Posts Tagged ‘First Nations’


Tribes Using Treaty Rights to Challenge Pipeline

Native Americans in South Dakota continue to resist TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline. This summer, they plan to challenge the state’s recertification of the pipeline, arguing that the company should be required to restart the permitting process from the beginning because of changes since its original approval in 2010. The Yankton Sioux Tribal Council intends to file a lawsuit if the state recertifies the pipeline.

Additionally, Native Americans have maintained an encampment near the pipeline’s proposed route for more than a year, vowing to block construction if it begins. TransCanada has already spent $2.5 billion more than what it budgeted in capital costs due to delays caused by social resistance, and that number will climb as long as its social license remains absent.

The pipeline’s proposed route does not traverse any reservations, but the tribes are citing historic treaty rights—which encompass large swaths of South Dakota—as the legal basis for their challenges. This strategy is commonly used by First Nations in Canada, and now appears to be emerging as a tactic that could significantly alter the business landscape in the US. Sources: New York Times, Reuters


Social and Emotional Well-Being of First Peoples: How it’s different, why it’s important, and what’s being done about it

By Elizabeth Gunggoll

Is there a half life on historical trauma?

Or in other words, as Mike Myers discussed this question in an Indian Country Today article, will 500 years suffice for North America’s First Peoples to surpass countless murders, the loss of Indigenous civilizations, languages and cultures, as well as Indigenous agricultural economies that began in 1493? The thought is that maybe they will be able to return to a model of Indigenous nationhood founded on their original principles and teachings that will endure into future generations by the year 2500. However, musings such as these do little to speak to solutions for Indigenous mental health practiced today.

Instances of colonization, genocide, alienation and other historical traumas posed on entire Indigenous communities have had severe repercussions on mental health, and often Western Psychology practices are not fully suited, or trusted by Indigenous communities, to offer aid. Research is now being done in a new field of mental health, working to combine traditional healing and modern scientific technologies in order to offer a culturally-tailored method of care to First Peoples.


Historical context

The harrowing effects of European colonization, spanning from the 1500s onward, are well known. Encounters with European explorers fast-tracked Indigenous communities for cultural change, and the introduction of foreign diseases and stressors lead to a suppression of Indigenous cultures tantamount to genocide (The Mental Health of Aboriginal Peoples). Children in colonized countries were often taken from their parents and enrolled in boarding schools created to enforce “proper” European values on Indigenous children so that they were “deemed fit to participate in local government.” This continued in North America until the 1970s, however it is still an active example of trauma in Indigenous groups around the world.

Even after coming to terms with what Westerners historically put Indigenous peoples through, colonization did not actually stop there. Even in the past decade, the Canadian government has imposed restrictions on First Nations, distancing them from their land and therefore their sense of identity. A recent example would be the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would once again displace Indigenous communities from land that historically serves a spiritual purpose in their daily lives. Consequently, this continuous colonization causes negative effects on well-being to pervade present generations.


The issues at hand

Social and emotional well-being is often confused with “mental health”, however well-being encompasses much more than observing how someone thinks and feels. The term acknowledges a person’s social, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and cultural welfare. A connection to land, family history, relationships with family and friends, and engagement with community are all important factors contributing to social and emotional well-being in Indigenous communities.

However well-being can be difficult to measure considering most data come from self-reported surveys and interviews, which can be biased when individuals are hesitant to admit they need help. Additionally, Indigenous peoples globally might not seek medical assistance due to language barriers, and many live in rural communities where hospitals and psychologists are simply out of their reach. However, enough information has been gathered over the years to show that Indigenous peoples show higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide than non-Indigenous peoples.

The effects of colonization continue to permeate present generations of the San peoples in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve: children are still sent to boarding schools for Western education, so they inadvertently lose their language and connection to the land that comes with being raised in their native culture. Forcefully taking children away from their parents expectedly has hugely negative effects on both ends. The children feel torn from their culture and lose their sense of identity, while parents are constantly worrying where their children might be and wondering when they might see them again.

“It is so painful leaving or being separated from our children, we have a lot of depression. Kids being taken away… divides the family. It teaches them a different kind of life.” – San individual, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Additionally, San people have expressed their sadness, pain, and worry regarding the stressors the government causes on a daily basis. They feel helpless under the control of the local police, and feel that little can be done to create self-sufficiency in their environment. Moreover, there is a “pervasive lack of hope and motivation” which stem from the restrictions imposed on their own livelihood.

The mental well-being of the San peoples is severely compromised due to the factors under which they are forced to conduct their lives. There is a constant need to prioritize food, water, mobility, and physical health, which understandably makes mental well-being a secondary issue. On top of these factors, it is nearly impossible to get help because their rural settlement is a multi-day journey from the nearest hospital. San peoples are hopeful that countries aware of their situation will offer help – but whoever comes their way needs to be cognizant of their needs as identified by the San people, and mold an approach to aid their well-being that is specific to the context of the situation in which they live.


Working toward an “Indigenous Psychology”

We have seen that the stressors stemming out of marginalization from the government cause Indigenous peoples to lose sight of hope and motivation. Communities are further hindered by needing to consistently place basic human needs for food and physical health before attending to personal well-being, and even when the opportunity arises to reach out for help, the journey to recovery is miles out of reach.

