Canada urged to ratify UN declaration

Indigenous people need more protection: forum


The rights of indigenous peoples need more protection, delegates to an international forum in New York declared this week.

Delegates to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a 16-member body established by the United Nations in 2000, said they want global recognition of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007.

The delegates included leaders of 370 million indigenous people around the world.

This declaration calls for governments and corporations to obtain the "free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous communities" for use of their lands and resources.

The declaration also says indigenous people must be equal partners in all negotiations on self-determination, lands and resources, culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

Speaking at a May 21 forum session devoted to Arctic issues, Patricia Cochran, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said the declaration is important to the Arctic because industry, shipping countries, tourism operators and researchers are eyeing the region's seas and other natural resources.

Mattias Ahren, president of the Saami Council, said the drive for these resources had resulted in a "race to the Arctic" among northern states and international corporations, which want oil, gas and mineral resources that belong to indigenous people.

"We will no longer accept, nor will international law, that while the wealth of these activities flows south, we are left with the environmental, social and cultural impacts of the exploration, construction and shipping activities," Ahren said.

"We will no longer accept outsiders coming to the Arctic, taking out the resources and degrading our land, without even having the common courtesy to ask. We have to enter a new phase where governments and multinational corporations stop doing the wrong things, and start doing the right."

Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, echoed these comments in an ITK news release, calling on Canada, which has not ratified the UN declaration on indigenous peoples, to change its position.

Only Canada, the United States, and New Zealand have not endorsed the declaration.

"It is time for Canada to re-join the international community by supporting positive and appropriate recognition of indigenous rights. The UN General Assembly has already adopted the declaration and made it a part of international law and policy. It is time for the Government of Canada to stop trying to turn back the clock and to move toward positive change," she said.

Louis Tapardjuk, Nunavut's culture minister, also spoke at the forum's session on the Arctic.

Tapardjuk called for more attention to language, saying states with Inuit populations must work towards achieving equality between speakers of Inuktitut and those using national languages.

The eighth annual meeting of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues wrapped up May 29.

For more information on the forum, go to esa/socdev/unpfii/en/session_eighth.html

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