AFN gains Native American backing for NAFTA Indigenous chapter

Native American tribal leadership is backing a push for the inclusion of a chapter on Indigenous rights in the final draft of the under-negotiation North America Free Trade Agreement.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde hopes chapter will be included to protect Indigenous rights

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaks during the opening of the Assembly of First Nations annual general meeting in Regina, Sask., Tuesday July 25, 2017. (Mark Taylor/Canadian Press)

Native American tribal leadership is backing the inclusion of a chapter on Indigenous rights in the final draft of the currently under-negotiation North America Free Trade Agreement, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Tuesday.

The National Congress of American Indians passed a motion of support backing inclusion of a chapter in NAFTA that references the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ensures a final deal doesn't negatively impact Indigenous rights, said Bellegarde, who spoke to the NCAI annual general assembly Tuesday morning.

"I wanted to be here to enlist their support as NCAI, as chiefs and leadership, to support that concept, so they in turn can demonstrate and show the president of the United States and their team here on the U.S. side that there is support from Indigenous people for that chapter to go forward," Bellegarde said in a telephone interview from Milwaukee after speaking to the assembly.

Canada has already stated its support for including the chapter and is currently engaged in negotiations on NAFTA with the U.S. and Mexico. Those talks are expected to run into the new year.

Bellegarde was appointed by the Justin Trudeau government as an advisor to the Canadian negotiating team.

The NCAI is also set to pass an additional resolution of support for the NAFTA Indigenous rights chapter on Friday, he said.

He said he knows the possibility of including a chapter on Indigenous rights in current negotiations when the existing agreement is itself at risk is slim, but with all three countries having endorsed the UN declaration, he still holds out hope.

The whole challenge will be to convince the Mexican government to support this chapter going forward — a step at a time, a step at time.- AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde

"We don't know what is happening with NAFTA negotiations, we don't know if it will be renewed, we don't know that yet.

"We are just saying, as part of the new negotiations, as part of the new dialogue going forward, that it is important in 2017 to ensure that the Indigenous Peoples chapter is done and included."

Mexico's treatment of Indigenous peoples, especially when it comes to resource projects, has been criticized by human rights organizations like Amnesty International. Bellegarde said he was aware of those criticisms. 

"Mexico's treatment of their Indigenous Peoples is a concern, we have to be mindful of that," he said. "Mexico as a country has endorsed the UN declaration. Let's begin there, by talking to the Indigenous peoples down there, enlist their support for this.

"The whole challenge will be to convince the Mexican government to support this chapter going forward — a step at a time, a step at time."

Indigenous nations have been shut out of international trade deals for too long, said Bellegarde, and he hoped inserting a proposed Indigenous chapter into the NAFTA talks could alter the dialogue. 

In his speech to the national congress, Bellegarde said "NAFTA 2.0" needs to encourage trade between Native American tribes and First Nations, and allow for domestic procurement policies aimed at Indigenous business — language that exists in the Canada-European Trade Agreement.

Bellegarde would like to see a committee created under the renegotiated trade agreement that would include Indigenous representatives from the three member countries to explore issues like creating "foreign trade zones" on Indigenous lands and traditional territories.

About the Author

Jorge Barrera

Reporter

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.