A number of individuals working in medical and psychological fields have taken notice of the need for an Indigenous-tailored approach to well-being. What they found to be most important is the ability to mesh the best of both realms: culture-specific healing methods alongside modern psychology.

“As Indigenous communities are individually governed and culturally diverse, there exists a need for community-specific language and approaches based on language, traditional knowledge, and cultural practices.”

Elicia Goodsoldier is one such example. Elicia Goodsoldier, Dine’/Spirit Lake Dakota, has jumpstarted a number of programs and councils to provide more culturally aware and responsive forms of outreach in multicultural communities. Through her work, she acknowledges the severity of the effects historical and intergenerational traumas have on mental health, and works to educate mainstream behavioral health care providers about both native issues and mental health care issues on a national scale. By bringing awareness to the significance and potential efficacy of traditional and spiritual healing alongside modern neuroscience, she makes the journey to healing more accessible and attainable to Native communities.

Many Indigenous peoples are reluctant to reach out for help because it is frowned upon within their communities. This is particularly true for Indigenous youth, who are at times discouraged from bringing up thoughts of suicide to adults in their community. A support system of similarly-minded youth that share the same perspective is a valuable resource: The Center for Native American Youth in Tucson, Arizona holds bi-weekly meetings where youth representatives from each district are able to discuss the issues facing their peers. Concerns such as suicide are openly discussed, and this program has helped a number of youth take steps to escape such debilitating stages of depression. The center takes an innovative approach by directly asking the teens what would be most helpful and where they would feel most safe to express their needs. Youth are more comfortable opening up to their peers when there is an environment of mutual respect, and the adults involved in this program feel that in order to be the best resource possible, they need to be able to better understand and relate to the youth. Additionally, they work to make the environment as all-encompassing as possible since so many different Indigenous communities exist in the area.

The integration of traditional remedies and cutting edge science alongside direct efforts to openly offer aid to apprehensive Indigenous youth is a step in the right direction in decreasing the disparity of care between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. But more can be done to increase well-being among Indigenous peoples.


Marginalization from the state has detrimental effects on the self-efficacy and self-worth of First Peoples, and simply allowing participation in their local politics improves mental well-being for many individuals. It is critical to reinforce a sense of community and empowerment by increasing participation in developing self-governance, meaning less is being asked for from the “outside” and Indigenous communities rely more on themselves.

As Indigenous mental health solutions continue to develop, we continue to see a discrepancy in the number of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and suicide, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. What is clear is that a balance needs to be created in Western Psychology, using both traditional remedies and modern science to advance services for the mental well-being of Indigenous peoples. The increasing availability of such services are showing improvement within local communities, but the largest changes will come when Indigenous communities can address mental well-being with their own solutions.



  • Kirmayer, Laurence J, Gregory M Brass, and Caroline L Tait. “The Mental Health Of Aboriginal Peoples: Transformations Of Identity And Community.” Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry 45.7 (2000): 607-616.Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
  • Executive Summary, “FPW Needs Assessment and Community Engagement in Botswana”, First Peoples Worldwide, 2012


The Importance of Inclusive Engagement

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A recent article published in The Guardian is accusing the Canadian government of “pushing First Nations to give up land rights for oil and gas profits.” The article cites private meetings between resource companies and the Assembly of First Nations, organized and funded by the government, that are reportedly sparking strong criticism from grassroots communities.

The style and nature of dialogue with Indigenous Peoples about resource extraction is often just as important as the dialogue itself. Private meetings with elite Indigenous leaders, without participation from grassroots communities, gives the impression that the government is trying to “buy off” chiefs, a tactic used to divide and conquer Indigenous Peoples throughout history in Canada and elsewhere. A more inclusive and transparent approach would likely yield less criticism.

A rally against the expansion of the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia, Canada, in November, 2014. [Photograph Credit: Mark Klotz/flickr, The Guardian]

A rally against the expansion of the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia, Canada, in November, 2014. [Photograph Credit: Mark Klotz/flickr, The Guardian]

Sources: The Guardian

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


Rape, Sex Trafficking, and the Bottom Line: Corporations’ Complicity in Violence Against Women

Rosa Eblira Coc Inh, one of the plaintiffs. (Photo by Roger LeMoyne, MacLeans)

Rosa Eblira Coc Inh, one of the plaintiffs. (Photo by Roger LeMoyne, MacLeans)

By Katie Cheney

On January 17, 2007, 9 men entered the temporary home of Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, a Mayan Q’eqchi woman in Guatemala. 12 days earlier, Rosa and her family had been forcibly evicted from their home – now, she faced a second eviction, as hundreds of policemen, military, and security workers entered the settlement. After pointing a gun to her head, these 9 officials – one by one – proceeded to rape Rosa. They followed suit with 10 more Mayan Q’eqchi’ women in the community.

Gender-based violence is considered a pandemic by the United Nations, as 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. Women and girls are victims of violence at the hands of their partners, family members, communities, and governments – and now, increasingly, the private sector.

The officials that entered Rosa’s settlement allegedly did so based on a land dispute, between the Fenix mine, then owned by Skye Resources, and the Q’eqchi’ Mayan community of El Estor, Guatemala. The community claims the land on which the mine sits as their Indigenous territory, and has argued that the land concession was granted without the community’s consultation or consent. Skye Resources allegedly hired security officers to “guard” the mine against the local community – the same security officers that carried out the evictions and rapes in El Estor In 2007.

