Diom Romeo Saganash was the elected deputy grand chief of the James Bay Crees of Northen Quebec from 1990 to 93. He is now director of governmental relations and international affairs for the Grand Council of the Crees. Armand MacKenzie is from the Inn
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE from Canada and the Arctic travelled to London last week to campaign against Tony Blair’s government for its refusal to recognise collective human rights.
Collective rights to land would give tribal and indigenous people some democratic control over if, and on what terms, companies were allowed to take over mining rights. They would also limit the ability of armed forces to use areas for military exercises.
The United Nations has been drawing up a declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples. But Britain is one of a handful of governments blocking its progress because it mentions collective rights.
Inuit woman Dalee Sambo Dorough says, “The British position that our collective rights are not human rights is nonsense. Is this Tony Blair’s idea of spreading what he calls the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and justice for the oppressed?”
Blair is standing with the multinationals and George Bush against the rights of 300 million people across the globe. They want to exercise their rights as a group, not as individuals who can be bought off or harassed one by one.
Armand MacKenzie, of the Innu people of Quebec-Labrador, says, “There is a clash of philosophical worldviews here, in addition to questions of mining rights and military power.
“Our society depends on sharing and on collective land ownership. The hunter must share his food today because tomorrow he may rely on someone else. The notion of the competitive individual winning out at the expense of all else is very foreign to us.”
Diom Romeo Saganash from the Crees of Northern Quebec adds, “Collective rights are important for everyone. It does not make sense to talk of an individual right to a safe environment, or to see peace and security as an individual right.”
The battles of indigenous people are rooted in processes that are recognisable to all.
“Wherever you go in the world—whether it is the Cree and the Innu in Canada, the Inuit in the Arctic, the African bushmen, the Maori in New Zealand or the Aboriginal people of Australia—you always find the same problems,” says Diom Romeo Saganash.
“We are defending our ways of life, our culture and our livelihood against the giant corporations, the states we live in and the influence of the US.”
Armand MacKenzie says, “For the Innu one of the biggest problems is the low-flying training exercises carried out by NATO, especially the British and the German air forces. These are very disruptive for the caribou herds which are central to our culture and our economic support.
“Then for more than half a century Rio Tinto have carried out iron ore exploration and mining in Innu areas. This has transformed life for the worse.
“Is British foreign policy simply to follow the US? They are safeguading the profits of the multinationals, not human rights.”
Dalee Dorough adds, “For us the crucial question is oil. All the major players have been working in Alaska for nearly 50 years.
“They have tried to seize land and to control the Inuit people’s rights. Development cannot be separated from social rights and control by people themselves.
“We should control the process ourselves—that’s true whether you are an Inuit or living in London. The only ‘progress’ we threaten is such developments as multinationals exploiting non-renewable resources.”
“We came to London to raise awareness of what the British government is doing and to call for support. We hope that people will join us.”
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