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From the Indigenous Environmental Network’s 12th Annual Protecting Mother Earth Conference “What We Do Now, Touches the Next Seven Generations” Penticton Indian Band Okanagan Nation Territories, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada, August 2-5, 2001

Nearly 700 Indigenous peoples, including youth, from Canada, United States, Mexico and some from Central America and South America gathered on the traditional lands of the Penticton Indian Band in Okanagan Territory in what is known as British Columbia, Canada. Indigenous organizations, communities and representatives of tribes and bands came together to work on our commitment to take responsibility to protect Mother Earth, the health of our Indigenous communities and the biodiversity or Circle of Life. This gathering was hosted by the Penticton Indian Band of the Okanagan Nation and the En’okwin Centre.

Primary issues whereby statements were developed were: Right to Food and Food Security; Energy; and Water. Within these discussions were educational workshops on issues of toxic and radioactive contamination from agricultural, military and industrial activities; mining and mineral extraction; the need for sustainable forest ecosystems; climate change as a result of energy policies that depend on fossil fuel production; risk assessment policies that don’t protect Indigenous lands and resources; and environmental health. Within the conference, participants wove into these issues concerns about the impacts on how economic globalization, regional, bilateral and global trading mechanisms and western forms of development have not been sustainable. Participants consistently expressed concerns that national-state governmental policies either were absent or not effective towards protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, protection of treaty territories, land, air and water, biodiversity, food and sacred sites.

These impacts have been disruptive to the ability of Indigenous peoples to protect our traditional territories, maintain or develop sustainable economic systems and to practice our traditional gathering, hunting and fishing cultures. This disruption has severely affected the ability of Indigenous communities to maintain sustainable food and economic security systems that have been developed and refined for millennia. Indigenous peoples ­ from the North to the South - historically and currently are experiencing poverty, economic dependency from federalism and industrial development, experiencing the symptoms of colonization - like internalized oppression ­ malnourishment and hunger. It was stressed that language is the foundation of Indigenous identity both to the natural world and to each other. When the connection to healthy and sustainable ecosystems is disturbed by lost of habitat, biodiversity and traditional foods, this affects the ability to pass on language that is closely linked to our environment, our foods and our relationship to the sacredness of our Mother Earth.

An all-day plenary was held during this gathering entitled, “Sustainable Agriculture, Traditional Food Systems and the Right to Food.” The International Indian Treaty Council assisted in the planning and coordination of this plenary. This document reflects the voices, concerns and inspirations of those Indigenous participants present both at this plenary and other meetings and workshops throughout the conference.

Statements of Fact

  1. The right to food is recognized as a basic human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition.

  2. For many millennia, the Indigenous peoples have developed and refined traditional sustainable agriculture, maintained hunting, fishing, and gathering practices, developed animal husbandry, all based on Indigenous and local knowledge handed down through the generations. These practices have enabled our Indigenous communities to achieve sustainability and food security - to adequately address hunger and nutrition - providing sufficient food year after year despite fluctuations in weather patterns and natural disturbances. By adhering to these practices, our Indigenous communities have been able to retain economic independence and self-sufficiency, and ensure that the diversity of plant and animal species remains high.

  3. Over 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity is found within Indigenous peoples’ lands and territories. Indigenous peoples represent approximately 350 million individuals in the world and make up approximately 90% of the world’s cultural diversity. We use our highly specialized, traditional knowledge to care for and conserve the interconnected web or “Circle of Life” known as “biodiversity.”

  4. Over millennia, Indigenous peoples have become physically and metabolically accustomed to the foods found, gathered and cultivated in local areas and the animals we have traditionally hunted, fished, and raised. Food is the main medicine, essential to community and individual health. Our bodies are made of our food and the land that provides it. Many of our spiritual practices are centered on our traditional foods, and we have a profound and deeply ingrained spiritual and cultural relationship with our lands and territories that has been well documented. Some Indigenous tribal cultures derive their family clan or kinship identification from certain food groups and animals.