On March 28, 2011, the 11 Q’eqchi rape survivors filed a lawsuit in Ontario’s Superior Court against Hudbay Minerals, which acquired Skye Resources in 2008. It is the first time a Canadian court is hearing a case against a Canadian mining company for overseas human rights abuses. The company is also facing lawsuits from the El Estor community for shootings in 2009 that left one man dead and another paralyzed, investigations into which are ongoing in Guatemala. Hudbay Minerals has denied all allegations against them, saying they are “without merit”, and has vowed to “vigorously defend itself” against the allegations of rape. The company’s stance on its former operations in Guatemala can be accessed on its website.

Rape: A Weapon of Corporate Warfare

In 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon invited CEO’s and Corporate Executives the world over to join in the fight to end violence against women and girls – but what about corporations that are perpetrating, and at the very least permitting, violence against women?

Over the past decade, more and more cases of corporations complicit in violence against women have surfaced across the globe, particularly in the extractive industry. Anvil Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo provided transportation (planes and vehicles) to the Congolese Armed Forces as they raped and tortured civilians near Anvil’s Dikulushi copper mine. Unocal Oil Corporation was sued for permitting (and arguably encouraging) rape, slave labor, murder, and forced displacement during the constructing of their gas pipeline in Burma. Royal Dutch Shell Oil is infamous for suppressing protests against their operations in Nigeria in the early 1990s, during which the military systematically targeted Ogoni villages, murdering, looting, and raping Ogoni women – on behalf of Shell’s operations.

An overwhelming number of lawsuits against extractive corporations that cite human rights abuses include rape and sexual assault of women. Rape has been used as a weapon of war for centuries, and was deemed a war crime in 1998 as a result of the Rwandan genocide. According to UNICEF, “Sexual violation of women erodes the fabric of a community in a way that few weapons can. Rape’s damage can be devastating because of the strong communal reaction to the violation and pain stamped on entire families. The harm inflicted in such cases on a woman by a rapist is an attack on her family and culture, as in many societies women are viewed as repositories of a community’s cultural and spiritual values.” Albeit on a smaller scale, corporations are waging wars against communities, and using sexual violence as a weapon.


Bakken: the Sex Trafficking Boom

While many of these cases happen internationally, extractive corporations have not excluded the United States from this trend of gender-based human rights abuses. The Bakken oil formation in North Dakota has boomed – over the past five years, it has increased daily production of oil from 200,000 barrels to 1.1 million barrels, becoming the second most oil-productive state in the country. Thousands of highly-paid workers have flocked to the region, settling in “man camps” that encroach upon the Native American Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation. The combined influx of cash and oil workers has sparked a considerable crime wave – crime has tripled on the reservation in the past 2 years, including murders, aggravated assaults, rapes, and robberies – 90% of which are drug related. Most alarmingly, a burgeoning illegal sex trade in the region has put Native American women hugely at risk to sex trafficking.

The trafficking of Native American women started in the colonial era, and has not abated – many major sex trafficking centers in North America are in cities in proximity to First Nations reserves, Indian Reservations, and Alaskan Native communities. Of female trafficking victims in the U.S., Native American women are disproportionately over-represented – in Anchorage, 33% of the women arrested for prostitution were Alaska Native, yet Alaska Natives make up only 7.9% of the population. In Canada, researchers have found that 90% of children in the sex trade were Native, and First Nations women and youth represent between 70 and 90% of the visible sex trade in areas where the Aboriginal population is less than 10%.

Reports of Native American women and girls being trafficked to the Bakken has put the Three Affiliated Tribes community on high alert – according to Sadie Bird, director of the Fort Berthold Coalition Against Violence, “We’re in crisis mode, all the time, trying to figure out…these new crises that are coming to us that we never thought we’d have to worry about. No one was prepared for any of this.” While trafficking has been a concern among Native populations in Minnesota and North Dakota for a long time, what’s unique about the spike in sex trafficking in the Bakken is its source of fuel – the oil workers.

How have companies operating in the Bakken responded to this trend? They haven’t. Companies including Apache, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Hess have taken zero responsibility for their workers’ collusion in the growing sex trade, increased drug violence, and general crime wave in Fort Berthold over the past two years, let alone the rest of the Bakken region.

Sadie Young Bird, the director of the Ft. Berthold Coalition of Domestic Violence, listens during a breakout session during the 2014 statewide summit on human trafficking put on by North Dakota FUSE at the Bismarck Civic Center in Bismarck, N.D. on Thursday, November 13, 2014. photo credit: Carrie Snyder / The Forum]

Sadie Young Bird, the director of the Ft. Berthold Coalition of Domestic Violence, listens during a breakout session during the 2014 statewide summit on human trafficking put on by North Dakota FUSE at the Bismarck Civic Center in Bismarck, N.D. on Thursday, November 13, 2014. photo credit: Carrie Snyder / The Forum]


Zero Corporate Social Responsibility

There is no indication that companies are having any substantive conversations about the impacts of their operations in the Bakken region. This trend of neglecting social risks, as companies in the Bakken have done repeatedly, has permeated corporate interactions with the communities they impact across the globe.

In the example of the Hudbay Minerals case in Guatemala, the company could have avoided its current legal challenges, had it given stronger attention to the social risks involved with acquiring Skye Resources. Despite making a number of community investments (link), the company remains exposed to financial, legal, and reputational risks related to the actions of its predecessor in the concession.

