Fifth Session Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues May 15-26,2006 BUFFALO RIVER DENE NATION Statement for Agenda Item #4a
Madame Chairperson, Human Rights violations come in many different forms and today's governments and corporations have refined ways to violate the basic Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
My name is Adelard Blackman, I am the special emissary for Chief Louis Chinalquay and the people of Buffalo River Dene Nation located in northwest Saskatchewan, Canada. On their behalf, I take this opportunity to explain to you how the Human Rights of the Buffalo River Dene. Nation are violated to this day.
100 years ago, in 1906, our nation signed a Treaty with the British Crown. The Treaty has been broken, disregarded, and systematically undermined by a large amount of legislation, which impedes the use of our land and natural resources, and culturally assimilates our people; despite guarantees given by the British Crown at the time of the Treaty signing that such would not occur.
We consider ourselves the caretakers of our land, something that we have done for thousands of years. Our, Traditional Territories are being invaded by corporations' intent on resource extraction. Today, we face not only legislation that impairs our self'- development, but also a system designed to bring to an end our traditional life as we know it.
I now quote an excerpt from a letter from our Chief to the Prime Minister of Canada dated May 18, 2006:
"On October l7th 2005 Chief and Council passed a Band Council Resolution to the Federal and Provincial Government informing them that Buffalo River Dene Nation has retaken our Traditional Territory, our land, our natural resources and water. No development will happen within our Traditional Territory until we are consulted and the free, prior and informed consent of the Buffalo River Dene Nation is obtained.
We are aware that the Federal and Provincial Governments and multinational corporations are poised to begin development in our Territory. At this point, we are restating to you that no development will be allowed in our Territory without our free, prior and informed consent. We would like to make it clear that we, the people of Buffalo River Dene Nation are prepared to defend our position by any means necessary."
Our people suffer from continuous exploitation and marginalization while multinationals, via the Canadian government, bleed our Territory of resources. The Federal and Provincial governments are enabling corporations to exploit the oil, gas, timber, diamonds, uranium, water, etcetera, of which we are caretakers, without our agreement. This resource extraction has no benefit to us and the process leaves the land plundered and Dene people exposed to an increase in health risks. Furthermore, this is in violation of the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling in Haida Nation and Taku River stating governments have a duty to consult indigenous peoples before granting rights to third parties to develop resources on indigenous lands.
It is extremely difficult to protect our community, the land and water we depend on when the Government of Canada, and the Provinces, create rules that do not respect our treaty or our people. Because we have exhausted all legal avenues in Canada, we are being forced to take legal action at an international level to remedy the violation and flagrant disregard of our basic human rights as Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
While the Canadian government sits across the room and explains so eloquently just how well they take care of their Indigenous Peoples and how Canada is among the greatest Human Rights defenders of the world, it is extraordinarily difficult to sit here and tell you what we go through as a people.
Madame Chairperson, the Buffalo River Dene Nation recommends the following to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and requests action be taken following its mandate:
1. To monitor Buffalo River Dene Nation's conflict with the Canadian government as it unfolds locally and internationally;
2. To take note of the recommendations made to Canada by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people;
In addition, because of the effect on all Indigenous Peoples' Right to Self-Determination we request the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:
3. To insist that the Working Group on Indigenous Populations be continued;
4. To encourage the Human Rights Council to pass the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
5. To make an immediate investigation on the legal and ethical questions raised by Indigenous Peoples concerning the National Geographic's Genographic Project undertaken in partnership with the IBM Corporation and the Waitt Family Foundation of Gateway Computer.
Madame Chairperson, I would like to state emphatically that Buffalo River Nation would not allow any development or genetic sampling within its Traditional Territory until the issue of self-determination, land, and resources has been resolved.
Executive Summary Presented to the UN July 2003
Once a thriving community of over 250,000 people, the Dene Nation is now seriously threatened. Not only have they lost between 60 and 80% of their inhabitants since the arrival of colonial powers within their traditional territories through the effects of chronic unemployment, poverty, political powerlessness, and personal despair; today they continue to suffer the consequences of colonization arising from governmental, corporate, and military oppression.
For these reasons, the Dene began to undertake a series of initiatives (in the 1990s) aimed at regaining access to the land in question. The first of these was the "Catarat/Sylvestre" case, which sought to support legal challenges to governmental limitations on hunting and resource extraction. After eight years of litigation the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, but was ultimately denied a hearing because the Supreme Court judge claimed there were "too many implications for Canada".
In light of the ruling, the Canadian Government today continues to unilaterally pass legislation that allows billions upon billions of dollars in resources to be extracted from traditional Dene territories, without compensation and without the free and prior consent of the rightful owners of the land. The Dene people are aware that this is a further step to marginalize and extinguish their rights as a people.
The Chief and Council of the Buffalo River Dene Nation subsequently decided to send a Special Emissary to Europe to investigate the possibility of launching legal action at the international level, and obtaining the support of the UN Human Rights Committee, the European Parliament and others. The purpose of this was based on the premise that by applying international political pressure, the Canadian government might eventually consider a shift in policy.
