The Native Women’s Association of Canada denounced Canada’s Conservative government at the United Nations May 22 for its opposition to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people.
NWAC President Beverly Jacobs was participating in a UN panel discussion on Indigenous women, lands and resources led by the Tebtebba Foundation from the Philippines.
On June 29, 2006, she explained the UN Human Rights Council adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a decision that was brought about by more than 20 years of work by indigenous peoples and the United Nations system. But the Declaration has not been ratified by Canada.
Jacobs’ desire was to make a strong and unified statement on how all governments need to support the rights of indigenous people by passing the declaration, which calls for indigenous people to become self-determining nations.
“We are part of our land and our territories that they (government) cannot develop anymore,” Jacobs said. “They can’t do anything that affects our rights as people without our consent and without informing us as to what is occurring to our lands and territories and developing it without, not only without our knowledge but without our consent!”
The world’s looming water crisis was also a big part of NWAC’s presentation “Without water none of us will be here,” said Jacobs. .
Water is of special concern to the Cree given the conflict over hydro resources in Northern Quebec, said Jacobs.
At the same time, Jacobs’ goal was also to highlight some of the earnest attempts that her people have made in the name of conservation. She told the story of a female elder who has been travelling around the Great Lakes, lending her voice and her prayers to preserve the water and to raise awareness.
“There was another support to an indigenous man who was taking the issues to Geneva in respect to privatization of water and to stop it because they are privatizing water from the Great Lakes,” she explained. Among the companies taking control of water is Nestle.
Nestle’s head offices are in Geneva and in presenting these stories it was Jacobs’ hope that the Canadian government will start paying attention to how they are allowing corporations to take hold of resources that were not even theirs to begin with.
When asked as to what in her opinion was the greatest threat towards indigenous women internationally she alarmingly responded with, “extinction.” Jacobs drew a disturbing parallel between the violence indigenous women face both here at home and internationally and the violence that Mother Nature herself is experiencing. Jacobs believes that there is a direct correlation between a violated earth and the issues that are affecting indigenous women.
“You know, the high rates of imprisonment of aboriginal women in Canada, the forced displacement of our women from our traditional territories, there is a direct link there between our women who have been violated.” For Jacobs, part of the identity of an indigenous woman is a life-giver, and for her as a life giver, she fears for the generations to come.
Not all of Jacobs time was spent in caucus, she explained how outside of the formal meetings there are a number of side events during lunch breaks that the NWAC attended and participated in. The focus of these side events throughout the forum was violence against women and groups from Hawaii, Guatemala, Mexico and Columbia participated alongside Canada.
“They are all indigenous women who are suffering the same violence. It is a very strong message that has come out of the work that we have been doing to bring the attention to governments, to the UN, we are trying to bring the attention to where it is happening.”
When asked how well Canada fared compared to other nations in regards to its indigenous people, Jacobs responded, “Well, it never is good. They have been chastised by the UN many times for their treatment of indigenous women.”
She cited Canada’s failing grade when it came to the committee on the elimination of racial discrimination. “They (the UN) weren’t satisfied with Canada’s latest response to violence against indigenous women in Canada and had asked them what they are going to continue to do. This current government is telling us that their priority is aboriginal women and children, well, we have not seen anything yet.”
Moving on to the current shortcomings of the Canadian government, Jacobs had much to say about Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice and her frustration with how the department did not even have a mandate tofund NWAC. “We were able to get funding through different projects and that kind of thing. However, the whole process now is that they have to transfer and do all of their political processes. It’s all about writing memos to cabinet and it has to be approved by Treasury Board and all of those things that have to occur within the political process in order for them to actually fund NWAC as a national Aboriginal organization.”
Of course, it all eats up precious time and money for NWAC, funding that could be going towards actually addressing the issues. A number of important women’s groups were cut off by the Conservative government when they began slashing funding to Status of Women last fall. Sisters in Spirit, which Jacobs described as a “poster child” for aboriginal women’s groups, was one of groups on the Conservative chopping block. Prentice has said that violence towards indigenous women is a serious issue but, according to Jacobs, so far it has been all talk and no action.
“We already know that this is a crisis situation with the murdered and missing women across Canada,” said Jacobs.
Ending the cycle of violence is not just about providing more women’s shelters but getting to the root of violence. “We always present those things (lack of funding for shelters), we always say you know there aren’t enough shelters on reserves but also what we are trying to say is there shouldn’t be shelters. We should not be dealing with these issues of violence in the community.”
At the heart of it all, Jacobs wants to know what Canada is really going to do about violence as a national issue, not just on the reserves and not just within the aboriginal population. “What are we doing in order to address the violence not only in our communities but also in urban centres and how are those issues being addressed?”