Hudbay is not the only one with poor social risk management. First Peoples Worldwide’s Indigenous Rights Risk Report found that only 8% of U.S. oil, gas, and mining companies have operating policies that address human rights or community relations. According to the report, virtually all communities that host or are proximate to extractive projects are unprotected from the project’s potential negative impacts – as we’ve seen, given case after case of corporate abuses against women.


The Price of Cooperation

Corporations can’t get much worse than perpetrating violence against women – except when they attempt to bribe their victims to keep quiet. Barrick Gold’s Porgera gold mine has produced more than 16 million ounces of gold since 1990, an amount equivalent to about US$20 billion today. To protect the mine, Barrick employed a private security force of nearly 450 personnel, who also monitor the mine’s waste dumps. Hundreds of local people scour the waste dumps daily in search of minute traces of gold, at the risk of arrest by the company’s security officers.

At least 170 women have allegedly been raped at the Porgera mine as of 2013, by those same security officers employed by Barrick Gold. A report from Human Rights Watch recounts horrifying stories of gang rape and physical abuse, in the name of “protecting” the waste dumps from illegal mining. Many women reported that after they were arrested, they were given a choice between gang rape or going to prison and paying fines. Several were raped regardless of their choice to go to prison.

It allegedly took Barrick Gold 5 years to acknowledge the rapes. In 2013, the company set up a grievance process at the mine site to receive complaints from the rape victims – allegedly forcing women to return to the site of their attack. In Barrick Gold’s remediation strategy, if womens’ reports of rape were validated by the company’s complaints process, they qualified to receive a benefits package – on the condition that “the claimant agrees that she will not pursue or participate in any legal action against [Barrick Gold or its subsidiaries] in or outside of [Papua New Guinea].” Barrick Gold’s conditional remediation package, including items such as access to counseling and micro-credit, is an appallingly inhuman response to the rape of 170 women.

Not surprisingly, a chillingly similar case occurred at Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine in Tanzania, where police and security guards sexually assaulted 14 women, originally arrested for also scouring waste dumps for tiny bits of gold. This is in addition to allegations that security police at the North Mara mine killed six local villagers and injured many more.

Barrick Gold has repeatedly made systemic failures in both recognizing and addressing the social risks of their mining operations, and at this point, hundreds of people have faced sexual assault and violence because of it.


Corporate Warfare

Imagine if we were to add Barrick’s number of rape victims to those attributed to Hudbay Minerals, Shell, Anvil Mining, and Unocal Oil. Then, we accounted for every sex trafficking victim in the Bakken, whose exploitation was supported by various extractive corporations’ employees. To be thorough, we add in the number of murder, torture, and assault victims linked to corporate abuses. War has traditionally been defined as conflict between political entities – yet if we consider corporations collectively, is their accumulation of victims and use of force not increasingly similar to warfare?

Account after account of gender-based violence is adding up to a war – waged by corporations, against women. Their weapon of choice: rape, sex trafficking, and violence, all for the sake of the bottom line.



Mount Polley Mine: ‘Indigenous Law’ Will Now Be Enforced

This article has been reposted from Triple Pundit, originally published February 23, 2015

By Jan Lee

The negative effects of extractive industry operations on indigenous communities have been obvious for quite some time.

Studies show that the rights of Native communities are often at risk in such settings, especially when hydraulic fracturing and other crude oil-related developments are being operated on or near their lands.

What is often less reported however, are the dangers that Native peoples face from overlooked mechanical or structural failures where materials or waste compounds are stored in remote areas.

Images from NASA showcase the contaminated water that surged from the bright blue retention basin into nearby lakes when the mine collapsed. [photo credit: Triple Pundit]

Images from NASA showcase the contaminated water that surged from the bright blue retention basin into nearby lakes when the mine collapsed. [photo credit: Triple Pundit]

Mount Polley: Canada’s Worst Mining Spill

That danger was illumined in brutal clarity last August when a tailings pond in British Columbia, Canada failed, spewing 2.5 billion gallons of waste into nearby waterways. The Mount Polley Mine, located in B.C.’s vibrant Cariboo region sits amidst the province’s Fraser River watershed, an essential resource not only to the Vancouver Mainland, but to the Neskonlith Indian Band and nearby towns of the Cariboo. First Nations communities along the Fraser River and its tributaries depend on the rivers and lakes for food, water and livelihood. In many cases, access and the right to manage those resources are protected by treaty or another type of agreement with the government. In this case, sovereign rights of the Secwepemc First Nation (Shuswap First Nation in English), which includes the Neskonlith band, are protected through a reconciliation agreement with the Province of British Columbia.

The spill, reported to be the largest industrial accident of its kind in Canadian history, flowed into nearby waterways, polluting Polley Lake and creating a four-month-long drinking ban for local communities. Cleanup was estimated to cost $200 million.

This January, the results of the first of three investigations into the spill was released. The fact that the spill was caused by a failure of the pond’s earthen containment wall was visually evident from aerial photos. But the assessment of what caused the breach sent a chilling wake-up call to Native communities situated around North American ore mining sites.

“[The] dominant contribution to the failure resides in the design,” said the three-expert panel charged with determining the reason for the breach. “The design did not take into
account the complexity of the sub-glacial and pre-glacial geological environment” below the dam, which breached when stresses underneath it changed. For unknown reasons, the structural design for the containment pond had been changed at the last minute to an option that appears to have been “flawed.” The loading conditions of the pond didn’t take into consideration geological factors that would be essential to the long-term integrity of the containment walls. When the wall collapsed, the breach was sudden and unstoppable, creating a swath of heavy metals, mud and debris that penetrated nearby water systems.

