Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Canada votes against UN declaration," October 9, 2007.

Canada prides itself on its record of support for international declarations, protocols, treaties and statutes—on the rights of women, climate change, international criminal court, land mines, trafficking in small arms. It is a strong point of difference between Canada and the United States. The sole exception to this list of virtuous commitments is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On September 13, Canada voted against the Declaration which has been 30 years in the making.

Since 1977, when the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was formed, 1,500 representatives of indigenous peoples, 30 indigenous parliamentarians, and representatives of 70 member states attended its meetings to discuss the declaration. (A video of the opening sessions is available in Real format).

Indigenous peoples were left out of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, so the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been seen by many as a tool for interpreting the earlier Declaration as it applies to indigenous peoples.

The non-binding declaration calls on states to prevent or redress the forced migration of indigenous peoples, seizures of their land or their forced integration into other cultures. It also grants indigenous groups control over their religious and cultural sites and the right to manage their own education systems, including teaching in their own languages.

A draft passed the new Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 06. By December, the General Assembly had voted to defer adoption but pledged to consider it before the end of its current session in Sep 07.

Abby Weil, writing for the Advocacy Project Newsletter in July, found the Canadian position “particularly controversial” because of Canada's many contributions during the long drafting process.

Then last July, Canada voted against the Declaration in the Human Rights Council last year, mainly on the grounds that it allowed indigenous peoples too much control over natural resources.

Weil, an American, observed that the new Canadian government had “significantly broadened its opposition to the draft” and called for resumed negotiations in a statement after the draft had passed the Human Rights Council anyway.

According to Kenneth Deer, a leader from the Mohawk Nation and a long-time coordinator of the indigenous lobby at the UN, "Their [Canada's] list of concerns keeps growing....It's hard to negotiate with a government that reneges on its commitments," Deer said.

Wilton Littlechild, a Canadian Cree lawyer and member of the indigenous issues forum for over 20 years, said he was disappointed that states which had ratified the draft in the Human Rights Council resisted adopting it in the General Assembly.

Canada's UN ambassador, John McNee, said Canada objected to the declaration's wording on lands and resources, as well as another article calling on states to obtain prior informed consent with indigenous groups before enacting new laws or administrative measures.

Chuck Strahl, the Minister of Indian Affairs at the time said, “We'd have to consult with 650 First Nations to do that. I mean, it's simply not doable” (CBC Sep 13 07).

Both Strahl and Harper have said that they see including First Nations peoples under the Canadian Human Rights Act is a higher priority. On the same day (September 13), the CBC had Strahl saying that the government believes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms already protects the rights of aboriginals.

Aboriginal rights are included in the Charter, but listening both to aboriginal and government representatives one gets the sense that the UN Declaration would have made a difference. I sense a train wreck in the future if the government ever has to take responsibility for what seem like conflicting commitments on this portfolio. And that's an understatement.

This isn't the first time that Canada has worked hard to oppose its allies from the Six Nations Confederacy in the international arena.

The story of Deskaheh at the League of Nations is part of the larger story of Haudehnosaunee sovereignty.

Last week on Sinixt Radio appointed spokesperson Marilyn James discussed and the larger context. I'll just give a timeline for the basic events. Six Nations, Iroquois Confederacy and Haudenosaunee are all words that refer to the same organization.

Autumn 1920, Six Nations lawyers ask for a ruling on their sovereignty from Canada's Supreme Court.

Privy Council blocks the hearing. Six Nations leader Deskaheh goes to the governor general and ends by taking his case to Britain.

Winston Churchill, then the colonial secretary, decides "The matters submitted lie within the exclusive competency of the Canadian government."

In 1922, a new Canadian Interior Minister proposes a royal commission.

During negotiations, the RCMP raids Grand River, one of the Six Nations communities, on the pretext of looking for moonshiners. Shots are fired; talks are broken off. An RCMP detachment is stationed at Ohsweken, just oustide the brick Council House.

In 1923, after the police invasion, Deskaheh decides to take his case to the League of Nations.

