Who Controls Your Land?
|March 17, 2007||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Who Controls Your Land?
Canada Scolded over Exploitation of Indigenous Peoples’ Lands
This news report comes from OneWorld US.
by Haider Rizvi
Canada, like the United States, is facing international scrutiny for its treatment of indigenous people.
In late February 2007, a United Nations treaty body took the rare step of telling Canada to change its behavior on the human rights of native populations.
In a report, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said it was concerned about complaints of exploitation of indigenous resources by corporations registered in Canada.
CERD, which is based in Geneva, told the Canadian government to take “appropriate legislative or administrative measures to prevent the acts of transnational corporations on indigenous territories.”
The CERD report comes in response to a petition filed by indigenous organizations that charged private businesses from Canada were unlawfully involved in the exploitation of their lands located in the United States.
Their petition particularly focused on the situation facing the Western Shoshone, a native American tribe, whom some non-natives also refer to as “Snake Indians,” although in their own language they are called Newe people.
Stretching across the states of Nevada, California, Idaho, and Utah, the Shoshone lands are currently the third largest gold producing area in the world, where numerous multinational corporations are operating and many are planning to move in.
Many of these companies, which include Bravo Venture Group, Nevada Pacific Bold, Barrick Gold, Glamis Gold, Great Basin Gold, and U.S. GoldCorp, according to the complaint, are registered in Canada.
Many areas where mining is going on have been used by natives for spiritual ceremonies and cultural purposes for thousands of years. Certain areas are home to Shoshone creation stories and vital to indigenous traditions of acquiring knowledge.
“The sites where the Canadian [corporations] are operating or preparing to operate are akin to a church or mosque to us,” said Carrie Dann, a Shoshone elder. “We believe we’re placed here on this land as caretakers. We are responsible for the health and preservation of our lands.”
Shoshone elders have repeatedly charged that the enormous amount of toxic material produced as a result of mining is causing enormous damage to the health and well being of their people and the environment.
Last year, in response to the Western Shoshone petition, CERD assailed the U.S. government for violating the tribes’ rights and said Washington had run afoul of the international antiracism treaty.
The 18-member UN panel of experts, set up to monitor global compliance with the 1969 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, said it had “credible information” that the Shoshone were being denied their traditional rights to land.
In its petition, the tribe had challenged the U.S. government assertion that it owned 90 percent of Shoshone lands covering about 60 million acres. CERD members said the U.S. government must cease all commercial activities on tribal lands, including mining operations.
The United States recognized Shoshone rights to their land under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that the pact gave Washington trusteeship over tribal lands.
The federal government justified its position by saying that tribe members had abandoned traditional land tenure and practices and cited “gradual encroachment” by non-natives as evidence to claim much of the land as federal territory.
The Western Shoshone, in their petition to the UN panel, countered that “gradual encroachment” in fact took place as part of a U.S. policy to steal their lands, and that this constituted racism.
The Geneva-based panel agreed with the Shoshone by noting that Washington’s claim to the land “did not comply with contemporary international human rights norms, principles, and standards that govern determination of indigenous property interests.”
Shoshone leaders said they went before the UN panel because they had exhausted all other legal options to prevent the U.S. government from taking over their ancestral lands, and for similar reason they had to challenge the role of the Canadian government.
In addition to recommending legal steps to change corporate behavior, the UN panel has also asked Canada to submit a report on the effects of the activities of transnational corporations in Canada on indigenous peoples abroad.
For their part, Dann and other indigenous leaders said they were pleased with the UN response to their petition.
“This is ground breaking news,” Dann said about the CERD report on Canada. “This is the first time a UN treaty body has addressed government accountability to its corporate profiteering of ongoing human rights violations against indigenous peoples.”
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