Amnesty International’s Craig Benjamin presented on “Is the Prosperity Mine a Human Rights Issue?” Wednesday at the Gibraltar Room.

Amnesty International’s Craig Benjamin presented on “Is the Prosperity Mine a Human Rights Issue?” Wednesday at the Gibraltar Room.

Amnesty leader explains indigenous people’s rights

Canada signed on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples two years after it was adopted globally.

Canada signed on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples two years after it was adopted globally but it remains intransigent when it comes to respecting the declaration’s tenants, according to Amnesty International.

Craig Benjamin, a representative for the organization known globally for human rights advocacy,  was in Williams Lake Tuesday making a presentation on the declaration itself and the struggles of indigenous people to receive those rights in Canada.

Marilyn Baptiste, chief of Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, speaking on the Prosperity Mine project told the crowd prior to the presentation, “The lands that sustain us can not be forsaken for 20 years of mine life for the dollar,” she said.

“In history we had our economy and it was trading and we survived off the land. We still do hunt and fish and our job is to protect the land, the fish, the wildlife for future generations. That cannot be forsaken.”

Baptiste noted that First Nations in Canada find themselves in similar circumstances to indigenous peoples in other parts of the world who are also fighting for their rights against governments and corporations.

In his presentation Benjamin said the organization’s goal was to ensure people have the opportunity to live their  rights not just talk about them.

“The key message is that fairness and justice have to be a first principle when we make decisions bout whether a mine goes ahead,” he said.

Benjamin cited Articles 18 and 19 of the U.N. Declaration noting they are the ones to guide the actions of government in projects like Prosperity.

The two articles state: “Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.”

And: “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”

The international system says governments need to recognize indigenous peoples customary ways of owning and using the land. They must work with people to protect land and have greater opportunities to survive to ensure the wrongs of the past aren’t repeated to harm future generations, Benjamin told the audience.

He added that in Canada the decisions, particularly related to land use and First Nations, are taking place within a system that is, “blatantly unfair.”

He said that despite constitutional recognition of aboriginal rights and title, Canadian governments act like those rights don’t exist until the court makes a judgement or a treaty settlement is reached.

“While the case is still in the courts the federal and provincial governments feel they have no need to protect Aboriginal rights to land,” he said. “It’s business as usual like the right hasn’t been established and therefore they (government) do not need to act to protect that right.”

That approach, said Benjamin, creates disincentives for governments to reach negotiated settlements or for government to resolve cases.

“If you can get away with denying rights why wouldn’t you,” he said.

Canadian courts have laid out the concept of First Nations’ accommodation where governments are required to undertake meaningful consultation; however, the federal and provincial governments are slow in developing policies for consultation and accommodation, he added.

More frequently, said Benjamin, the argument is being made that it makes a “poor business case” to get involved in  projects against the wishes of indigenous peoples.

Benjamin added the actions of the Canadian government regarding indigenous peoples are particularly disgraceful given that Canada is a champion of human rights elsewhere in the world. He characterized human rights as not only providing a legal framework but a moral framework and encouraged  Canadians to speak out on the issue.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An aerial photograph captures snowmobile tracks in the Cameron Ridge area earlier this year, which is closed to snowmobilers. The closures are in place to protect sensitive caribou herds. (Conservation Officer Service photo)
Snowmobilers fined for operating in closed caribou habitat near Likely, B.C.

The investigation revealed they had spent several hours in the closure leaving extensive tracks

The RCMP arrest one of the suspects on Highway 97 courtesy of cell phone footage shot by a bystander. (April Thomas photo)
WATCH: Two suspects arrested after multi-jurisdictional chase

A half dozen police cars were seen heading north on Highway 97

Commercial tenants at the Williams Lake Regional Airport have been granted an additional six-month rent reprieve. (Angie Mindus file photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Continuing rent relief for Williams Lake Airport tenants considered

City council discussed the option during a committee of the whole meeting

The Grade 2 class of 150 Mile House Elementary attended Cariboo Memorial Hospital with teacher Kirsty Bowers to deliver “kindness” bags full of small gifts to housekeeping staff. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
150 Mile House students deliver gift bags showing appreciation for hospital staff

Students begin Monday morning with a bus trip to Cariboo Memorial Hospital

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports 16 new COVID-19 cases

423 cases remain active in the region

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The area on Cordova Bay Road where ancestral human remains were discovered Feb. 22. (Submitted photo)
Human remains discovery a reminder of B.C. Indigenous culture dug up and displaced

‘These are the people who inspired and birthed the generations that we now have here’

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

Kamloops This Week
Cause of Kamloops landfill fire may never be known

Fire investigators are dealing with too much destruction in too large an area

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

Most Read