AFN National Chief urges Canada to press Brazil over violence against Indigenous people
Former justice minister Jody Wilson Raybould says it's important for countries and leaders to speak out
Canada needs to pressure Brazil to end violations of Indigenous rights, says the head of Canada's largest Indigenous organization in a letter sent to Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and obtained by CBC News.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde sent the letter dated Aug. 24 to Freeland urging Canada pressure Brazil to "end its violence" against Indigenous Peoples.
Bellegarde said he was writing the letter to voice his "sadness and grave concerns" over land invasions and attacks by gold miners, ranchers and loggers on Indigenous territories in the northern Amazon region of Brazil that resulted in assaults on Waiapi women and the killing of Waiapi Chief Emyra Waiapi.
"Canada must act now to express its commitment to the enjoyment of human rights by Indigenous Peoples everywhere by urging the government of Brazil to protect Indigenous Peoples," said Bellegarde in the letter.
"I urge you to do what you can to communicate the need for the government of Brazil to end this violence and to stand up for the human rights of Indigenous people of the Amazonia."
Bellegarde said in the letter that the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon were in need of international support and he would be willing to "assist in communicating the joint concern of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations about this grave human rights situation."
The AFN represents 634 First Nations across the country.
Freeland's office said in a statement that the minister spoke with Bellegarde earlier this week and discussed the contents of the letter.
"Canada is extremely concerned by the fires in the Amazon rainforest and their impact on Indigenous people who have lived there for generations," said the statement.
The statement said Freeland had also recently spoken with the foreign ministers in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru on the wildfire situation in the Amazon.
Brazilian president openly critical of Indigenous territories
The Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro's aggressive posture toward the country's Indigenous territories was put under the international spotlight again as wildfires raged in the Amazon at an unprecedented rate.
Bolsonaro has been openly critical of territories set aside for Indigenous Peoples that were enshrined in that country's 1988 Constitution.
In an Associated Press report Friday, Bolsonaro told reporters that past allocations of land to Indigenous people, many of whom live in the Amazon rainforest, had been excessive. About 14 per cent of Brazil is Indigenous territory, a huge area for a relatively small population, Bolsonaro said.
Without offering evidence, Bolsonaro initially suggested that non-governmental organizations started the fires to try to damage the credibility of his government, which has called for looser environmental regulations in the world's largest rainforest to spur development.
On Thursday, Brazil banned most legal fires for land-clearing for 60 days in an attempt to stop the burning. Many fires were set in already deforested areas to open land for farming and pasture.
'We need to support Indigenous people throughout the world'
Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister who will run as an Independent candidate in Vancouver in the coming federal election, said the survival of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil's Amazon is at risk.
"They are a vanguard, they are on the bleeding edge of the reality of development, of recognizing Indigenous rights, recognizing the importance of the survival of communities and what Indigenous communities have to offer in terms of stewardship and Indigenous knowledge," Wilson-Raybould told CBC News.
Wilison-Raybould, who is a former AFN regional chief, said countries such as Canada need to speak out when Indigenous rights are threatened elsewhere.
"As an Indigenous person in this country whose rights have been denied for so long, and the reality of the colonial legacy that exists in this country, it's debilitating, and we need to support Indigenous people throughout the world that are facing similar, awful situations," said Wilson-Raybould.
"We can't continue to stand by and this is where it's incredibly important for leaders, countries and Indigenous Peoples to speak out when they see this happening."
with files from the Associated Press