Affirmation of sovereignty and socioeconomic development: Atikamekw Nation makes its mark at the UN

NEW YORK, April 23 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - In a historic move, the Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation, Constant Awashish, today made an official declaration at the fourteenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place at UN headquarters in New York. In a highly visible appearance, he described the situation of his people, pointing out that the Canadian context still does not compare favourably to that which exists elsewhere on the planet.

"Our affirmation process is not a matter of politics or governance. It's a fundamental element in our socioeconomic development. For although we live in Canada, a country known for its wealth and social equality, our living conditions are difficult and undignified. The saga of the residential schools is a glaring example of this. This aim of this dark episode in Canadian history was to destroy our culture and ultimately make us disappear. These wounds have still not healed," said Grand Chief Awashish, who was accompanied by Jean-Roch Ottawa, chief of Manawan, and Jean-Pierre Moar, an elder and former chief of Manawan.

In his address, Grand Chief Awashish also made recommendations regarding the UN objectives for the Post-2015 Development Agenda. "For us, there's no doubt that self-government, especially when it comes to health care, is one factor that could help improve the situation. We therefore recommend that healthcare models take into account indigenous concepts of health. This includes the establishment of clear mechanisms for cooperation among healthcare professionals, communities, traditional healers, policymakers and governments, to ensure that human resources fit with the epidemiological profile and sociocultural context of indigenous communities," he recommended.

Parallel event
In addition to his appearance before the Permanent Forum, Grand Chief Awashish, Chief Ottawa and Mr. Moar held a parallel event on the topic of "Sustainable management of natural resource in the context of an indigenous territorial sovereignty".

"I'm informing you today that we are turning a page in our history. We are one of the founding peoples of Quebec and of Canada as a whole. We must also be involved in development of this country and we must play a part in decisions that are important for its future. We are determined to vigorously defend our rights with governments and private corporations that want to continue to develop our Nitaskinan without negotiating with our people with dignity and in good faith. The time of colonialism must end," said Grand Chief Awashish.

The presence of the Atikamekw chiefs at the UN is part of the Nation's ongoing efforts to have its ancestral rights recognized and follows the Declaration of Sovereignty it made in Quebec City on September 8. Supported by international law acknowledging that indigenous peoples have rights, notably that of free, prior and informed consent, the Atikamekw Nation will no longer accept any development of resources without its consent.

"Let's be clear: our affirmation is not a declaration of independence, and even less a declaration of war. We are not anti-development but it must be carried out in a way that respects our rights and our title to the territory and resources. Clearly, any development, use or exploitation of resources found on our ancestral lands now requires our consent," added Chief Ottawa.

This UN mission also gave the representatives from the Atikamekw Nation an opportunity to make many contacts and create international networks with other indigenous peoples' representatives from around the world.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was established by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in July 2000 with the aim of providing provide expert advice on indigenous issues to UN programs, funds and agencies, as well as raising public awareness of these issues. It comprises 16 independent experts who serve on the Forum in a personal capacity. The 14th session is taking place in New York from April 20 to May 1.

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SOURCE The Atikamekw Nation

For further information: Éric Duguay, Phone : 514-843-2325, Cell.: 514-377-1980, eduguay@national.ca

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