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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world: First Nations people exposed to cancer-causing chemicals in Canada, Indigenous protests against a nickel mine and an oil pipeline, and Indigenous activists denounce a COP26 Glasgow deal as Canada fails to meet a UN deadline.

CANADA: High levels of cancer-causing chemicals found

We start in Canada, where a First Nations community has obtained data indicating that levels of a cancer-causing chemical in its air are 44 times higher than is considered safe, Global News reported on Nov. 15.

The Ontario-based Aamjiwnaang nation is surrounded on all sides by petrochemical facilities, and members had long suspected that the facilities in “Chemical Valley” had exposed them to potentially dangerous chemicals.

The data, which had been held secret for many years, was disclosed by the environment ministry following questions from Global News.

The Aamjiwnaang people, situated along the Michigan border, think that the government of Ontario has been disrespectful by withholding the data from them.

“This is just the continuation of the Canadian legacy of putting Indigenous people, people of color, at a lower place,” Janelle Nahmabin, also known as Red Cloud Woman and chair of Aamjiwnaang’s environment committee, told Global News.

Among the chemicals identified by the ministry include benzene and 1,3 butadiene, which are known cancer-causing agents, and sulphur dioxide, which can cause respiratory problems.

“When we’re talking with the ministry and the province about nation-to-nation and reconciliation, if we can’t even get a minister to answer our letters, it speaks to the commitment of the government,” Sharilyn Johnston, Aamjiwnaang’s environment coordinator, told Global News.

PERU: Indigenous protests against state oil pipeline

Indigenous protests against Peru's state-owned oil company, Petroperu, continued in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon’s Loreto region over an oil pipeline blamed for bringing pollution to the region, Reuters reported on Nov. 17.

After the protests flared, Petroperu evacuated workers from the region and called upon the Saramuro Indigenous people to push for dialogue instead of continuing with the protests.

The Saramuro, who have battled against the pipeline for four decades, had given the oil company a 72-hour ultimatum to leave an oil facility.

The oil pipeline, which is about 685 miles long, has been attacked dozens of times since it began operating four decades ago. Indigenous communities blame it for polluting their environment.

GUATEMALA: 60 Indigenous mine opponents arrested

In the midst of a longstanding conflict and recent protests over a nickel mine in eastern Guatemala, police arrested 60 Indigenous mine opponents in more than 40 raids, Mongabay.com reported on Nov.15.

The Mayan Indigenous people who oppose the mine, say they were never consulted about the mine and its effects on their lands, livelihoods and lake, and protested on the town’s main road, blocking the way for mining vehicles.

There are worries that mining activities will cause environmental damage to Guatemala’s largest lake, home to various fish, birds, reptiles and mammals, including the endangered Guatemalan black howler monkey.

As a result, the government has declared a 30-day state of emergency similar to martial law in the town of El Estor near the mine.

The Fenix nickel mine has been a center of conflict and violence for more than half a century, when it was formerly owned by EXMIBAL, a subsidiary of Canadian miner Inco. Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ residents were never consulted, and their exclusion from a court-ordered consultation process prompted protests, a clampdown and violence that left four police officers with gunshot wounds in October this year, Mongabay.com reported.

SCOTLAND: Indigenous climate activists denounce COP26 deal

Indigenous climate activists denounced a climate change agreement reached at the United Nations Climate Change Conference known as COP26 deal — accusing world leaders of sacrificing Indigenous communities in order to postpone meaningful climate action to safeguard corporate profits, The Guardian reported on Nov. 16.

Indigenous communities will face a surge in land grabs, water shortages and human rights violations as a result of the deal, reached at the meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31-Nov. 12, they said.

The deal will create a regulated global carbon trading market and is supported by the United States and some of the world’s biggest polluters. It will also allow countries to partially meet their climate targets by buying credits.

Critics caution that carbon markets help countries and corporations to offset — rather than cut — emissions responsible for global warming by investing in green energy projects such as hydroelectric dams, which are linked to environmental devastation.

Worldwide emissions have continued to increase since carbon credits were first introduced under the voluntary Kyoto protocol in 1997.

CANADA: Government delays response to UN criticism

The Canadian government missed a deadline to respond to the United Nations’ anti-racism committee’s criticism and says it will respond next year, Thetyee.ca reported on Nov.20.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination sent a letter to the Canadian government on Nov. 24, 2020, calling on the nation to immediately halt resource projects opposed by Indigenous communities. The deadline for response was Nov. 15.

The letter named the Site C dam, Trans Mountain pipeline and Coastal GasLink pipeline as projects that had not received free, prior and informed consent of First Nations, and it asked Canada to develop “a legal and institutional framework to ensure adequate consultation.”

The UN committee had initially issued a warning to Canada in December 2019, saying the country had “provided no information on measures taken to address the concerns on the rights of Indigenous people.”

Final thoughts

My final thoughts are with the 60 Mayan Indigenous people from eastern Guatemala who were arrested while protesting lack of consultation about the nickel mine in their territory. Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is on their side. Till next week.

Article 19

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

Global Indigenous is a weekly news roundup published every Wednesday by Indian Country Today with some of the key stories about Indigenous peoples around the world.

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