At the time, Canada was using the League of Nations to promote its own sovereignty as distinct from that of the British Empire.

The text of the appeal is called The Red Man's Appeal for Justice: The Position of the Six nations That They Constitute an Independent State prepared by Deskaheh and his American lawyer, George Decker.

Included treaty texts demonstrating that the Six Nations had long been viewed as a sovereign people.

Included wampum belts including the Two Row Wampum

Quoted the landmark Cherokee decision of US Chief Justice John Marshall: "discovery could not affect the rights of those already in possession [of Amreica]....European Crowns asserted a title against other Europeans only."

In 1912 Britain persuaded the US to pay Grand River Cayugas for pre-revolutionary land cessions south of the border. In this case, the British had told the court:

"The Six Nations were recognized as independent nations and allies of the Dutch, and afterwards by the English....These confederate nations have ever since resided upon the Grand River...maintaining their cohesion and ancient constitution and method of government”

Nevertheless, when the time came, Britain pressured the Netherlands not to sponsor the appeal. Delegates of Persia, A copy of the Six Nations document was presented to the secretary general of the League of Nations who sent it to Ottawa. Ottawa replied that "The claim that the Six Nations are an organized and self-governing people so as to form a political unit apart from Canada is .... an absurd one."

But Ireland, Estonia, and Panama were sympathetic. Persia was ready to put the Six Nations case on the agenda when Britain, acting on Canada's behalf, claimed that support of the Six Nations' appeal constituted "impertinent interference in internal affairs of the British Empire."

Deskaheh appealed to King George V.

October 7, 1924, armed police entered the Ohsweken council house, read a decree dissolving the Six Nations parliament, and seize documents relevant to the sovereignty case. Wampum keepers' homes were raided and sacred belts taken.

Elections for a new council were announced. From a population of some 4500 only twenty-seven voted.

[Marilyn james the appointed spokesperson for the Sinixt people]

Kanatiiosh aka Barbara Gray is an Akwasasne Mohawk and a well-known artist.

In a review of the book A Basic Call to Consciousness, Kanatiiosh includes this story by Philip Deer, a Creek Medicine man who was one of the twenty-one delegates gathered at Geneva in 1977 to present the indigenous peoples' case to the United Nations.

"All you men that are going to be speaking tomorrow, you remind me of something that we do at home. And I'd like to tell you about it. They had a ceremony at home, a fire starting ceremony, in which several men got around in a circle and there would be gathered also some straw or hay or wood chips --something to ignite--and then each man would begin. And all together they would strike flint-- hitting, hitting, trying to make jump that spark. You men that will be speaking, you remind me of those young men striking stone. Your mission is to make that spark jump--your mission is to light the fire, to ignite the hearts of all those people, of the representatives of the various countries, of the NGO's, of the mass-media, You must make the spark fly. But it is not going to be all of you that starts that fire. At home, all of the young men strike stone, over and over. Strike, strike, strike--but only one makes the spark jump. And one spark ignites the fire. So it will be tomorrow. All of you will strike. All of you will speak. And -- one of you --will ignite the fire. I know it."

Sinixt Radio is now archived at radio4all dot net. You can subscribe to the podcast from there. You can also subscribe on the World Report blog.

The Hot Topic ticker now scans for “Northwest Frontier Province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas.” People who still think that Canada is fighting a war against terrorists with global reach in Afghanistan will find a lot of evidence that the effort is off target in these news reports. For example, polls show that Osama bin Laden is more popular than the president, not of Afghanistan, but of Pakistan. Terrorists of global reach, haven't been a significant force in Aftghanistan since bin Laden slipped through Tommy Franks' fingers at the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001. Last week, AFP quoted, US Major Tim Williams, future operations intelligence planner, who told reporters at Bagram Air Field that Al-Qaeda operatives did not normally cross into Afghanistan to carry out operations. However, Federally Administered Tribal Area “remains a support and sanctuary area for the insurgency.” Which leads directly to the World Report blog's new poll question: What is the next step in Afghanistan?

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