Even before the cause of the breach was known, Native communities in other parts of the province began to speak out against mining operations on their lands.

“The spill’s ramifications rippled to Imperial’s Red Chris mine in northern BC, where elders from the Tahltan Central Council (with whom the company previously had a positive working relationship) established a blockade to voice their concerns about the potential of a similar incident in their territories,” stated First Peoples Worldwide in their Corporate Monitor post last September. In order to continue operations, the company was forced to sign an agreement that would allow third-party inspection of the operation under the band’s auspices.

Similar concerns were voiced in other parts of western Canada as well. In July, just days before the dam broke, Toronto-based Seabridge Gold obtained environmental certificate for its $42 billion KSM mining operation at the northwest corner of B.C. Weeks later, with news of the breach still in international spotlight, KSM bowed to pressure to allow third-party oversight for the life of the operation. Geologic studies suggest that the area possesses the same sub-glacial mining risks as the Mount Polley mine.

New Mining Policies for First Nations’ Lands

The provincial government has since delayed the release of the final report until 2017. The announcement, along with revelations of the avoidable cause of the breach, only heightened the frustration of Native communities in B.C.

Realizing that it would be essentially powerless to prevent any similar disasters without a conclusive report that could spur the industry and province into remedial action, the Secwepemc took what some might feel was a bold step: It invoked its rights as a sovereign First Nation of Canada and evicted Imperial Metals from its land. It also announced that it now had mining policies of its own, and would enforce from hereafter.

”One thing I want to make perfectly clear is this policy isn’t a wish-list,” said Jacinda Mack when the policies were announced. Mack serves as the the council coordinator for the Secwepemc Nation. “This is Indigenous law.”

The 55-page document spells out in specific terms the responsibilities of the mining company and the rights of the First Nation to oversee and enforce those guidelines. It invokes the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights to define the Native peoples’ right to “determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.” It also defines its right to close the mine and evict mining companies as it sees fit.

The policies were developed by a third party, the Fair Mining Collaborative, and is now available to all First Nation communities facing the question of mining on their lands.

“Indigenous rights can be defined as “flowing from Indigenous peoples’ historic and sacred relationship with their territories,” says Fair Mining Collaborative.  “These rights are derived from Indigenous laws, cultural practices, customs, and forms of governance.”

Chief Bev Sellars of the Soda Creek Band, which was affected by the tailings pond breach, explained the reason for the policies in more concrete terms. “Since mining arrived in BC First Nations have been ignored and imposed upon,” she stated in an interview with Canadian publication The Tyee. “With this mining policy we can no longer be ignored or imposed upon, and the province and industry can no longer claim they do not know how to work with us …”

Tailing Ponds Risks: A Worldwide Issue

According to studies released by the Center for Science in Public Participation and Earthworks, the conditions that affect the Mount Polley and KSM mining sites aren’t limited to British Columbia.

“There are 839 tailings dams in the United States and approximately 3,500 around the world, according the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the United Nations, respectively,” the organizations announced in a press release in February. There is currently no international oversight of such mines.

There also aren’t uniform laws protecting Aboriginal rights when it comes to mining operations. First Peoples Worldwide’s 2014 study of extractive industry operations around the world last fall illumined numerous gaps in international policies when it came to indigenous communities and their rights to water, food and other resources when it comes to mining operations.

“Our Indigenous Rights Risk Report identified 73 mining projects on or near Indigenous Peoples lands globally, of which 17 are on or near Native American lands in the U.S.,” said a spokeperson for First Peoples.

It is worth noting that while last fall’s assessment of U.S. mining operations near or on Native American lands suggested that their residents experience less risk from mining operations than in Canada, Native American rights are not necessarily as far-reaching as in Canada. The path to nation sovereignty and community oversight of mining operations is often slower in the U.S., where some Native American populations are still battling the courts regarding environmental justice and climate justice issues.

Mount Polley: Climate Change?

There are numerous takeaway lessons that can be extracted from the Mount Polley catastrophe. While it is geographically more than a thousand miles from Alberta’s Tar Sands, Mount Polley mirrors the very type of environmental disaster that ecologists feared would occur if the Embridge Pipeline were constructed across the watershed. The provincial government turned down the controversial oil pipeline two years earlier because it said it feared among other things, that the pipeline would put this breadbasket of resources at risk. It cited insufficient protections to ensure a spill of far-reaching potential wouldn’t occur. The initial report on the Mount Polley disaster suggests that far-reaching environmental spills can still occur in industries that have prevailed for years and settings that are actively managed, just as they can miles of pipeline that cross desolate terrain.

One question that the report did not address is why there was a shifting of the sub-glacial formation. It is to be assumed that such change can occur over years as a part of the natural ecology of the area, but was this unexpected shift due to melting of glacial formations, and could it be related to climate change? Is this why it occurred at the peak of the Cariboo’s warm weather, and is it a risk we’ll see again with the Northwest’s increasingly warmer and drier summer landscapes? The next two reports aren’t meant to address geologic factors, but with the lessons of the Mount Polley Mine disaster now at hand, and concerns about climate change that is increasing the prevalence of warmer temps, perhaps these are questions worth asking.

