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UN rapporteur concerned with access to food for First Nations
Chiefs are not surprised that a report from the United Nations special rapporteur contains harsh criticism when it comes to the difficulties First Nations have in accessing food.
“Some of us still live off the land, like the trappers. You need water to live, you need the land and it comes all with the hunting, the fishing, the subsistence living,” said Treaty 6 Grand Chief Cameron Alexis, who also serves as Chief for the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. “The use of water and land for industry is affecting how we get water from springs, is affecting the fish, is affecting the woodland caribou. So who we are as people is being changed and the right of food is a question from that concept.”
Not only is traditional life being impacted, but those who move into the cities are also having difficulty accessing food.
“Our people are slowly moving into urban centres and painfully a lot of our people end up in poverty. Is Canada doing enough to address our people in poverty? In a have country, we still have people going hungry,” said Alexis.
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, was asked by First Nations to include western Canada on his 11-day Canadian tour in May. The invitation came in March when a First Nations delegation, which included Alexis, made a presentation in Geneva to the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The presentation was an alternative report on how Canada was failing to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which contains provisions regarding fundamental requirements such as food, health and education, and provisions regarding use of traditional resources and land areas.
De Schutter spent a day on the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation listening to oral presentations from members of the Treaty 6 Nations. He was told that oil, gas and forestry development was infringing on treaty rights and making it difficult for Indigenous people to gather berries, herbs and medicines, to fish, to hunt and to trap.
In his report, De Schutter writes, “In many parts of Canada access to country foods requires access to land. As such, on-going land claims across the country have implications for the right to food among Aboriginal Canadians. Concerns have been raised that although Aboriginal title is recognized under Canadian law, the government has made attempts to extinguish title through onerous negotiations and terms of modern land claims and self-government agreements, as well as through a narrow and reductionist reading of historical treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.”
While De Schutter calls on the federal government to fulfill its policy to consult meaningfully, Alexis says the provincial government also needs to be taken to task on its policies which are impacting First Nations treaty rights. Alexis points to the provincial Public Lands Administration Regulations which requires First Nations people to ask Environment and Sustainable Resource Development for an extension if they wish to spend more than 14 days on the land.
Alberta Aboriginal Relations Minister Robin Campbell says the report needs to be taken “for what it is. (De Schutter) came over, he’s looked, and expressed his concern.”
Campbell said the province recognizes that food security is an issue that affects all Albertans and not only Aboriginal people. He said the government has initiated healthy eating programs and education throughout the province and reserves.
“We understand the challenges we face are pretty complex and we will continue to address them in ways that will benefit all Albertans. We’ll continue to have dialogue with all the chiefs,” he said.
Alexis said for the issues to be addressed and the widening gaps to be closed “dialogue” must mean full consultation and not legislation.
“We need to meet equally at the table and jointly address what our people need,” he said. “Canada and the province must simply work with us.”
De Schutter writes, “The Special Rapporteur believes that continued and concerted measures are needed to develop new initiatives and reform existing ones, in consultation and in real partnership with indigenous peoples with the goal of strengthening indigenous peoples’ own self-determination and decision-making over their affairs at all levels.”
The report, said Driftpile First Nations Chief Rose Laboucan, is a tool that First Nations can use as they push against the changing landscape and their changing lifestyles.
“I’m glad that the UN has recognized (our needs) and hopefully other countries can influence Canada to be looking at the real issues of the environment,” she said.
De Schutter’s visit to Canada is the first time the UN’s Special Rapporteur has been sent to a wealthy nation by the UN’s Human Rights Council.
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