Nations and non-governmental organizations. Hearings were held at the U.N. in Geneva on February 22 and 23. Many of the recommendations in the new report were made previously and remain unaddressed since Canada’s last review, in 2007–2008.

Chief Perry Bellegarde of Little Black Bear First Nation, in the province of Saskatchewan, who was among the First Nations representatives to participate in the Geneva hearings, welcomed the report.

“I was pleasantly surprised because a lot of the points raised were issues we talked about in Geneva,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network. Among the many issues raised by indigenous leaders was the discrepancy in the U.N.’s quality of life index (also called the human development index) between Indigenous Peoples and Canadians.

“Canada is rated number six, but if you apply the same statistics to Indigenous Peoples we end up being number sixty-three, so there’s a great socioeconomic gap between indigenous peoples and the rest of Canadian society,” Bellegarde said.

CERD recommended that Canada eliminate “the persistent levels of poverty among aboriginal peoples and the persistent marginalization and difficulties faced by them in respect of employment, housing, drinking water, health and education, as a result of structural discrimination whose consequences are still present.”

Other key issues that indigenous leaders raised were the lack of consultation and resource revenue sharing. The committee reported its concern that “aboriginal peoples are not always consulted for projects conducted on their lands or which affect their rights and that treaties with aboriginal peoples are not fully honored or implemented.”

CERD told Canada “to implement in good faith the right to consultation and to free, prior and informed consent of aboriginal peoples whenever their rights may be affected by projects carried out on their lands.”

Bellegarde said he was happy with CERD’s recommendation regarding treaties, which comprise Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution.

“And so the committee members quite pointedly asked Canada, ‘What mechanism do you have in place to implement Section 35 of your own Constitution?’ ” he said.

Canada must now develop a plan and a program to implement consultation and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in collaboration with indigenous peoples.

Perhaps most indicative of Canada’s intransigence in addressing racial discrimination is its continuing failure to provide the CERD with the information it needs to do its job.

“The Committee remains concerned at the absence in the State party’s report of recent reliable and comprehensive statistical data on the composition of its population including economic and social indicators disaggregated by ethnicity, including Aboriginal (indigenous) peoples, African Canadians and immigrants living in its territory, to enable it to better evaluate their enjoyment of civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights in the State party,” the report says.

First Nations leaders will write to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and various ministers to raise awareness of the CERD report to a national level, but will also elevate the issues into the international arena, Bellegarde said.

“Canada can’t continue to go around the world claiming to be a great promoter of human rights when it hasn’t been able to deal with this right in their own country,” he said.

The treaties were based on peaceful coexistence, mutual respect and working together, Bellegarde said.

“Unfortunately, we see a huge socioeconomic divide and that’s just not right in this rich country of the world called Canada,” Bellegarde said. “We need greater investments in education, in housing, so we can participate in the economy. That’s what this is all about—improving the quality of life so our children and grandchildren can have hope for the future.”

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August 14, 2012

UNPFII Chairman, Grand Chief Edward John Discusses the Power of Indigenous Storytelling

NEW YORK – Diplomats, journalists and media activists from around the globe turned out at United Nations headquarters on Thursday, August 9th for the 18th annual International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In honor of this year’s theme, ‘Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices,’ the aim was intended to highlight the vital role films, blogs, social media and other platforms play in advancing the long-running indigenous rights movement.

In his opening remarks, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon renewed a pledge of support to the movement and the implementation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). He said, “Indigenous voices are recounting compelling stories of how they are combating centuries of injustice and discrimination, and advocating for the resources and rights that will preserve their cultures, languages, spirituality and traditions.”

The afternoon event included a multimedia presentation, featuring a mix of films along with a panel discussion. Indigenous media-makers represented included TV and radio broadcasters from Norway, Ecuador, Canada and the United States. Issues raised targeted collaboration shortfalls, funding hurdles, and the need for digital access in rural indigenous communities.

Chairman of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Grand Chief Edward John of Canada played an active role in the talks. Indian Country Today Media Network spoke with John at the event about the importance of indigenous storytelling, why the mainstream media often misses the mark, and his personal experience as a residential boarding school survivor and how it has fueled his passion for language preservation through the media.

Chairman John, what do you think about what’s happening here today?

Well, it’s the 18th anniversary of the establishment of the World’s Indigenous People’s Day at the U.N. It was 1982 on August 9th when the first meeting under the auspices of the United Nations happened that involved indigenous people so it commemorates and celebrates that day. So this day is significant in that we today acknowledge the indigenous communicators who tell our stories to the public and with an indigenous perspective.

So it’s important in the regard. There are so many issues that we have to deal with, but to focus on the work of journalists, broadcasters, bloggers, writers… and to continue to make sure that we support that part of our community, that part of the indigenous world.

Why is it so important to promote indigenous voices right now?

Well we need to be able to speak up. We need to be able to speak out. We need to be able to tell our stories. We need to be able to challenge the myths, the stereotypes. We need to bring more attention to our issues, because, you know unfortunately, mainstream media doesn’t do enough of that.

When we hear and see stories about Indigenous Peoples, usually they’re negative stories. They’re usually of the dire situation of many of our people in our communities and so we need to be able to balance off that with the contributions that indigenous people make globally, historically and now as well.

I understand you have a very powerful personal story about your own experience with residential boarding schools. Can you talk briefly about how these stories play a role in the campaign to promote indigenous storytelling?

It was an experiment by the state as to, infamously said, kill the Indian and the child and the institutions to do that were the Indian residential schools and we were as children supposed to be the mechanism by which our languages died, our cultures died as Indigenous Peoples. That was who were supposed to be. Unfortunately that miserable experience failed. Many of us went to Indian residential schools already immersed in our language and our culture and the next number of years in these institutions were designed to beat that out of us, you know?

There’s some very drastic consequences, drastic situations of indigenous children in these schools. I would say that if I count back and think of all of my colleagues in that institution, I would have to say that many of them are dead now. Yeah.

And so, the impacts have been pretty dramatic. The impacts have been pretty negative in many regards. You know we have indigenous languages that are on the verge of extinction because these schools were designed to kill the languages and they’ve been effective in that regard. That’s not to suggest that um, you know, we’re not standing up, we’re not speaking out. We are standing up, we are speaking up and telling the story that people would understand it.

You know, we need support to ensure that our languages continue to survive and that’s one of the issues that we need to address through media.

Thank you for sharing your story.  Can I please take a picture of you to post on Instagram?

Is that like Twitter?

Yeah, but only with more pictures.

Well, I post pictures on my Twitter.

So you tweet?

Yep.  I can be found at @akilechoh.

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