To learn more about Triple Pundit, visit their website.




First Nations #ShutDownCanada Demanding Justice

[photo credit: Cultural Survival]

[photo credit: Cultural Survival]


This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival, originally publish on February 18, 2015

By Emily Sanders

In what promised to be the most widespread protest by First Nations in Canada since Idle No More, Indigenous peoples staged a massive boycott intended to temporarily freeze the nation’s economy. At least twenty-two scheduled rallies, peaceful protests and events were held in various counties, communities and cities around Canada including Vancouver and Toronto on Friday February 13, 2015, in order to spread knowledge and educate passersby of the violations committed against Indigenous Peoples in Canada and demand justice. The purpose of these events was to further the legacy of Indigenous resistance against the violence and robbed autonomy tribes have suffered since colonialists began their reign of subjugation.

Participants in the nationwide protest #ShutDownCanada want to inform the public about numerous incidents of institutionalized racism and cultural genocide committed by the Canadian police forces and government. The issues covered include land dispossession, disproportionate homelessness of native peoples, and numerous causes of environmental destruction such as the tar sands, pipelines, fracking, mining and energy developments like the Site C mega-dam, which drastically affect the traditional livelihoods of Indigenous peoples. “This government blatantly oppresses Indigenous peoples in a calculated effort to create dysfunction within communities to maintain control of the land and exploitation of natural resources,” reads the #ShutDownCanada Facebook event page. The event aims to prevent further cultural disintegration and the fracturing of Indigenous communities, the goals of a corrupt democracy where “systematic racism and structural violence are connected to the needs of this illegal colonial state to maintain control of the land for exploitation.”

Canadian communities and grassroots organizations were called upon to blockade their local railways, ports or highways on Friday with the goal of paralyzing the Canadian economy for a day and demanding attention towards these issues. Protestors also hope to draw attention to the devastating consequences of unconsented development projects on native land, such as severe disruption of ecosystems and the Dene way of life invoked by the expansion of tar sands extraction, the public health crisis spurred by the byproducts of this development, the loss of exported jobs as a result of pipeline construction, the destruction of the wild salmon habitat and unconsented fish farming in native waters, and issued grants for open pit mining despite the outcome of the Tshilqot’in Supreme Court decision. The Facebook page reminds readers that, not dissimilar to the tactics of “biological warfare” used in colonial times to steal land from Indigenous peoples, the crippling effects of unsustainable resource use destroy a way of life that is crucial to Indigenous resistance and survival on their traditional land.

The dramatic over-representation of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s prison system was also a focus of attention. In 2013, the correctional investigator for Canada reported during a news conference in Ottawa that there is “no deputy commissioner dedicated solely to and responsible for aboriginal programs, planning, implementation and results. And worst of all, no progress in closing the large gaps in correctional outcomes between aboriginal and non-aboriginal inmates.” Despite that Indigenous peoples make up only four percent of the population in Canada, “in federal prisons nearly one in four is Metis, Inuit, or First Nations.” First Peoples Worldwide reported in 2014 that Aboriginal women represent 33 percent of all women imprisoned, a number that has increased 90% in the past decade.

Members of the United Urban Warrior Society held a protest in the intersection of highways 17 and 6, with its Manitoulin and North Shore organizer Isadore Pangowish voicing her concerns as the traffic halted for five minutes each hour. Among these were Bill C-51, an Anti-Terrorism Act that would heighten the power of Canada’s intelligence agency and allow the RCMP the ability to make excessive arrests based on fears of terror attacks that “may” happen, as opposed to attacks that “will” happen. “What we are doing right now, this will be illegal,” said Pangowish of the picketing.

Perhaps the most prominent issue that this and all #ShutDownCanada protests demand to see addressed is the lack of justice and inquiry into over 2,000 cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed cries for investigation into these crimes by claiming that the issue “is not on their radar.” The delegitimizing of Indigenous women’s safety by the Canadian government and police forces reared its head at the protest itself: Audrey Siegl was injured during the action when an officer bumped her with his shoulder as he walked by, thrusting her hand drum into her face. “A VPD shoved Shannon & Savannah aside, and as he marched forward, looked right at me as he shoved my drum into my face with his shoulder. We three women were standing still, drumming n singing. He could have gone around instead of using aggression to intentionally intimidate and harm three unarmed and passive women,” Siegl posted on her Facebook page. Siegl, a Vancouver COPE Council Candidate and Musqueam First Nation activist, has mentioned plans to press charges.

Indigenous protestors want the public to know that all of the issues addressed by #ShutDownCanada, including a history of excessive police involvement and force deployed during peaceful demonstrations to which Siegl’s assault can be added, fall under the umbrella of one underlying fact: that “the system has failed us all miserably.”


Cultural Survival helps Indigenous Peoples around the world defend their lands, languages, and cultures as they deal with issues like the one you’ve just read about. To read about Cultural Survival’s work around the world, click here. To read more articles on the subject use our Search function and explore 40 years of information on Indigenous issues.




Webequie Chief Speaks about Ring of Fire

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Development of northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire in the near future is looking more and more implausible, as Cliffs Natural Resources, the region’s leading investor, announced intentions to exit the area in late 2014. Cornelius Wabasse, Chief of the Webequie First Nation, says this is because conversations about Ring of Fire development are fixated on accelerating the pace of mining, rather than building a foundation of recognition and respect for First Nations.

