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G8/20: The Issues Pt. 4

Native Issues Absent from Agenda in Name Only

by Gwalgen Geordie Dent

Native Rights Rally in Toronto PHOTO Activestills
Native Rights Rally in Toronto PHOTO Activestills

Toronto - With a heavy focus on G8/20 security, protesters, weapons and summit costs, Mainstream Media have been accused of failing to cover another important aspect of the G8/20: the issues.  The Toronto Media Co-op takes aim at the Toronto G8/20 agenda and the grassroots response in this fourth part of a week-long series.

Unlike a host of other issues on the G8/20 agenda, the rights of indigenous people's are no where to be found.

Health, nukes, Iran, Nepalese communists, biodiversity, development and a host of economic issues have been put on the table of the Summits which, according to Stephen Harper, will only involve "24 hours" of face to face time between the leaders.

Although the Summits seem to address, at least in some way, almost every important issue in the foreign policy patheon, Ben Powless, an Organizer with Indigenous Environmental Network says the lack of indigenous focus is normal.

"I don't think the G28/20 have ever done work on indigenous sovereignty because it threatens their state sovereignty," he said. "When the G8/20 meet, they claim to meet on behalf of people from Canada, the US, Brazil, etc. not recognizing that indigenious communities meet and [represent] themselves."

Art Manuel with Defenders of the Land, a Native-rights group, made clear links between native rights and the agenda of the G8/20 at a press conference yesterday in Downtown Toronto.

"We do not support the fences and boders [in Toronto]," he said.  "The fences are here to protect the wealthy and rich.  We know that we've had fences put up in residental schools and on Indian reserves where we've been taken off our land, forced to live on reserves and forced not to benefit from our traditional territories.  We see this happeneing all around the world where the rich are getting richer and poor getting poorer." 

Defenders of the Land had just held a demonstration. A series of events were held throughout the day focusing on indigenous sovereignty.

"I think the G20 states could agree to discuss indigenious issues; it'd be great," says Powless.  "But there's no way they could do this including indigenous communites, because the G20 is an illegitamte process." 

Powless suggests indigenous issues should be discussed at the United Nations and points to the 2007 UN Declaration on the Indigenous Rights as a means by which the international community could address indigenous issues provided that communities are "included from the outset".

The declaration has not been signed by Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the US.  Indian Affaris Minister Chuck Strahl stated “By signing on, you default to this document by saying that the only rights in play here are the rights of the First Nations. And, of course, in Canada, that’s inconsistent with our Constitution,”  when Canada failed to sign the declaration.  He failed to mention that the declaration is neither binding nor a treaty or agreement. 

In March, Canada's Governor General said that the Canadian government was "taking steps" towards "qualified recognition" of the declaration.

While the G20 will not be dealing with indigenous issues directly, Powless believes that some of the issues will directly affect indigenous communities around the world and in Canada.

"We know that the real goal is to push a model of economic integration through increased trade and investment," he said, and this also includes the Canadian government "enouraging investment and trade in Canada. So we're going to see more of the same projects which infringe on indigenous communities and companies trying to exploit and extract from the land."

Indeed, trade liberalization is a key goal of the Summit agenda and Canada announced in March in Ruteurs that they were the first country to eliminate all tarrifs on raw material imports (which often come from indigenous lands) for manufacturing.  The move will save companies $300 million.

Manuel explains that communities outside Canada feel the effects of Canada's trade liberalization: "I just got back from Ecuador andwhere I was in an Amazon village where they were concerned with Canadian mining companies," he said.  "Ivanhoe Engery for example...going down there and trying to take their land and their resources.  I feel that we need to unite around the world gloabbly to struggle against...big rich governments like Canada and the united states that are based on the natural wealth of our traditional territories."

With climate change being put back on both the G8/20 Summits, although only periferally, Mel Bazil, also with Defenders of the Land, looks at the issue through a indigenous lens as well.

"As many indigenous people are faced with climate change, ill health, lack of water, decimation of teritories, decimation of lands, and dehumanization, we can't stand for that.

"The comforts that everyone is after: we (Canadians) work so hard for the weekend and to gain these comforts that actually represent suffering and pain in other countries. We have to look at reducing carbon emissions from 300 (parts per million of CO2) not 350, because at 350 you'll still see refugees on islands who can lose their homes, their lands, from global climate change," he said.

Like many groups opposing the G8/20, Defenders of the land see the G8/20 nations as occupiers, not only of their lands, but also of thier means of operating.

According to Manuel, "We need to be able to be recognized as the traditional land owners and be able to participate develop our own traditional economies as indigenous people."

With files from

Geordie Gwalgen Dent is a contributing and sustaining member of the Toronto Media Co-op.  This is the fourth part of a week-long series.  The first part can be found here. The second part can be found here, the third part here.

Curious as to why tens of thousands are protesting the G8/G20 summits?  Go to for up to the minute G20 and G8 Summit Protest Reporting, straight 'outta the Alternative Media Centre!

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