UN special investigator Rodolfo Stavenhagen released his report on Canada’s Indigenous people, concluding that “[p]overty,infant mortality, unemployment, morbidity, suicide, criminal detention,children on welfare, women victims of abuse, child prostitution, areall much higher among aboriginal people than in any other sector ofCanadian society“.
The conclusions in the UN report are no surprise to anyone knowledgeable about First Nations issues, particularly in BC.
Thepoverty in First Nations communities is even more deplorable when youconsider that most of the wealth in western Canada comes from FirstNations’ territories.
Billions of dollars in logs, minerals,fossil fuels, and hydro are exported from First Nations’ territorieswith little or no benefits flowing to them. Worse, they are often leftwith the social and environmental damage these boom and bust industriesleave behind. For example:
- BC’s $17 billion a year timber industry relies on logs from unceded lands with little payback to affected First Nations;
- Themining industry in BC claims to generate $4 billion a year but shareslittle more than token benefits to affected First Nations while leavingthem with a legacy of abandoned mines, acid mine drainage and leakingtailing ponds destroy First Nations’ traditional lands; and
- Thefossil fuel industry shares little of the $77 billion in gas revenuesit generates, while First Nations are left with devastated landscapesand contaminated soils and water.
The report findsthat Canada’s much-touted high ranking on the United Nations’ humandevelopment scale would be much lower if judged solely on the economicand social well-being of its First Nations Peoples. It says Canadawould be placed 48th out of 174 countries if judged on those criteria.This low position is well below Canada’s usual top 10 ranking on theUN’s human development scale.
The report’s conclusions reinforce earlier finding by NGOs in Canada. Global Forest Watch Canada (GFWC) released a report last year called, Aboriginal Peoples in Forest Regions in Canada: Disparities in Socio-Economic Conditions. The report found that Aboriginalcommunities within the commercial forest zone had significantly loweraverage incomes than Aboriginal communities within forest regions butoutside of the commercial forest zone
Contrary to conventional wisdom, and the BC government ill-advised Forest and Range Agreements,what the GFWC study shows is that First Nations who have timbercompanies logging in their territory are worse off according to fivestandard socio-economic indicators. So much for the argument thatlogging promotes indigenous economic development.
Perhaps thegrowing body of evidence about the exploitation of Canada’s indigenouspeople underscores why the unrest in First Nations communities isrising.
Is it any wonder that the Haida, Tahltan, Treaty 8,Tl’azt’en Nation, Tsawataineuk, Carrier Sekani, Hupacasath, Bonaparteand Ktunaxa are fighting back against the Crown and the timber, mining,oil and gas, fish farm and recreation industries?
Whatnon-native community facing severe unemployment, health and suicideissues would sit idly by when resources (natural capital) is shippedout in vast quantities, while governments dither about process, andcompanies and shareholders get rich? Not many!
That is why FirstNations from around BC–that are standing up to defend thierterritories against unsustainable development–deserve our support.Dogwood Initiative is trying to give it to them.