Wabasse believes there is a “clear direction for success” in the Ring of Fire, but says three main things must be done for this to happen. First, agreements must be entered with First Nations that recognize and respect their role “in every aspect and dimension of development.” Second, development must coincide with implementation of treaty rights, which continue to be ignored and violated by the Canadian government. Third, social and economic investments must be made in communities to build their capacity to “direct, respond to, and benefit from the potential for development.”

Chief Cornelius Wabasse of the Webequie [photo credit: Huffington Post]

Chief Cornelius Wabasse of the Webequie First Nation [photo credit: Huffington Post]

Sources: Globe and Mail, Huffington Post

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


Final Land Claim Agreements Supersede Territorial Legislation in Yukon

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In December 2014, a Yukon court rejected the Yukon government’s land use plan for the Peel Watershed, on the grounds that it does not respect final land claim agreements with First Nations. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of First Nations, conservation groups, and individuals, in response to a series of incremental changes to the land use plan (initially approved in 2009) that rendered it “unrecognizable” from the original, and reduced protected areas from 80% to 29%. The court ordered the Yukon government to return to discussions with First Nations and revise the land use plan in ways that fulfill its constitutional duty to consult and accommodate. This ruling establishes a precedent that final land claim agreements supersede territorial legislation in Yukon, and has important implications for companies interested in the largely undeveloped Peel Watershed.

Sources: Common Sense Canadian, Yukon Courts

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


At A Loss: The Unmentioned Social Risks of Keystone XL Approval

Ignoring public opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline is a lose-lose for the US Government and TransCanada Corporation

[photo credit:]

[photo credit:]

Washington, DC – Protests of the Keystone XL Pipeline over the past two years have sent a clear message to the U.S. Government – a message that Congress persistently ignored as pro-pipeline legislation progressed toward the White House this week. By voting for the Pipeline, Congress is creating a volatile business environment for extractive companies, which ultimately has and will cause profit loss for corporations like TransCanada. Indeed, TransCanada Corporation has already increased estimated capital investments for the Pipeline by $2.5 billion since 2008 due to “lengthy delays”, many of which were caused by community protests and opposition from environmental groups. A recent study by First Peoples Worldwide found that governments that ignore public concerns over resource extraction (the U.S. not excluded) foster community opposition and protests, which in turn increase site closures, production costs, and damaged reputations. The Keystone XL Pipeline is a lose-lose for communities, corporations, and the U.S. government.

Arguments for the Keystone XL Pipeline claim that it will create jobs, increase domestic oil supply and lower gas prices. President Obama’s biggest argument against the Pipeline is the opposite: “Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”

However, congressional approval for the Pipeline is a moot point as long as TransCanada Corporation lacks a social license to operate, or the acceptance of the project by local communities and affected stakeholders. Without a social license, TransCanada Corporation faces a future of continued protests, site closures, and diminished shareholder ratings – ultimately amounting to profit loss. Ernst and Young rate the “social license to operate” as one of the top three business risks to the extractive industry sector, citing that “the frequency and number of projects being delayed or stopped due to community and environmental activists continues to rise.”

What’s more, the recently published Indigenous Rights Risk Report shows that extractive companies couldn’t care less about the communities their projects affect – only 6% of publicly-held US oil, gas and mining companies utilize adequate risk management tools when working with communities. Moreover, only 8% of extractive companies implement any policy that remotely addresses community relations or human rights. At this rate, TransCanada has two options: either expect profit loss due to community opposition, or adjust their community engagement policies.

As long as protests continue, a social license to operate won’t materialize – and there is no end in sight for community opposition to this project. Recently, the Sioux tribe of South Dakota vowed to close their reservation’s borders, through which the Pipeline is set to run, if construction is approved. Right before the Senate vote on November 18, environmental activists installed an inflatable pipeline in Senator Mary Landrieu’s yard, one of the most outspoken proponents for the Pipeline. The First Nations-led Idle No More movement in Canada has been protesting the Pipeline north of the border for nearly two years. Those that would be directly affected by construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, including landowners and ranchers, are some of its strongest opponents – and the most systematically ignored by both Congress and TransCanada.

TransCanada severely underestimated social costs on the front end of the project, taking a reactive rather than proactive approach to community opposition – which has resulted in a $2.5 billion dollar loss before the project has even started.

At the same time, Congress’ pro-Pipeline votes have been little help – governments that ignore public concerns over resource extraction and suppress democratic systems for participation in resource decisions create a dead-end for extractive companies, whether operating in Canada, Nigeria, or the United States. Bad governance is bad for business – governments and corporations alike must start respecting communities and their right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) when working with extractive industries.

For media inquiries, contact Katie Cheney at


Canadian Industry Lags Behind in Human Rights

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival, originally published January 14, 2015

By Emily Sanders

Despite the reputation held by Canada for its comparatively respectful human rights practices, the country’s recent actions in Indigenous territories both at home and abroad has caused Vancouver businesses to gain notoriety in Latin America as the worst in the extractive industry. Both in terms of environmental degradation and human rights violations, the Canadian government has failed to prevent the corrupt behaviors of its extractive industries —the result of lacking policy standards and enforcement on the part of the Canadian government.

