Canada Required to Recognize the Rights of the Southeast Alaska Tribes
Like all governments, Canada has a responsibility to guarantee the ability of everyone to enjoy their internationally recognized human rights, including by preventing private parties within its control from taking actions that violate those rights.
Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIPA), ratified by Canada in June of 2021, requires Canada to recognize the rights of the Southeast Tribes and their interests in territories that pre-date the US-Canadian border.
Southeast Alaska Tribes should have a seat at the table in development decisions impacting their traditional territories - including the headwaters of the transboundary Stikine, Taku and Unuk Rivers that hold immense cultural significance to the Tribes - where British Columbia is permitting major industrial hard-rock mining development without their free, prior and informed consent.
Toxic pollution that threatens species or ecosystems that are important to the cultural and physical survival of indigenous peoples can undermine human rights, including the rights to culture, means of subsistence, and food. Because these rights are recognized in treaties to which Canada is a party, Canada’s failure to prevent such pollution constitutes a human rights violation.
SEITC has challenged Canada’s failure to prevent human rights violations before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, requesting the commission's assistance to obtain relief from the violations resulting from Canada’s failure to prevent the threats from the B.C. Mines.
While waiting for Canada's response, SEITC is building a case for Participating Indigenous Nation status for its member Tribes and is in direct engagement with British Columbian government.
“The U.S. and Canadian governments and the Indigenous peoples on both sides of the border have a responsibility and opportunity to better manage these shared watersheds in a constructive and cooperative manner. We hope the B.C. government shares our conviction that this can only be accomplished with the Alaska Tribes of the SEITC as meaningful participants.”
Pollution from the B.C. Mines an Imminent and Significant Threat to the Human Rights of Southeast Alaska Native Communities
Statements and letters from First Nations, Tribes, Alaska lawmakers and representatives appealing to the B.C. government to include the SEITC and its member Tribes in the mines permitting process are amplified by letter from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Mr. José Francisco Calí-Tzay calls on the Government of Canada to uphold an important principle of international human rights law:
"Indigenous Peoples around the world are suffering negative, sometimes devastating consequences from Canadian extractive industries, mainly mining operations.
The obligation to protect, respect, and fulfill human rights, recognized under international human rights law entails a duty on the part of the State not only to refrain from violating human rights but to exercise due diligence to prevent and protect individuals from abuse committed by non-State actors.
I call upon the Government of Canada to uphold this important principle of international law.The responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate and the State has extraterritorial obligations to take steps to prevent and redress infringements of these rights committed abroad by business entities over which it exercises control."
April 19, 2023, SEITC, several Tribes and First Nations undersigned a joint letter addressed to Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada and David Eby, Premier of British Columbia, calling on the governments of Canada and British Columbia to honor their legal and ethical obligations and act immediately to protect our recognized traditional territories from legacy, operational, and proposed mining in British Columbia.
For more than a decade, many of the undersigned First Nations and Tribes have sought Canadian and provincial action to reduce contamination from British Columbia’s abandoned, developed, and operating mines in the headwaters of our shared transboundary rivers. Nonetheless, contamination has increased, and Canada and British Columbia are investing in large-scale mining expansions that would further damage our traditional territories and way of life, despite purported commitments from both B.C and Canadian governments to honor our sovereign rights and the planet.
In the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, Canada agreed that “waters flowing across the [U.S.-Canadian] boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.” Further, Canada has ratified the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”), including the principles of free, prior, and informed consent for all Indigenous groups impacted by the actions of the federal government. British Columbia, through the B.C. Declaration Act, has declared UNDRIP to be the province’s framework for reconciliation, and has committed to bringing provincial laws into alignment with the Declaration.
We urge the office and that of the Ministers to directly engage the sovereign Indigenous governments that share these transboundary watersheds. Incorporating the knowledge and engagement practices honed over thousands of years will lead to better outcomes for the mining industry and both countries. Protecting the transboundary watersheds as economic and cultural powerhouses can only be successful when they are managed in their entirety from headwaters to saltwater — as was done prior to European contact.
By committing to work with First Nations obliges the Canadian government to work with the Tribes of Southeast Alaska. Treating the Indigenous people of Southeast Alaska as anything different than Aboriginal People of Canada is a refusal to acknowledge our long history on this land. The border is a false construct of colonialism that the administration has committed to reconcile.
Steps SEITC is Taking
Exercising Our Rights
Monitoring, commenting on, and seeking consultation on mining projects in transboundary watersheds
Documenting & Strengthening Cross-Border Connections
Compiling existing resources showing connections within BC
Traditional Use Studies to show connections
Working to strengthen relations and Indigenous watershed management amongst SE Alaska Tribes and BC First Nations
See Indigenous Leaders Summit hosted annually by SEITC
Petitioning the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
See Seeking relief from violations of the rights of the members of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission resulting from hard-rock mining in British Columbia