Genetic resources, Indigenous rights link a “red herring”

[Aboriginal News]

Genetic resources, Indigenous rights link a “red herring”: Duncan NATIONAL NEWS
22. OCT, 2010 BY JBARRERA

By Nigel Newlove and Annette Francis APTN National News

Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan said Friday there was no link between Indigenous rights and the control over genetic resources, dismissing criticism from Aboriginal leaders over Canadian moves this week at UN talks on biodiversity.

Canadian officials moved to strike two references to Indigenous rights during UN negotiations in Nagoya, Japan, aimed at developing international standards for accessing and sharing the genetic material of plants, animals and microbes.

Innu, Cree and Mohawk delegates from Canada at the talks reacted with outrage and issued statements condemning Canada’s move as another attack on Indigenous rights.

They also said it was an indication that the Conservative government was not serious about their promise to endorse the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Duncan, however, said the criticism was based on a misunderstanding of what the talks were really about in Nagoya.

“What transpired in Japan is actually a complete red herring,” said Duncan, in an interview with APTN National News. “What is being discussed in Japan is about intellectual property, so to think that has anything really significant to do with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is inappropriate.”

The controversy stemmed from the negotiations of the working group on access and benefit-sharing, which was created in 2000 under the umbrella of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which came into being in 1993.

The working group is developing international guidelines on the access and use of genetic materials and on who should benefit from their use.

Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo said there was a strong link between what was being discussed in Japan, Indigenous rights and the declaration.

In a letter sent Thursday to Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Atleo took exception to Canada’s move to strike references to Indigenous rights in a draft protocol laying the groundwork for more negotiations.

The offending texts included: “Taking into account the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as regards this protocol,” and “Affirms nothing in this protocol shall be constructed as diminishing or extinguishing the rights that indigenous and local communities have now or may have in the future.”

Atleo said in his letter that “the inclusion of these two provisions would send a strong signal to users of indigenous people’s traditional knowledge and genetic resources to deal fairly with indigenous communities.”

Atleo said Canada had taken a position that was “adverse” to the interests of First Nations peoples.

“The (convention on biodiversity) should contain clear acceptable standards for accessing First Nation traditional knowledge, traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources and the utilization of genetic resources,” said Atleo, in his letter to Prentice obtained by APTN National News.

The working group’s own literature says that Indigenous traditional knowledge initially unlocked many of the benefits of genetic material now used in food, medicine and industrial products.

The traditional territories of indigenous peoples also include large swaths of the world’s undeveloped natural environments which are vital repositories of biodiversity.

Article 31 of the UN declaration states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain control, protect…human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora.”

NDP Aboriginal affairs critics Jean Crowder said that Duncan was “dead wrong.”

Crowder raised the issue during question period Thursday, asking why the government was now opposing the references to Indigenous rights in the protocol when it supported them earlier this year.

Duncan responded by simply repeating talking points that the Conservative’s would “take steps” to endorse the “aspirational document,” a term the government uses when referring to the UN declaration on Indigenous rights.

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