By Arthur Manuel
The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics will happen, and very little attention has been given to Canada’s dismal human rights record on indigenous peoples. This has to be contrasted with how Tibet human rights issues were raised during the 2008 Summer Olympics in China. Canada decided to do its torch relay inside Canada and used the Four Host First Nations to divide and rule over indigenous peoples in Canada.
It is important not to pick on the Four Host First Nations, because it is Canada that is the real culprit in this human rights travesty. The economic initiatives accepted by the Four Host First Nations cannot override the human rights of indigenous peoples. In fact, the preparatory meeting for the 2008 session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues acknowledged Canada’s unprecedented involvement of indigenous peoples in the 2010 Winter Olympics but also said this did not absolve Canada from responsibility for its violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples.
Some Canadians may argue that the human rights of indigenous peoples do not have anything to do with an international sporting event. That is not true. Canada, when applying for the Olympic Games, put its human rights record on the table for intense scrutiny. That is why Canada and British Columbia have gotten the Four Host First Nations to support the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Canada is deliberately trying to buy its way around its terrible human rights record by creating a media spin behind the Four Host First Nations. Canadians should be embarrassed that Canada has resorted to this kind of cheap and shallow scheme, instead of addressing the substantive human rights problems Canada has with indigenous peoples. Bluntly, this kind of human rights trickery by Canada is similar in deception to an athlete using drugs to win Olympic gold.
Indigenous peoples are not at the top of Canada and British Columbia’s list of people who benefit from federal and provincial government money-generating programs. Indigenous peoples collectively register at level 47 on the UN Human Development Index. Canada always registers in the top five. Indigenous peoples have systemically been impoverished by federal and provincial policies that deliberately ignore judicially recognized and constitutionally protected aboriginal and treaty rights.
On September 13, 2007, 143 state governments adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada, United States, New Zealand, and Australia were the only four countries to vote against the declaration. In fact, Canada also voted against the declaration as a member of the UN Human Rights Council on June 26, 2006.
Australia has reversed its position, and New Zealand and the United States are reconsidering their positions. Canada is really out of step with other countries globally when it comes to treatment of indigenous peoples.
It is clear that the poorest of the poor—namely indigenous peoples who have been forced out of their Indian reserves from across Canada because of lack of housing, education, employment, and recognition of their aboriginal and treaty rights—will be the first impacted by the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The indigenous peoples who gravitate to Hastings and Main streets, or Skid Row, because of the economic marginalization and poverty of our people, come from across Canada. They have already been impacted by being dispossessed again of the affordable housing they had in order for their places to be renovated and rented out to 2010 Winter Olympic visitors. These people will not enjoy any of the benefits from the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. They will just have to pay the price again for an insensitive and callous federal government.
It is ironic that most countries that will be participating in the 2010 Winter Olympics adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canadians and indigenous peoples should make it very clear to Canada and British Columbia that satisfying four local First Nations is not good enough. If the spirit and intention of the 2010 Winter Olympics is to become a real positive force, Canada must take this occasion to announce that it will reconsider adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Former Neskonlith chief Arthur Manuel is spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade.