Mining and the UN Declaration

by Sue and Harley Eagle

In 2020, MCC celebrates 100 years of relief, development and peace and one way we want to mark this anniversary is by sharing articles and stories from the archives. Calling for change and for a more peaceful and just world has been foundational to MCC’s work for decades. MCC has published articles about economic justice, domestic violence, land claims, military spending, conscientious objection, peace theology, and many more.

This week, we want to share a 2010 article, which was published in the Peace Office Newsletter called ‘Mining Justice:

Historically, Indigenous peoples have been relocated when their traditional territories were found to have valuable natural resources.

The Black Hills were stolen by the United States government just 9 years after the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 was signed; gold was found during an illegal foray into territory of the Lakota and their Indigenous allies.

The Ouje’Bougoumou Cree (Quebec) have been relocated at least seven times since 1927, due to collusion of the Canadian government and mining companies that wanted to get access to rich natural resources.

Within the last two decades, many Dine’h (Navajo) have been relocated to lands polluted with toxic waste, so that coal mining can take place on traditional Dine’h lands which were never ceded to the United States.

Mining companies in Canada and the U.S. are required to consult with Indigenous peoples before beginning exploration or extraction of minerals when their lives stand to be impacted by the mining activity. The term “consultation” gives the impression that local people have input and their needs and interests related to land use are weighed in a decision. In many cases companies and governments spend some time taking statements, which they weigh as less important than the company’s profit, jobs provided to predominantly non-Indigenous people, and the promise of increased government revenue through tax dollars.

Indigenous communities want free, prior and informed consent on the use of their land by the mining companies, and they expect government assistance in protecting the health of the land.

Protesters at a rally on Parliament Hill on June 12, 2019 advocate for the passing of Bill-262 through the Senate. (MCC Photo/Anna Vogt)

As the Chiefs of the lnnu Strategic Alliance emphasized regarding potential mining activity by Labrador Iron Mines, Ltd. in June 2010,

“We are open to constructive dialogue with the governments and the companies as long as our cultural, economic, social, environmental and spiritual aspirations are respected. We are not against all forms of development of the territory but we are against all development held without our consent.”

Indigenous peoples have an important document to assist them in having a greater voice regarding mining activity on their lands and territories. In 2007 the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) was adopted. If the Declaration were to be effectively implemented by UN Member States, it would result in significant improvements to the lives of the more than 370 million Indigenous peoples who are often among the world’s most impoverished and oppressed peoples.

However, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand voted against passing this Declaration in 2007.

In early 2010 the Canadian government announced that it would take steps to endorse UNDRIP in a manner consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws.

On March 19, 2019, Canadian faith leaders, including MCC’s Rick Cober Bauman (far left, back row), met with members of the Senate to express their support for the passing of Bill C-262. The group is pictured with Senator Murray Sinclair (back row centre). (MCC photo)

The laws and Constitutions of Canada and the United States are not consistent with the need for collective rights of Indigenous nations. They have not protected Indigenous nations from being separated from their traditional lands, or ensured that they are a part of all decisions that directly affect them and the lands that should be theirs by treaty.

The United States of America announced in April 2010 at the United Nations that it is reviewing its position on the Declaration, and New Zealand and Australia, like Canada, have also announced their willingness to give “qualified” approval to the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.

While it is encouraging to hear of possible shifts in the attitudes of the nations who formerly refused to sign on to the UN Declaration, nothing has yet changed. To give qualified approval means that a country is not intending to hold itself fully to this international document that Indigenous peoples have worked more than two decades to create.

Mennonite Central Committee Canada has written several letters to the federal government requesting that Canada sign on to the UN Declaration without qualifiers. We wait with cautious optimism to see what transpires.

Sue and Harley Eagle were Co-coordinators of MCC Canada’s work with Indigenous people when this article was published

Learn more and take action:

Today, 10 years later, the work of advocating for equal rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada continues. Since 2010, Canada has endorsed the UN Declaration and the Trudeau government has promised to implement a legislative framework this year. 

Read more about recent advocacy work here and send a letter to the Minster of Justice and your Member of Parliament here to urge the government to prioritize promised legislation to create a legal framework to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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