Harper China Trip: Aboriginals Ask PM's Hosts To Raise Canadian Human Rights Issues
Aboriginals from British Columbia have asked China's president to quiz Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Canada's human rights record during his visit to the Asian country.
The Yinka Dene Alliance, a group of five First Nations that represent several thousand people in north-central B.C., has sent open letters to Chinese President Hu Jintao and to the Chinese media.
"We are writing to you to request that you raise our human rights concerns with Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper," says the letter to Hu.
"From previous reports we know that Prime Minister Harper always challenges your country on the human rights record."
Sing Tao, Hong Kong's second-largest newspaper with offices across Canada, confirmed it will be covering the story through its Vancouver bureau. The letter to Hu has been sent to his office as well as to the Chinese embassy in Ottawa.
Harper left Monday for a four-day trip to China. Travelling with him is a healthy selection of executives from Canada's energy sector.
China has been increasingly involved with oil and gas development in Canada, investing in the oilsands and making commitments for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
But the Alliance wants China to think again.
The letter to Hu details a long list of issues from the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women to natives being mistreated by police to the outsized number of First Nations peoples in prison. It also says the Harper government is promoting resource development without aboriginal support.
"Open dialogue around human rights is a very positive way to create change and we hope that you hear our side of the story before this meeting (with Harper) occurs," says the letter to Hu.
The letter to Chinese media focuses on the Alliance's concerns about the Gateway pipeline, which would ship bitumen from the oilsands to the West Coast across land claimed by the bands.
"An oil spill on the coast would destroy sources of seafood and fish, like crabs, for thousands of people," it says. "It could destroy the extremely rare spirit bear — a bear with white fur that is as beautiful as the Chinese panda bear."
Chief Larry Nooski of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, one of the signatories, acknowledges that it's usually Canada bringing human rights concerns to China, not the other way around. Maybe bringing Canada's problems to China's attention will get some action, he said.
"In terms of tit for tat, this will give (the Chinese) ammunition and put some pressure on Canada. We wanted (Hu) to know that First Nations are not being treated fairly in Canada in terms of their aboriginal rights."
He doesn't apologize for bringing dirty Canadian linen to a Chinese laundry.
"I don't see it as embarrassing. I see it as bringing up the facts of life as we see it as First Nations."
Fellow signatory Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation was similarly forthright.
"I'm sorry we're going to be an embarrassment to this country, but we have to let the facts and truth be known."
She said the Alliance has previously contacted the governments of Japan and South Korea. It has met with the U.S. ambassador and members of the European Parliament.
Alan Alexandroff, director of the global summitry program at the Munk School of Global Affairs, acknowledged the irony of a human rights appeal being made to China.
"It's slightly odd for our aboriginal people to be sending a message to a government which is hardly a defender of international human rights," he said from Toronto.
"(But) it's sauce for the gander. The Canadian government has made an issue out of human rights violations in China."
But the real audience, said Alexandroff, is in Canada.
"This is politics. They played a little bit of a hardball game here.
"Will it lead to significant resolution? I'd be surprised."ABORIGINAL PROTESTS: FROM OKA TO CALEDONIA
Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Saskatchewan Native Brad Laroque alias "Freddy Kruger" come face to face in a tense standoff at the Kahnesatake reserve in Oka, Quebec, Saturday September 1, 1990. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shaney Komulainen)
A warrior raises his weapon as he stands on an overturned police vehicle blocking a highway at the Kahnesetake reserve near Oka, Quebec July 11, 1990 after a police assault to remove Mohawk barriers failed. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson)
A Quebec Metis places a stick with an eagle feather tied to it into the barrel of a machine gun mounted on an army armored vehicle at Oka Thursday, Aug. 23, 1990. The vehicle was one of two positioned a few metres away from the barricade causing a breakdown in negotiations. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Grimshaw)
A Mohawk Indian winds up to punch a soldier during a fight that took place on the Khanawake reserve on Montreal's south shore in 1990. The army broke up the fight by shooting into the air. Twenty plus years after an armed standoff at Oka laid Canada's often difficult relationship with its native peoples bare in international headlines, the bitterly contested land remains in legal limbo. (CP PHOTO)
Two aboriginal protesters man a barricade near the entrance to Ipperwash Provincial Park, near Ipperwash Beach, Ont., on Sept. 7, 1995. (CP PHOTO)
Ken Wolf, 9, walks away from a graffiti-covered smoldering car near the entrance to the Ipperwash Provincial Park in this September 7, 1995 photo. A group of aboriginal protesters were occupying the park and nearby military base. (CP PHOTO)
Caledonian activist Gary McHale (right) is confronted by a Six Nations Protester as he attempts to lead members of Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality (CANACE) in carrying a makeshift monument to Six Nations land in Caledonia, Ont., on Sunday February 27, 2011. CANACE claim inequality in treatment for Caledonian residents from Ontario Provincial Police compared to that of the Six Nation population. They planned to plant a monument of six nation property to demand an apology from the OPP, but were turned back by protesters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
First Nations people of the Grand River Territory stand with protest signs as they force the redirection of the Vancover 2010 Olympic Torch Relay from entering The Six Nations land Monday, December 21, 2009 near Caledonia, Ontario. The Olympic torch's journey across Canada was forced to take a detour in the face of aboriginal opposition to the Games, with an Ontario First Nation rerouting its relay amid a protest from a splinter group in the community. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley)
Six Nations protesters guard the front entrance of a housing development in Hagersville, Ont., just south of the 15-month aboriginal occupation at Caledonia on Wednesday, May 23, 2007. The protest was peaceful. (CP PHOTO/Nathan Denette)
Mohawk protestors block a road near the railway tracks near Marysville, Ont. with a bus and a bonfire Friday April 21, 2006. The natives showed their support to fellow natives in Caledonia, Ont. where they were in a stand off with police regarding land claims.(CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward)