It’s no great moral distinction to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as the Canadian government says it will now do after years of refusing to. Brazil supports it, even as its government continues to throw tribes off their ancestral territory to make way for ethanol crops or mining projects.
Another supporter, Honduras, also makes a practice of harassing indigenous groups and driving them off their land. It’s also now accused of arranging the recent assassination of two indigenous activists who were leading the fight against the government-backed Agua Zarca hydroelectric project.
The dam was going ahead despite the fact that local tribes hadn’t consented to it, which meant it automatically contravened the UN declaration itself. That led to protests and blockades. Violence followed.
In Canada, the outcome of adopting the UN declaration may be less bloody, but it surely won’t be free from conflict. Until the Trudeau government came along, Ottawa’s major concern about endorsing the declaration was that it could be seen as giving First Nations (and possibly Métis people) the right to veto any development that affects them.
Given how difficult it already is for ordinary industrial projects to navigate the objections of special interest groups, including First Nations, that’s an especially well-founded concern. The prime minister has already frustrated the energy sector by adding extra complications to the federal review process to indulge the green lobby.
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