In a keynote address to an international Commonwealth indigenous peoples’ summit in Georgetown, Guyana, Grand Council of the Crees’ Special Envoy Romeo Saganash detailed the “gross disparities” facing aboriginal peoples across Canada, and called for the abandonment of ongoing federal policies of extinguishment of aboriginal rights.
Addressing leading indigenous peoples’ organizations and governmental delegates from Commonwealth countries across the globe, Saganash condemned the federal policy of extinguishment of Aboriginal rights as leading directly to the “appalling” social conditions facing aboriginal peoples in Canada today.
The Grand Council’s submission – based on analysis of all land claims agreements signed in Canada since 1975 and a number of secret Cabinet documents – established that the federal government is still aggressively extinguishing constitutionally-protected Aboriginal rights in all modern land claims agreements it signs.
Saganash pointed out that this is occurring in spite of international human rights judgments at the highest level declaring extinguishment a violation of fundamental human rights, and despite recent official representations by Canada to U.N. human rights entities that it has stopped requiring that aboriginal rights be extinguished in modern land claims agreements.
“Policies of extinguishment that are used to sanitize past injustices and dispossession will not bring about social or legal certainty,” said Saganash.
“Aboriginal peoples in Canada have learned through bitter experience that the only certainty gained through the federal government’s comprehensive claims process is the lasting certainty of our continued poverty, marginalization and exclusion from the economic and political wealth now derived from our traditional lands.”
The Commonwealth meeting called for an end to the “invisibility” of Indigenous Peoples in Commonwealth Americas, thus requiring the member States to give due attention to their fundamental human rights and their land and resource rights.
The delegates at the summit expressed strong concern over the ease with which countries have to this day disregarded the treaties or commitments made to them by the Crown over the centuries, including the recent past, to recognise and protect Indigenous Peoples rights to their land, resources, economies and way of life.
Even today the countries of the Commonwealth, be they “recently-independ-ent” States or major “developed” States such as Canada and Australia, are slow to adopt appropriate measures to recognise land titles or return lands which are central to Indigenous Peoples governance and social cohesion.
The delegates also noted with concern the multiple discrimination against Indigenous women in Belize, Canada, Dominica, and Guyana, and their poor access to health care, employment opportunities, and welfare facilities.
These disadvantages prevented Indigenous women’s essential role and contribution to the development processes of their communities.