According to the World Bank’s Corrupt Companies Blacklist, a condemning list of firms banned from doing business with the World Bank due to their chronic malpractice, Canada is the reigning offender, providing 117 businesses out of the 600 listed. Efforts by the Canadian government to address such transgressions on indigenous land have been particularly poor, even after communities, UN bodies, and environmental reports call for attention to this matter.

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

In Guatemala, Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine has repeatedly violated human rights and has been called on to close operations by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the International Labor Organization, the Catholic Church, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, multiple advocacy organizations both locally and internationally, and even the president of Guatemala. A study by the University of Michigan has shown elevated levels of aluminum, manganese and cobalt are at problematic levels within public drinking and irrigation water sources downstream from the mine.  When the company first bought properties and land in Guatemala, citizens were not informed that it was a mining industry, but rather were made vague promises of community development. Since then, despite multiple violent altercations, the murder of Guatemalan citizen Alvaro Sanchez by the mine’s workers during a heated discussion over the company’s destruction of his homeland, and collapsing social fabric in the community, the Canadian firm has continued operations. Similarly negligent are the proposed plans for an open-pit silver mine by the Canadian company First Majestic Silver. In this project the Indigenous Wixarika people of Mexico face the destruction of their most sacred mountain, a site destination of traditional pilgrimage for over one thousand years, along with decimation of the region’s unparalleled biodiversity found in the Wirikuta Biosphere Nature Reserve.

Such astounding failure to practice environmental responsibility and obtain the free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous communities has cost extractive industries more than just their reputation. In 2014, prices and earnings plummeted drastically for these Vancouver-based industries, many of which were forced to suspend or cease operations after failing to comply with environmental regulations.

One such case, involving Vancouver company Taseko Mines Limited, represents a cautionary tale for what is at stake when companies ignore Indigenous Peoples’ land rights. The company’s proposal to create the so called ‘’Prosperity’’ gold and copper mine had already been denied by an environmental review board because of its plans to dump toxic tailings into Teztan Biny, a lake home to a population of about 85,000 rainbow trout and used by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation People of Canada for traditional hunting, fishing, cultural, and spiritual ceremonies. Investing this time to propose an alternative tailings pond two kilometers upstream from the lake this “New Prosperity Mine” was rejected, again, after an environmental review and sustained protest by the Tsilhqot’in people. The Tsilhqot’in then succeeded ingaining title rights to land they have traditionally used in Canada’s Supreme Court—a hugely significant step forward on their decades long fight for the rights to their land under Canadian law.

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

Unfortunately, Canada’s reaction to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples’ in September 2014 seemed to lash back against this Supreme Court decision. Despite having endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,Canada singularly refuted the right of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, fearing the sovereignty it would allow to First Nations against intrusive business. It argued that Free Prior Informed Consent is a veto of the sovereignty of parliaments. “[That idea] is a complete misrepresentation of what the whole document is about and what free and prior informed consent is about,” commented Les Malezer, the Indigenous co-advisor of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  “Despite the fact that they said they support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, if they don’t support the right of Free, Prior and Informed Consent they don’t understand or accept self-determination,” says Malezer.

Canada’s supposition that its federal government equally represents the interests of indigenous people as those of other Canadians is faulty, considering that along with many other nations, its established institutions inherently exclude indigenous interests and lifestyles. Chief Perry Bellegarde, now President of the Canadian Assembly of First Nations, in his address to the General Assembly at the UN in 2014, said Canada’s recent push for restricting indigenous rights, by allowing mere “consultation’’ rather than ‘’consent’’ is a misinterpretation of the Declaration, as well as a direct contradiction to its own Supreme Court decision. “In the Tsilhqot’in Nation Supreme Court of Canada decision, Canada’s Supreme Court used the term ‘consent’ in nine paragraphs and the ‘right to control’ the land in eleven paragraphs. The Court added that the ‘right to control’ means ‘consent’ must be obtained from Aboriginal titleholders,” asserted Bellegarde. As the only State to refuse Free, Prior and Informed consent to Indigenous peoples, Canada’s statements reflect a hesitation to commit to widely accepted human rights standards, in favor of negligent business.

There has, however, been an increasing recognition of crimes against First Nations by extractive industries, both domestically and abroad, in Canadian courts. In North-eastern Quebec and Labrador, the Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John successfully brought a 900 million dollar lawsuit against the Iron Ore Company of Canada. Operated by Rio Tinto, the “IOC megaproject” had refused to cooperate with offerings by the tribe for peaceful negotiation and cooperative settlement since the 1950s, when its serial violations against Indigenous rights were initiated. In El Estor, Guatemala, the gruesome violations of human rights against the Indigenous Mayan Q’eqchi’ by Hudbay Minerals have been acknowledged by an Ontario court and will proceed to trial in Canadian court. The three cases arose in response to a murder, a shooting, and the gang-rape of 11 Indigenous women committed by security workers during the forced relocation of their village from ancestral lands by Skye Resources, another Canadian mining company which later merged with HudBay Minerals. Such emblematic victories for Indigenous rights will hopefully pioneer the path towards adequate punishment of inhumane action and wrongful expulsion by extractive industries in the higher courts.

Learn more about efforts to regulate Canadian mining companies at Mining Watch Canada.

Cultural Survival helps Indigenous Peoples around the world defend their lands, languages, and cultures as they deal with issues like the one you’ve just read about. To read about Cultural Survival’s work around the world, click here. To read more articles on the subject use our Search function and explore 40 years of information on Indigenous issues.