On March 7, 2023, Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s Sacred Trust team alongside Council members and TWN staff gathered to welcome UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Francisco Calí Tzay for a special meeting.
As UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Mr. Calí Tzay is responsible for assessing, investigating, and reporting out on how countries around the world are protecting Indigenous rights and upholding their commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Canada has been a signatory to UNDRIP since 2016 and adopted UNDRIP into Canadian law in 2022. Mr Calí Tzay was on a 10-day visit to Canada, and prioritized visiting Tsleil-Waututh among other First Nations in B.C. due to his concerns over Canada pushing through the Trans Mountain pipeline without TWN consent, and through its criminalization of Indigenous land defenders.
Gabriel George, Director of TWN’s Treaty, Lands and Resources Department, began the meeting with a prayer and a traditional Tsleil-Waututh Nation song. Councillor Kevin O’Neill welcome Mr. Calí Tzay and his staff team on behalf of elected TWN Chief and Council.
Host Rueben George shared about TWN’s growth over the years, as well as the past abundance of the land and waters and the devastating impacts of colonialism. He described how, despite the impacts to the lands and waters from industrialisation, TWN continues to actively work to restore the health of Burrard Inlet, including restoring fish habitat and shellfish harvests. Rueben spoke of TWN’s efforts to halt the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) pipeline project, and how TWN engaged with the Canadian government and regulatory agencies in good faith but, despite these efforts, Canada failed to take steps to address TWN’s concerns. Rueben described how standing up for TWN rights has involved generations of his family. There is so much is at risk with this pipeline project, as outlined in TWN’s impact assessment, which used traditional knowledge and world-leading science.
Community Safety Manager Andrew Van Eden shared how Indigenous communities in Canada currently do not have a say in who will police them and how, despite various articles of UNDRIP indicating that Indigenous peoples have the right to do so. Across Canada there is a gross overrepresentation of Indigenous people as incarcerated offenders. While Indigenous people represent 4% of the Canadian population, 50% of incarcerated women and 50% of incarcerated youth are Indigenous, despite a 1996 criminal code amendment that requires judges to consider all options other than imprisonment to address this sentencing pattern.
As an example of Tsleil-Waututh peoples standing up for their rights, a Tsleil-Waututh member who blocked a driveway to TMX was sentenced to 28 days in prison for peacefully defending the territory. Tsleil-Waututh people have long defended their lands and waters in order to uphold their obligations and traditional laws.
TWN Policy Advisor Erin Hanson shared how the TMX assessment report identifies the environmental, social, and cultural impacts that infringes the rights of Tsleil-Waututh Nation. She outlined how, despite engaging in good faith with Canada and the National Energy Board and presenting their concerns backed by science and data, Canada approved the pipeline. In 2018, TWN took Canada to the courts won, as the court found that the federal government did not consult TWN properly. The court ordered Canada to consult again and, in 2019, TWN again engaged in good faith but found the consultation process had worsened the second time, with Canada again refusing to take any measures to address TWN’s concerns. Canada used economic justification to move the pipeline project forward, but TWN’s series of economic analyses show clearly that this justification doesn’t stand. To date, The Canadian government still has not addressed TWN’s many concerns. TWN felt it important to raise this issue at the UN level.
UN Special Rapporteur Mr. Calí Tzay thanked the team for sharing those concerns with him. He described his knowledge of the risks that the TMX pipeline poses to sovereign Indigenous lands and waters. He also spoke to the issues with incarcerated Indigenous people and the suffering they face in the carceral system. He also suggested other UN Special Rapporteurs who could assist TWN with matters of concern, including toxic waste, human rights, and environmental injustices.
TWN was honoured to host UN Special Rapporteur Tzay and we welcome him to return to the community at any time.