In April 2003, the Special Emissary arrived at the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights and gave the following statement:
We, the Buffalo River Dene Nation, under international law, in the signing of Treaty #10, declare that we are a Sovereign Nation within a Nation, and that the Catarat/Sylvestre case was not properly dealt with at the Supreme Court in Canada. Therefore we will take action, as the Buffalo River Dene Nation, and hereby give notice to the Canadian Government and multinational corporations within our territories that we intend to take our case before the World Court at The Hague, Netherlands, for Human Rights violations in regards to the loss of our Treaty Rights.
Almost predictably, the reaction of the Canadian government was harsh. Canadian officials have since condemned the Dene as being "dissidents", and have expressed no willingness to consider a shift in policy, or to engage in constructive dialogue. Hence, with no alternatives remaining in Canada - be it legal or otherwise - and with justice far from being realized, the Dene Nation are looking to launch legal action at the international level. While nothing of the kind has ever before been attempted, the anguish of the people has forced them to seek redress by whatever means necessary.
The Dene people are not interested in retaliating against the government, they are simply looking for their basic human rights to be recognized and for justice under the international rule of law.
In order to achieve justice for the Dene people, the Dene Nation Recovery and Development Initiative (DNRDI) was developed to outline the required stages needed to fulfill this aim. The DNRDI is coordinated and implemented by the recently established Buffalo River Dene Nation (BRDN) NGO in Geneva, Switzerland, as Geneva is the hub for international human rights law.
The BRDN NGO consists of the Board of Elders which is the overarching decision making body of the organization. The members of the Board are chosen by the Dene people themselves in a manner consistent to their custom and tradition. The Special Emissary to the Dene Nation and Chairman of the BRDN NGO coordinates and approves activities of the General Secretariat members that implement various actions required to achieve the aims of the DNRDI.
The two main aims of the DNRDI and the activities of the BRDN NGO are to develop a legal strategy for the Dene people to have their case mounted in the International Court of Justice by 2007. At the same time, it seeks to tackle current social problems and development issues for the Dene people by implementing programs related to education, health and the environment.
These initiatives would look to seek a new precedent for human relations, not only between the Canadian government, Canadian corporations, and the Dene Nation, but between nationals everywhere and their aboriginal populations.
The following is an outline of the objectives and activities of the BRDN NGO:
The BRDN NGO seeks funds for two main purposes: 1. Legal Strategy and Action 2. Development
In order to carry out any of the aims of the BRDN NGO, the DNRDI funds and resources must be raised as soon as possible to enable the BRDN NGO to function as effectively as possible.
At present, funding for the legal initiative is being sought through government bodies, corporations, famous personalities and major foundations. It is estimated that for the next four to five years the total amount of Sfr 8,370,120 will be needed in order to instigate litigation in the relevant international human rights forums.
Funds related to development will be sought through various grant providing bodies, private individuals, governments and foundations related or interested in human rights, indigenous issues and/or social development as well as through public fundraising activities. The General Secretariat and an Appointed Accountant will oversee and regulate the use of all granted funds.
Any court-awarded funds will be put into the Dene Trust Fund and administered by the Dene people themselves specifically for the benefit of the economic and social revival of their people.
Currently research is being undertaken in regards to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Inter-American Human Rights Court and the International Court of Justice. It is anticipated that a succinct summary of each international forum available to the Dene people will be completed by the beginning of March 2004. Once completed, this document will serve as the focal point to the further development of the legal strategy in accordance to the rules and procedures of each forum.
In any respect, it is estimated that by 2007 the Dene people hope to have their case heard in the International Court of Justice.
At present, grants for human rights legal education and training programs are being sought so that all the Dene people involved in this case remain fully informed, educated and consulted as to all aspects of the legal action to be taken on their behalf.
Other development issues include health, the environment as well as the economic and social welfare of the Dene people. The BRDN NGO in consultation with the Dene people and other related NGOs, are working together to implement strategies to combat these issues.
Currently a four part documentary on the Dene people and their case is being filmed and edited in the next two years to be screened on national television stations worldwide. The documentary provides an insight into Dene history and culture, the events that led to mounting their legal case in international forums as well as introducing the team involved in their quest for justice.
A website on the BRDN NGO is anticipated upon adequate funding being granted and is seen as a necessary tool to promote the Dene case to as many people as possible worldwide.
Public benefit shows are also being organized to raise awareness of the Dene case in Geneva, Switzerland as it is the location of the BRDN NGO and the centre for international human rights law.
It is essential for the future benefit of humankind that such diverse cultures, like the Dene culture, are revered and provided the opportunity to maintain themselves freely.
For the Dene, their land is their cultural, social and economic sustainer - their life force. Without this, their identity is none.
For this reason, the Dene people are determined to obtain justice for themselves so that future generations of Dene children do not suffer from the social, cultural and economic degradation that is experienced today by the Dene caused by these events of the past. It is therefore essential that the Dene are able to obtain justice under the international rule of law so that a sense of hope and faith can be restored back into the Dene people and their future.