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NWT chapter holds forum on the TPP and Indigenous rights

Photo by David P. Ball/ The Tyee.

The Council of Canadians Northwest Territories chapter held a public forum on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Indigenous rights last night.

The chapter’s website notes, “Brenda Sayers, the BC First Nation councillor who led the court challenge against the Canada-China investor promotion and protection agreement will speak on the dangers of the TPP on October 12 in Yellowknife. Ms. Sayers led the court challenge on behalf of Hupacasath First Nation. Since then she has represented the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs in promoting and defending Indigenous rights by combatting the possible adoption of the TPP and other corporate rights deals such as the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).”

Sayers says, “The TPP and associated processes usurp the ability of public and First Nations governments to legislate progressive environmental, social and economic measures. They threaten Indigenous title and treaty rights. They can result in the assignment of damage payments to foreign companies for any action which influences their corporate profits. They are an outrageous infringement of the democratic authority of Parliament and the  sovereignty of Indigenous nations, and they must be stopped.”

A backgrounder from the chapter also notes, “The TPP and associated processes threaten Aboriginal rights, title, and treaty rights. Advocates of the rights of First Nations are extremely concerned the Government of Canada signed the TPP without consultation or consideration of the constitutionally protected, judicially recognized, and internationally enshrined rights of Indigenous peoples. Trade agreements, such as the many foreign investment promotion and protection agreements, prioritize corporate rights over Aboriginal and citizens’ rights.”

Specifically the chapter highlights, “The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions of these agreements usurp the ability of First Nations and public governments to legislate progressive environmental, social and economic measures by threatening the assignment of damages for any action which influences corporate profits. For example, if First Nations or public governments pass laws which increase costs of environmental protection, or increase wage and benefit costs, foreign firms with existing businesses can sue for damages resulting from the loss of profits.  Disputes are heard by appointed tribunals, with no recourse to judicial appeal.”

This morning Sayers will be speaking at a social studies class at Sir John Franklin high school, she then has a to-be-confirmed meeting with Yellowknife’s mayor and a councillor, and then a teach-in with the Common Front in the NWT, which brings together more than 20 organizations.

In February of this year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Rights Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said the TPP threatens Indigenous rights.

Telesur reports, “According to Tauli-Corpuz, the major issue with the TPP is ‘the clause of non-discrimination between a local and an international investor [which] grants more rights to transnational firms, often at the expense of indigenous rights’. This is a crucial issue, she argued, as most of the remaining natural resources available on earth are located on indigenous lands — because protecting them is part of the indigenous culture, or because they are located on remote lands.”

When Canadian trade minister Chrystia Freeland travelled to Auckland to sign the TPP on February 4, a media release from Indigenous peoples in New Zealand stated, “Tangata whenua [a Māori term for the indigenous peoples of New Zealand] are strongly opposed to the signing of the [TPP]… The New Zealand government has by-passed indigenous involvement at every level. This complete lack of consultation also contravenes the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and this government has no right to sign this trade deal without our free, prior and informed consent. Similar free trade agreements have had a devastating impact on the rights and lives of Indigenous peoples around the world. Indigenous peoples have been criminalised and rights to their lands and resource have been ignored.”

The Council of Canadians has called on the Trudeau government to hold consultations on the TPP with Indigenous peoples in Canada. We believe in a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples based on recognition of their right to full, prior and informed consent. That includes full consultation and consent to “free trade” agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that impact on their rights as nations and peoples.