We need GGMC and the Ministry of Natural Resources to stop mining operations at Tassawini and revoke concessions within our titled lands

Dear Editor,

Our residents of Chinese Landing Village are deeply saddened and concerned to learn that both the Department of Native American Affairs and the Toshaos National Council have appeared to abandon their mandate to represent the interests and rights of indigenous peoples.

The Department’s mandate, according to its own website, is to “recognize and protect the collective rights of Native American villages and communities.” Although the NTC has no statutory authority to resolve our situation, it is responsible for preparing strategies and plans for the conservation and sustainable management of village lands and natural resources and advising the Minister on cultural protection. and indigenous heritage.

It is therefore appalling to us that the minister is suggesting that there is nothing more the department can do for us, or that the department will not do its job simply because we have other allies who support. It is also appalling that the CNT is suggesting that preparations for Heritage Month are more important than addressing the continued destruction of our heritage.

Our village has suffered (and has for more than two decades) violations of our rights to our lands, resources, cultural heritage, livelihoods, health and environment, as the government continues to defend mining interests on our titled lands. This goes against the rights that the government says are protected by Native American law and the rights that the government has pledged to uphold by ratifying various international treaties.

We have sought government assistance since 1998, including the Department of Native American Affairs and later the Department of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, to help remedy these rights violations. The current Minister has been aware of our difficult situation since her previous mandate. Yet there has been a systemic failure on the part of the government to protect our rights.

We had hoped that the Department would act to enforce the relevant provisions of the Native American Act protecting titled lands from unwanted mining. We hoped that the ministry and the NTC would advocate on our behalf for the government to respect our land rights and revoke these mining concessions, granted without our consent, and evict the miners from our lands. None of these measures have been taken. The government insists it is promoting indigenous rights by issuing new absolute grants and certificates of title. These title documents seem meaningless, however, when we have to ask miners for permission to access parts of our own titled lands.

The 2017 CCJ decision primarily determined that the GGMC does not have the power to enforce Native American law. That authority rests with the Department of Native American Affairs, which has done nothing to regulate the relevant provisions of the law in the five years since the CCJ ruling.

Moreover, we have no doubt that the GGMC can achieve the same objective by enforcing the Mining Act and its regulations, but it does nothing but endless and fruitless “investigations” into the situation. The CCJ decision also did not take into account that we have pre-dated title to the mining concessions as the GGMC provided no evidence on this point.

It is because of this that we were forced to take our case to court. We have turned to the courts to enforce our rights to our traditional lands, which have already been legally recognized with title deeds. We would prefer not to have to go to court though. The case would not be necessary if the Ministry and other government agencies protected our rights as they claim to do – by not granting mining concessions on titled lands and by removing unwanted miners from our titled lands.

Going to court does not mean the government can do nothing more for us. We can withdraw or settle our legal case if the government chooses to uphold our rights without being ordered to do so by the court system. We are still hoping for such a resolution.

We are also tired of the government’s endless “investigations” into the situation. The situation is clear and the government knows it as well as we do. We don’t need more government investigations to try to identify “illegal” mining activities. All of this is illegal, as it is all happening inside our titled lands without our consent. We need the GGMC and the Ministry of Natural Resources to stop mining operations at Tassawini and revoke mining concessions within our titled lands. We need the EPA to test our waters and soils and help us put in place measures to restore our environment. We need the Department of Native American Affairs to enforce the provisions of the Native American Act that require miners to obtain consent before mining within village titled lands. We need the Ministry and the NTC to fulfill their mandates and promote respect for our rights as indigenous peoples.

As the government launches Native American Heritage Month, we issue an urgent appeal to officials and the public to remember that celebrating our heritage begins with protecting our heritage.

Sincerely,

Orin Fernandes

for Chinese Landing Village Council

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