Out of sight, out of mind – as usual
I am as guilty as the majority of Canadians in not knowing, until community leaders held a news conference at the Ontario Legislature, what has been going on at the Kashechewan First Nation for years – a ‘boil water advisory’. It gets worse. As the national media scrambles to cover this disgraceful situation more than 100 other First Nations communities, with boil water advisories, are reminding us that this tragedy in Kashechewan is, by no means, an isolated case.
It isn’t and yet it is. With electoral districts in our northern regions so huge, which keeps sparse populations under-represented, communities are isolated from each other and from the rest of Canada. Does that make them any less deserving of safe drinking water? Of course not. However the cynical way that governments cover their political asses – being lap-dogs to the largest, wealthiest blocks of voters – leaves NDP Members of Parliament Charlie Angus (federal) and Gilles Bisson (provincial) scrambling to get attention for their constituents. Well it seems that, with the prodding of first nations’ leaders, something may finally get done. Why did it take invoking memories of the Walkerton water tragedy to get southern attention? And how Hurricane Katrina-esque is it to have the Canadian Red Cross appealing for donations of toiletries for the traumatized, evacuated residents of Kashechewan?
The Lubicon take their case to the UN
On October 17, 2005, a delegation from the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation addressed the 85th session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in Geneva.
It has been fifteen years since the UNHRC concluded “historical inequities” and “more recent developments” have endangered the way of life and the culture of the Lubicon Nation. The Committee ruled that “so long as they continue” these threats are a violation of the Lubicons’ fundamental human rights.
At the time, the Canadian government assured the Human Rights Committee that it was seeking a land rights settlement with the Lubicons — a settlement that is needed to provide adequate housing with running water, support economic development and restore self-sufficiency to the Lubicon people.
Fifteen years later, there is no settlement agreement and no negotiations towards a settlement agreement.
Lubicon Councilor Alphonse Ominayak spoke to the UNHRC in Geneva. He said, “Canada lied to the UN Human Rights Committee about the contents of the so-called “take-it-or-leave-it” settlement offer they gave to the Lubicon people in January of 1989.”
He said, “Canada lied to the Canadian people about the decision of the decision made by the UN Human Rights Committee in 1990 finding Canada in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights over Canadian treatment of the Lubicon people.”
He said, “Canada has not engaged in any good faith negotiations sincerely intended to achieve settlement of Lubicon land rights since the 1990 Committee decision and in fact both levels of Canadian government have continued to aggressively try and tear Lubicon society to shreds in order to steal valuable Lubicon lands and resources.”
Ominayak said, “There have been no negotiations at all of any kind between Canada and the Lubicon people since the end of 2003 when Canadian representatives took the position that they had no mandate to negotiate long-standing Lubicon settlement issues including self-government and financial compensation.”
The Lubicon people asked the Committee, at minimum, for two things;
1.) That the Committee publicly reconfirm the 1990 Committee decision holding Canada in continuing violation of the Covenant until the Lubicon situation is satisfactorily resolved;
2.) That the Committee press Canada to send negotiators back to the negotiating table with a full mandate to negotiate outstanding Lubicon settlement issues and firm instructions to negotiate in good faith.
And, so, this open letter to the Prime Minister:
The Rt.Hon. Paul Martin
Prime Minister of Canada
Government of Canada
Canada K1A 0A6
As the national media scrambles to cover the disgraceful situation on the Kashechewan First Nation Reserve I draw your attention to another crisis facing the Lubicons. For anybody to have to live under the conditions these people face is a tragedy. For the Lubicons to face these conditions in one of the richest areas of one of the richest countries of the world is appalling. For these conditions to have been deliberately imposed on the Lubicon people by the government of a country that holds itself out to the world as a human rights model for others is an affront to all decent people.
While I join with Canadians in demanding immediate action to rebuild the Kashechewan community, I also support the urgent request of the Lubicon people that the government of Canada
- stop using discussions with the Assembly of First Nations as an excuse to duck the Canadian government’s constitutional responsibility to negotiate a settlement of unceded Lubicon aboriginal land rights with the Lubicon people;
- negotiate a fair and just settlement of unceded Lubicon aboriginal land rights with the Lubicon people starting with:
- immediately giving government negotiators a full mandate to negotiate all outstanding issues, including self-government and financial compensation;
- renounce the Canadian Justice Department Guidelines for Federal Self-government Negotiators effectively giving Canadian negotiators instructions on how to negotiate recognition of aboriginal
self-government in bad faith;
- giving Canadian negotiators firm instructions to negotiate in good faith.
(letter, and report of the appearance at the UN, adapted from Friends of the Lubicon)