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How Indigenous Peoples and G7 Leaders Can Best Work Together in 2018

Katrina Bland, G7 Research Group
December 26, 2017

In the collective communiqués issued at the G7 summits dating back to 1975, the leaders of the world's major democracies have long affirmed the value of inclusiveness and identified many vulnerable minorities who need to be brought in. Yet the G7 has only sparingly identified Indigenous peoples, whose vulnerabilities and values deserve a prominent place.

Indeed, the first reference Indigenous peoples was only in 2000, in the context of combatting illegal logging. Indigenous peoples were not mentioned again until 2009, when they were recognized as relevant stakeholders in developing a national strategy to coordinate between the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and forestry practices. In the last nine years, however, Indigenous peoples have only been mentioned once, and only in the communiqué issued by the environment ministers. It emphasized the importance of partnering with Indigenous peoples in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and of considering the especially harmful effects climate change will have on Indigenous peoples.

Even if the G7 members beyond North America do not have Indigenous communities as large or as visible at home, all depend critically on the many contributions that Indigenous peoples can make to the priorities that the 2018 G7 Charlevoix Summit will address. Those priorities include gender equality, an issue that has been addressed regularly, although not every year, since the 1996 Lyon Summit. This attention has come in the context of increasing access to education; improving newborn, maternal and child health; preventing sexual violence; and, most recently, empowering women as drivers of economic growth.

Many of these initiatives have targeted non-G7 members, but with the increased awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, it is time that all G7 members look inwards to protect vulnerable women. The interim report of Canada's National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls concludes that entrenched sexism, racism and subjugation of colonialism have combined to create a situation where between 1,000 and 4,000 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing since 1980 and whose cases remain unsolved. All G7 members have much to learn about how intersecting inequality and systemic inequality can generate violence against women and girls and can create complacency among authorities within their own borders and abroad from the Indigenous communities that lost these women and girls.

In Canada, as in other G7 members, an aging population and low birth rate burden the middle class. G7 summits have recently begun to stress the value of gender equality and women's economic empowerment for boosting economic growth. However, Canada's economy stands to benefit by $27.7 billion annually if the barriers to Indigenous peoples' participation in the economy were removed. Indigenous peoples' reservations sit on land containing some of Canada's most valuable natural resources, which non-Indigenous parties seem determined to extract for international trade. Yet Indigenous peoples have treaty rights to the land and rights as self-determining nations within Canada. Moreover, their uniquely close relationship with the natural environment provides an opportunity for sober second thought on the apparent tradeoffs between environmental protection and resource development.

Supporting Indigenous peoples to reap the benefits of international trade as they see fit would further bolster the economy while respecting their rights and the environment. As Indigenous peoples gain more power to participate fully in the economy, they will put more money back into their own communities, thus creating a positive cycle of development for the future.

Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland has recognized this win-win situation and is suggesting an Indigenous chapter be added to the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement. Such inclusion of Indigenous peoples in discussions on trade in the lead-up to the Charlevoix Summit sets an example of incorporating marginalized communities into the global economy.

In 2015, at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UNFCCC, when the Paris Agreement was signed, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau stated that Indigenous peoples have known for thousands of years how to care for the environment and that the rest of the world has a lot to learn from them. They experience firsthand the effects of climate change in the natural environment. These effects inhibit Indigenous peoples' daily life and the full expression of their rights as guaranteed under treaties with the Canadian government.

Additionally, Indigenous peoples' traditional ecological and place-based knowledge about how and why the environment is changing and what must be done to save it makes their inclusion in discussions on climate change and sustainable development an important part of reconciliation and planning of a future together. As host of the 2018 G7 summit, Canada must put this theory into action.

Perhaps most importantly for Canadians, however, is that to leave Indigenous peoples out of discussions on these issues will call into question the efforts the Canadian government has been making at reconciliation. While Canada is being applauded around the world for upholding liberal democratic values, some Indigenous communities in Canada do not have access to clean water and other basic necessities. It is a dark spot on Canada's reputation, psyche and history that will only continue to grow if Indigenous peoples are not recognized as the important stakeholders they are.

The beneficial effects of including Indigenous peoples and recognizing their contributions at the Charlevoix Summit are sure to ripple around the world.

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Katrina BlandKatrina Bland holds an Honours BA in international relations and political science from the University of Toronto. She is chair of summit studies for the 2018 Charlevois Summit, having served as lead analyst. She is also a compliance analyst for the G20 Research Group. Her research focuses on G7 and G20 gender and health issues, in addition to her other research interests in cross-cultural communication and international law.

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