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General Comment concerning Articles 28 and 29

One important dimension of the cultural and intellectual property of indigenous peoples is the fact that such rights are intimately linked to our lands, territories and resources. In fact, most, if not all, indigenous intellectual property and knowledge has its origin in our distinct and diverse methods of adapting to the environment that we live in. Indigenous knowledge and cultural and intellectual property are a direct manifestation of this relationship. Maintaining and sustaining indigenous traditional knowledge and rights to cultural and intellectual property that is directly related to our environment is, in this way, dependent upon maintaining and sustaining our relationship to our lands, territories and resources.

This was the part of the rationale for the Working Group on Indigenous Populations to include this fundamental right in this Part of the draft Declaration. The WGIP members understood the importance of this linkage, as well as the need for a general right of indigenous peoples to cultural and intellectual property.

Such matters relate directly to state concerns or questions over the use of the term “total environment.” As the ICC has related in the past, our total environment includes the lands, territories and resources upon which we depend, ranging from coastal seas, sea ice and marine mammals to air and migratory birds, and so forth. Such a comprehensive formulation is required to conserve and protect our rights and interests in preserving indigenous peoples total environment.

The statement by the government of Canada that standards affirming a right to the conservation, restoration and protection of the environment do not exist in international law is misinformed. Indigenous speakers before me have raised the fact that a number of instruments include standards and principles on such a right. For example, ILO Convention 169, Article 4(1) addresses the integrity of the environment of indigenous peoples, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Furthermore, numerous international instruments contain aspects of conservation, restoration and protection of the environment and can be cited as examples of the essential concept contained in Article 28 of the draft Declaration. Such documents include the World Conservation Strategy, the Stockholm Declaration of the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling, and international treaties concerning species such as the polar bear and migratory birds.

As we all know, the entire purpose of the draft Declaration process and the ongoing U.N. mandate is to give “special attention to the evolution of standards concerning the rights of indigenous peoples, taking account of both the similarities and differences in the situations and aspirations of indigenous peoples….” To cite the lack of international legal standards as an excuse or expression of unwillingness to support the present language of Article 28 is misguided and misinformed. Such a state government position is also inconsistent with previous state expressions of understanding of the unique and profound relationship that indigenous peoples have to their lands, territories and resources. It is directly because of this relationship that the whole of Part VI of the Declaration is critical to indigenous peoples. Our rights to lands, territories and resources, cultural and intellectual property and our right to a safe and healthy environment are all interrelated, inseparable and interconnected. Finally, these fundamental rights are integral to our exercise of self-determination and should be understood and supported by states in a comprehensive fashion. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.