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Canada to Implement UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Canada's Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says that her country will implement the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Metro Toronto reports. Bennett is part of new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government.

The UN Declaration goes further than the constitutional protection requiring the Canadaian government to consult with indigenous peoples on issues that might affect their interests.

A Visual Essay of Indian Residential Schools

Lana Slezic has a visual history in The Walrus of the Canadian residential schools in which Indian children were taken away from their families to boarding schools in order to "civilize them." The United States has this same history of assimilation too (I wrote my senior thesis at Mount Holyoke College about this). Slezic's photographic essay looks at the decaying remains of these institutions, asking if their destruction through the decay of time and acts of vandalism is a good thing or a bad thing: "Forgetting helps some people heal. Remembering helps others learn."

UN Secretary-General: Improvement of Health Needed for Indigenous Peoples

Yesterday was the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, which was focused on the health of indigenous peoples, their access to health services and gaps in social services.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted in 2007, "'affirms the right to maintain indigenous health practices as well as to have access to all social and health services for the enjoyment of the highest standards of physical and mental health,"' Merh News Agency reports.

Inter Press Service's Aruna Dutt reports that climate change could have a disproportionate impact on the health of indigenous peoples because of their "'dependence upon and close relationship with the environment and its resources.'"

Do Uncontacted Tribes Have the Right to Be Left Alone?

A remote tribe living in the Amazon jungle is about to be contacted by outsiders from the Peruvian government for the first time, The Washington Post's Ishaan Tharoor reports. The Mascho Piro people are not the first tribe to have existed "almost entirely outside the purview of the nation-states in which they technically live."

Critics says that contact with outsiders could cause many members of the Mascho Piro people to die from outside diseases, but a Peruvian official working on state tribal affairs told Reuters it appears they have been trying to make some sort of contact, including appearing on the banks of an Amazonian tributary and demanding rope, machetes and bananas.

Academics suggest that the best path forward is controlled contact with indigenous groups, "carefully managed to avoid the spread of disease, but also enable the building of trust and providing aid and medical help if needed," Tharoor reports.

Canadian Goverment Wary of UN Indigenous Rights Declaration

There have been a lot of headlines about a Canadian truth and reconciliation commission taking that country to task for how it has treated its indigenous peoples.

The Truth and Reconcilaition Commission has called for Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration On the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, The Toronto Globe and Mail's Kim Mackrael reports. But critics are raising the concern that the declaration isn't compatible with Canadian law: "At issue is a legal requirement to consult and accommodate aboriginal people in circumstances in which their rights may be affected. Ottawa has argued that a shift to free, prior and informed consent – a concept envisioned in the UN declaration – could go further, possibly giving aboriginal people the power to veto a proposed project," Mackrael reports. But aboriginal groups point out that the rights in the document are relative, not absolute.

Even though Canada endorsed the non-binding declaration, it has not taken any steps to implement its protections for indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Leaders Break with Lawyer Over Pollution Retrial

Indigenous leaders from the Ecuadorean Amazon have split with their American lawyer on having their pollution case against Chevron retried in the United States, Courthouse News' Adam Klasfeld reports: "Ecuador's rainforest residents have been defending a multibillion-dollar judgment against Chevron from the oil giant's counteroffensive on three continents that label the verdict an extortionate 'shakedown.'"

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is considering whether to affirm a finding that the $9.8 billion verdict rendered in Ecuador against Chevron was procured through corrupt means. Chevron opposed a suggestion by one of the Second Circuit judges during oral argument that the case be returned to New York, while attorneys representing the indigenous leaders' original counsel were amenable to it. Now, apparently some of the Ecuadorian plaintiffs oppose that idea.

Judge Recognizes Constitutional Right to Indigenous Medicine

There was an interesting bioethics ruling in Canada last month at the crossroads of traditional medicine and modern medicine. A young aboriginal girl has leukemia, and a Canadian judge ruled that her mother has a constitutional right to seek indigenous medicine, rather than chemotherapy, to treat her daughter, the Toronto Star's Jacques Gallant reports. The judge later clarified his ruling, writing that "'recognition and implementation of the right to use traditional medicines must remain consistent with the principle that the best interests of the child remain paramount.”'

The girl's treatment team includes a "doctor, a senior pediatric oncologist recommended by the government, and a Haudenosaunee chief who practises traditional medicine and was invited by the family," Gallant reports.

Taiwan Enacts Protection for Indigenous Peoples' Cultural Rights

Earlier this month, regulations in Taiwan went into effect to give indigenous peoples intellectual property rights over their traditional cultural expression, including religious ceremonies and folk crafts, Focus Taiwan News Channel reports. For example, that Tao people on Orchid Island has applied to protect the "Flying Fish Festival, the launching ceremonies of Tao balangays, or 'big boats,' along with the various symbols and patterns on the boats, such as the fish-eye and human-shaped patterns." 

There are 530,000 indigenous people in Taiwan, making up 2 percent of that country's population.

Indigenous People Being Displaced By Corporate Encroachment

The 370 million indigenous people around the world are being increasingly displaced because large companies are pushing onto their traditional territories to extract resources and because of rising property values, Reuters' Chris Arsenault reports. The International Fund for Agriculture Development reports that "indigenous farming practices are under threat from unclear land ownership structures, climate change and growing mono-crop plantations, and traditional knowledge can help preserve biodiversity."

United Nations, US Still Treating American Indian Tribes As Dependent #IndigenousPeoplesDay

Last month, the United Nations General Assembly approved a document to strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples around the world as part of a meeting of international leaders. However, Steven Newcomb, writing for Indian Country Today Media Network, says that it is clear that American Indian tribes are not being recognized as sovereign nations by the United Nations or by the United States: "What the United States government is supporting in the United Nations is an international recognition of the United States’ imposed 'domestic dependent nation' status for our Originally Free Nations, a status premised on the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination. The U.S. is fully supportive of that 'domesticated' and 'tribal' status being recognized in the United Nations because it serves to validate in the international arena the centuries-old, 'under-the-thumb' system of US domination and Original Nation subjection, which is typically called U.S. federal Indian law and policy."


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