Click to go to the Subscriber Log In Page
Go to menu with buttons for all pages on BC
Click here to go to the Home Page
Est. April 5, 2002
May 26, 2016 - Issue 655

Canada’s Treatment
Of Indigenous Peoples
Is Under UN Scrutiny


"Over the long haul, Canada has been convinced
to give at least lip service to indigenous peoples
of their own country, those called First Nations,
but they have not given full consideration to the
peoples’ wishes and all is not well
in the places where they live."

The northern neighbor of the U.S. is widely known for its manners and its (at least, until recently) generous social programs, in gross contrast to its dog-eat-dog economic and social structure to its immediate south.

And don’t think that they don’t mildly gloat about it from time to time and they have expressed a general attitude of self-righteousness about the contrast. They do this with some justification, considering the serious problems that exist in the U.S. that few seem to be willing to admit and then do something about. Even in the current political campaign for president, there is not much discussion of such problems as militarization of the police, the shooting of unarmed black Americans by police, continuing rampant racism and bigotry, environmental degradation that threatens life in all of its manifestations, the bloated military and “defense” budgets, corruption at every level of government, and the violation of the human rights of its native peoples, just to name a few.

However, Canada’s own history is not so pristine, either, but it doesn’t get much play in the press in the U.S., perhaps because they don’t have such over-the-top examples of naked aggression and bigotry as the current “presumptive” GOP presidential nominee for president. Nevertheless, some have taken notice, one such entity being the U.N. section on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its special rapporteur, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who told the new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, that the government also has to be aware of how the numerous Canadian mining companies operating abroad are also putting a heavy toll on indigenous lives, according to the Inter Service Press (IPS) earlier this month.

The occasion was the signing by Canada of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a declaration that went unsigned through the years of conservative governments there, even though there are non-governmental groups that have been keeping tabs on the actions of Canadian corporations at home and abroad, especially including the violations of human rights and especially those of indigenous peoples.

One of the groups, quoted by IPS, Mining Watch Canada, through its Latin America Project coordinator, Jennifer Moore, declared that they “do not think that the idea of free, prior and informed consent is being taken seriously by the Canadian government, whether concerning mining operations within Canada or abroad.”

For most developed countries, what they do in other countries (mainly developing countries with little infrastructure to mitigate and oppose the destruction) is done with impunity. It’s “out of sight, out of mind.” Little attention is paid to their depredations by the press or governmental agencies, so the people generally do not know what is happening in any of these operations.

Estimates are that 75 percent of the world’s mining and exploration companies are based in Canada, one of the more powerful sectors of the nation’s economy. They are not going to give up that kind of income lightly. Mining is one of the most destructive and toxic kinds of taking of natural resources and, when a company is done taking, they are loath to take on the responsibility of cleaning up the poison and waste. It costs too much money, so it’s left to the plundered nation and the people in the immediate area, neither of which have the resources to make the area livable again.

One recent example of one of its mining operations was reported by Global Sisters Report (GSR), a project of the National Catholic Reporter, a national weekly newspaper, describing the religious women who are on the front lines of the attempts to mitigate the damage done to not only the environment, but to the indigenous people. In San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala, they reported recently, without any prior warning, a pickup truck with a loudspeaker circled the town plaza in 2003, announcing that a mine was to be established in their community and that there would be jobs and paychecks. When the suits came into the poor farming community and promised to lift their economy and put money into their pockets, people lined up on both sides of the issue.

But the powers that be in Guatemala apparently had already sanctioned the deal and local opposition was no match for the money that was implied more than it was promised. Within a short time, the mining for gold and silver as the Marlin mine, owned by Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, S.A, a subsidiary of the Canadian company, Goldcorp. The mine development went on and, 10 years later, the company has announced that the mine will close soon.

The result of that decade of frenzied mining activity on the landscape and the Mayan people of the community? Sister Maudilia Lopez, said, “The impact of all this is money and how money has affected many families and the community as a whole is the issue.” Lopez, 44, is a sister with the order of Hermanas Guadalupanas de La Salle. When she moved to San Miguel Ixtahuacán in 1996, according to GSR, she started religious study groups for women that included Mayan spiritual beliefs. She considered the mine a threat to Mayan customs and way of life when it first opened and joined the protests against it.

In 2009, she was a founding member of the Parish Sisters and Brothers of Mother Earth Committee to resist the mine. “The legacy of that will remain after the mine is closed,” she declared. “Our values had been ones of empathy, solidarity, sharing and love of nature. But today, the mine has become a value in this community. Money is now a value. We have never had money before and it is tearing us apart.”

This story from Guatemala is an old one…boom and bust, but it’s not just economic boom and bust in cases like this. Rather, it is the destruction of something much more valuable than money in a pocket or in a bank account. It is the destruction of a people and a culture that is much harder to build than a hoard of wealth, which seems to have become the god of the rich nations, the so-called developed nations.

The story can be told and retold many times and always the people who pay the highest price are those who are left standing in place, in their home country, or what’s left of it. It is estimated that 50 percent of the mining that is being done in Latin America is generated by corporations in Canada, according to Mining Watch Canada. The nearly unredeemable damage from extractive industries (oil, and water, as well) is being done throughout the world by the transnational corporations of many countries. But, we’re talking here about Canada and the U.S., and both have much to answer for in this regard.

Over the long haul, Canada has been convinced to give at least lip service to indigenous peoples of their own country, those called First Nations, but they have not given full consideration to the peoples’ wishes and all is not well in the places where they live, just as the U.S. has seeming insurmountable problems on the Indian reservations: extreme poverty, malnutrition, substandard housing, lack of jobs, and drug and alcohol abuse.

One only has to consider the tar sands region of the Province of Alberta, where the indigenous people are suffering sickness and disease and have to live with the knowledge that their water and land are being destroyed, because of the extraction of oily sands for shipment to the U.S. and, eventually, to other countries. Or, consider the continuing attempt of politicians in the U.S. to use an Apache sacred mountain in Arizona for a nuclear waste dump, an act that would prohibit the use of it and culturally destroy it forever.

And, these things are being done where the press has an opportunity to see the response and where indigenous peoples can find supporters among the general populace. Imagine what these governments and transnational corporations do out of sight of the global community and out of sight of those who would monitor their adherence or violation of any declaration or convention of rights of indigenous peoples. What you can imagine, they do and, in doing so, they commit the ultimate violation of human rights: they destroy cultures.

The rights of indigenous peoples around the world are being abrogated on a daily basis, by the U.S., Canada, European countries, and in Asia. No powerful nation and no corporation is respectful of those rights and the corporations can act as they wish, as long as their governments are complicit and as long as they are encouraged to carry on their work. After all, that’s what “progress” and “development” are all about, right?

When a corporation thrusts itself into an indigenous community, it brings not only violence to the land, but to the people themselves. Some of the people want the mine and the money it will bring, some want to keep out the deadly intrusion that leads to the disintegration of an entire community. Whether nations adhere to indigenous rights as enumerated in the declarations and conventions is up to the politicians, most of whom likely never have read the documents. As long as the damage done is out of sight, for these powerful people, it will continue until the end of resources is reached on a finite planet. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion by Jamala Rogers