Wednesday, 11 January 2012

More on the Tar Sands Project and Implications for Indigenous Rights and Well-Being

The controversy over the tar sands extraction and planned pipeline is featured in an article in the current edition of the International Journal on Human Rights. The article, by Jennifer Huseman and Damien Short, “A slow industrial genocide’: tar sands and the indigenous peoples of northern Alberta” examines the effects of environmental pollution on the indigenous peoples near the tar sands project. This article is important in pointing out the severe effects the tar sands project has on indigenous communities and their health.

This concern was of course outlined in the Mother Earth Accord (and which is evidence of the well-organised indigeneous activism on this and other issues) which was briefly discussed in an earlier post on this blog. The Mother Earth Accord document itself calls attention to the health problems that nearby indigenous communities have which have been “potentially linked to petroleum products”: “The Assembly of First Nations of Canada called on the United States government to take into account the environmental impacts of tar sands production on First Nations in its energy policy, citing the high rates of cancer in the downstream Fort Chipewyan community, which prominent scientists say are potentially linked to petroleum products;”

Concern about the tar sands project is not new. This link here details activity that has been ongoing to raise concerns and protest the tar sands project effects on indigenous peoples in Canada. See also this link here which raises issues about the violation of Treaty 8 in the tar sands project.

Treaty 8 is a treaty that was entered into between indigenous peoples in Canada and Queen Victoria of England. It set aside certain portions of land for the use and occupation of indigenous peoples and is one of a series of numbered treaties involving the indigenous peoples of Canada. (Click here for more information on Treaty 8)

The tar sands issue is one that has many complex and issues with both immediate and far-reaching consequences. There are short and long term environmental and health effects. There are further issues about what recognition will be given to the principle of free, prior and informed consent that is raised in the Mother Earth Accord, and is enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It might be tempting to think that the land-taking and disregard for not only the cultural integrity but the simple health and well-being of indigenous peoples is a thing of the past. But the tar sands issue shows that these are very much issues of the present day.

The responses of Canada and the United States, who both originally opposed the adoption of the UNDRIP, in particular to the claims raised about free, prior and informed consent, may be very telling as to how the rights in the UNDRIP will be received or resisted in these two countries.

Written by Sarah Sargent.

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