Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 20, 2009

UN testimony: Canada discriminates against Aboriginal rights

UN CERD Submission Canada Racial Discriminates Against Aboriginal Proprietary Rights

Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET)

(Geneva, Switzerland, February 19, 2009) Bertha Williams and Arthur Manuel were given opportunity to address the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, (CERD) Working Group on Early Warning and Urgent Action, on a written submission they made to CERD. Bertha Williams is from the Tsawwassen Peoples and resident of the Tsawwassen Indian Reserve near Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. Arthur Manuel is Secwepemc and spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET). Mr. Manuel is from the Neskonlith Indian Reserve in south central British Columbia near Kamloops, Canada.

Mr. Arthur Manuel stated "the document submitted to the UN CERD points out that Canada racially discriminates against Indigenous Peoples proprietary rights, by systemically not recognizing judicially recognized and constitutionally protected Aboriginal Title. This is causing irreparable damage and harm to Indigenous Peoples." He said "this is very contradictory to the way Canada should be behaving since Canada sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council. Canada should lead the way in terms of recognizing Indigenous proprietary rights since they are essential to our human rights. But Canada voted twice against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada is living in the dark ages when it comes to our human rights as Indigenous Peoples."

Bertha Williams told the UN CERD Working Group that she felt that her Aboriginal Title will be extinguished and she stated "This is my birthright handed to me by my parents and grandparents and ancestors. This is a legacy that I want to pass to my children and grandchildren. But, it will be severed come April 3, 2009 when the Tsawwassen Agreement comes into force."

Bertha Williams asked the UN CERD to "scrutinize – investigate the treaty vote process" and "delay the effective date – April 3, 2009".

Arthur Manuel provided the Working Group with a power point giving a brief background of how the Canadian government has been forcing all groups of Indigenous Peoples negotiating with the government to borrow money and comply with the federal and provincial policy to extinguish their Aboriginal Title under the Nisga'a modified rights model.

Arthur Manuel raised the Sun Peaks' expansion and the Xaxli'p and Lheidli T'enneh negative experience with the British Columbia Treaty Process.

Mr. Manuel raised Sun Peaks' expansion - business as usual - without any negotiations or consultation and accommodation. Mr. Manuel said "our land is being sold right from under our feet". Mr. Manuel asked "Sun Peaks expansion must stop until the Aboriginal Title is settled".

Mr. Manuel also pointed out how the federal and provincial government uses the poverty of Indigenous Peoples to loan money to Indigenous Peoples under the British Columbia Treaty Negotiation Loan Fund. In Mr. Manuel's power point presentation pointed out that the federal and provincial governments have given Indigenous Peoples $345.6 million dollars in treaty negotiation loans since 1993.

Mr. Manuel specifically raised the Xaxlip Peoples bad experience with these loans. Specifically pointing out that the Department of Indian Affairs wants "either our land or our money". In this particular situation the Department of Indian Affairs said that it is at their discretion to triple the "working capital ratio" unless the loan is paid off. The Department of Indian Affairs is asking that the $2.1 million dollar loan to Xaxli'p be paid over 5 year period at 4.2% which would result in $23 thousand dollars monthly payments.

The BC Treaty Loans are responsibility of all Band Members and are supposed to be taken off the top of any cash settlement funds after a Final Agreement is reached. Bertha Williams said in Tsawwassen Final Agreement, the loans were approximately $5 million dollars and the cash settlement is approximately $15 million dollars, which means their cash settlement would be only $10 million dollars.

Mr. Manuel also raised the issue of the Lheidli T'enneh who voted against their Final Agreement and how the Department of Indian Affairs used the working capital ratio and loan payments to threaten the Lheidli T'enneh elected Chief and Council to stay in the BC Treaty Process despite the fact the Lheidli T'enneh voted against the Final Agreement. The purpose of staying in the BC Treaty Process was to organize a revote on the Final Agreement.

Mr. Manuel asked the UN CERD Working Group to support the position that these loans not be repayable and that the whole treaty loan negotiation program be examined.

Mr. Patrick Thornberry, Chairman of the UN CERD Working Group on Early Warning and Urgent Action thanked Bertha Williams and Arthur Manuel for their oral and written submissions and advised them that a decision will follow after further investigation and that meetings will happen next week on this matter.

The attached "Executive Summary" and the "Request for Urgent Action under Early Warning Procedure to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of the United Nations, by Bertha Williams of the Tsawwassen Peoples; Dexter Quaw, Hereditary Chief of the Lheidli T'enneh Peoples; Chief Darrell Bob, Xaxli'p Indian Band; and Skwelkwek'welt Protection Center, In Relation to Canada, February 9, 2009, Prepared with the Assistance of the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade", more fully develop the racially discriminatory practices of Canada in regard to Aboriginal Title.
Arthur MANUEL or +41 022 734 74 64
Bertha WILLIAMS or +41 022 733 08 74
Arthur Manuel

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