Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Indigenous Environmental Network Statement: The Right to Water

Indigenous Environmental Network
Statement on Agenda Item 7 – The Right to Water and Indigenous Peoples 
10th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
May 24, 2011

Read by Benjamin Powless



Thank you Madame Chairperson,

The right to clean and abundant water is fundamental to preserving and upholding the sovereignty, self-determination, health, and cultural survival of Indigenous Peoples in North America and the rest of the world. As Indigenous Peoples, we have a sacred relationship to water, but this relationship is being undermined and our rights violated on a consistent basis, which requires immediate action.

Tar Sands

In North America, we have been witnessing the accelerated development of the Tar Sands megaproject, with devastating effects on Indigenous communities and the water sources they rely upon.
Primarily, the water used in the extraction and processing of the Tar Sands into oil requires between three and five barrels of water per barrel of oil. Much of this water must be then kept in giant toxic pools, called ‘tailings ponds’, which kill many birds and animals, and have been found to leak back into the waterways and traditional lands of Indigenous Peoples.

The contamination of the water has lead to the cumulative poisoning of many animals and fish that Indigenous communities depend upon, as well as the water bodies which have always been used for consumption. This has lead to outrageous levels of sickness and disease in remote communities.

Further to that, numerous companies are attempting to build pipelines on the lands of Indigenous communities, without their Free, Prior and Informed Consent, in highly ecologically- and culturally-sensitive areas. Just a month ago, a pipeline spill of over 4.5 million barrels in Lubicon Cree territories went unreported for days, while the government of Canada and Alberta failed to notify the community, as many people got sick and a nearby school had to be shut down. 

Lastly on the issue of the Tar Sands, Indigenous communities have been clear in support to maintain a ban on tanker traffic on the coasts of British Colombia, with the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon Valdeez disaster still fresh in memory.

Mining

Moving to the subject of mining, we note that for sixty years, the United States has failed to address widespread contamination of Navajo water and land from uranium mining and milling. Despite this tragic history, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has licensed a uranium project in the middle of two Navajo communities it concedes will contaminate those communities' drinking water sources.  Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium mining has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to stop this project because it will violate the rights to life, health and cultural integrity guaranteed under international law.




Offshore drilling
Finally, the idea offshore drilling in the Arctic has become popular with some governments. However, drilling in cold Arctic waters comes at increased and unacceptable risks. Oil and gas production is never risk-free and the consequences in Arctic waters would be disastrous.


Arctic conditions such as freezing temperatures, reduced visibility, seasonal ice and extreme weather all increase the probability and consequences of a spill. The presence of sea ice poses significant challenges to cleaning up spilled oil, as do potential remote drilling locations.


Offshore drilling in the Arctic threatens to have devastating impacts on fragile ice edge ecosystems upon which indigenous peoples and coastal communities rely for food security, economic, social and cultural needs.

We therefore respectfully submit the following recommendations for consideration and adoption:

-    The Permanent Forum should stress to states that they must start leaving identified fossil fuel deposits, including Tar Sands deposits, in the ground if we are to avoid serious violations of Indigenous rights and impacts of climate change

-    The governments of Canada, the United States, and their sub-governments must obtain the Free, Prior and Informed Consent from Indigenous Peoples and communities, and stop current projects taking place without consent

-     We urge the Permanent Forum to work with UN bodies whose mandate relates to water  to provide full financial support for an Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace, that is led by, planned and developed with full representation of Indigenous Peoples from all regions throughout the entire process

Nia:wenkowa, Thank you.

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