  5. Government policies have allowed natural resource extraction and development activities that have historically destroyed and currently threaten subsistence foods, traditional and modern small-scale agricultural practices and other food systems in North America, the Americas and all over the world, depriving Indigenous peoples of their basic human right to food security. Governmental policies and development activities often put Indigenous and local communities into a state of poverty, malnourishment and hunger. To mention only a few types of activities and their results:

    • Industrial toxic and radioactive releases now pollute both land and water, accumulating in the fish, traditional crops, commercial food supply, animals, and soil that are interrelated and essential for survival.

    • Mining operations cause the displacement of communities, destruction of natural habitat, disruption of sacred sites, and cause severe water pollution with deadly toxins, water depletion from surface, subsurface and aquifers, as well as the diversion of water away from our communities.

    • Oil drilling and related activities fragment the landscape, leading to increased colonization, development, and deforestation, along with pollution of land and water and irreparable damage to fragile ecosystems.

    • Clear-cutting, other intensive logging methods, and trade liberalization of forest products destroy the forest habitat of animals and fish, cause soil erosion, thermal pollution, and pollute water with both sediment and herbicides.

    • Industrial agriculture and large-scale commercial animal production and processing facilities degrade soils, contaminate the air and water, threaten native seed stocks, disrupt historical, cultural and sacred areas and displace traditional agricultural and food security practices.

    • Large hydro-electric projects flood the lands that sustain Indigenous peoples’ food security, disrupt and destroy subsistence-based cultural practices, and forcibly displace entire communities.

    • Drug trafficking and armed conflict displace Indigenous communities. The responses of domestic and foreign governments to political violence and illegal economic activity, such as the massive fumigation of croplands and forests as part of “Plan Colombia,” further threaten Indigenous agricultural and other food security practices.

    • Genetically modified organisms and seeds pose a serious threat to the native seed stocks and plants carefully cultivated by Indigenous agriculturalists for millennia, as in the recent genetic contamination of several varieties of native maize in Mexico, the center of origin and diversity for maize; in the meantime, the corporations and universities that produce these modified seeds are attempting to deprive Indigenous peoples of their intellectual property rights to traditionally cultivated seed strains.

  6. Increasing dependence on non-traditional processed commercial foods of a consumer-oriented society is damaging the health of Indigenous peoples. Diet-related maladies such as obesity and diabetes are elevated in Indigenous communities with diabetes rates in some communities as high as 85 percent. Thyroid diseases, immune system disorders and cancers are also rampant. In industrialized countries such as the United States, virtually all food products are contaminated with persistent organic pollutants (POPs). While POPs residue levels in individual food items are small, when viewed in the context of daily amounts of food consumption, the contamination found is at or near levels of concern according to health-based standards set by US federal agencies.

  7. Developing fetuses and children are especially vulnerable to problems caused by exposure to POPs. Indigenous peoples are exposed both to contaminated foods from commercially-processed, traditional and subsistence foods, raising concerns of disproportionate exposures to contaminated subsistence foods such as, but not limited to fish and animals that are higher up in the food chain. Indigenous peoples from the arctic regions to the tropical and commercial agricultural regions, where industry, mining and agricultural chemicals are discharged, are found to experience higher health risks and toxic exposure, as compared to dominant society.

  8. Government agencies and corporations have not responded sufficiently and responsibly to the massive natural resource development, cleanup and mitigation of natural resource damage and environmental problems on Indigenous lands. On the other hand, these same governments and corporations often respond quickly and more thoroughly when even minor toxic spills and exposures threaten non-Indigenous institutions and communities.


  1. For many millennia and on every continent, Indigenous peoples have created successful and durable frameworks for sustainability based on ceremony, ritual and traditional cultural practices. These practices function like highly regulated legal systems, based on natural and spiritual laws, and they ensure long-term conservation and sustainability through traditional management, control and monitoring systems. Long-tenured and place-based traditional knowledge of the environment is valuable, and has been proven to be valid and effective. This knowledge should not be compromised by over-reliance on relatively recent and narrowly defined western scientific methods and standards.

  2. Access to and protection of traditional lands and water rights, the continuation of traditional practices, and conservation of seed stocks are prerequisites to food security and the eradication of hunger. Traditional Indigenous food production relies on cooperative, collective harvesting and distribution, ensuring that everyone receives an equitable share and that surpluses are given to those most in need. Maintaining economic autonomy is essential to maintaining Indigenous solidarity.

  3. The threats to the survival of traditional practices, and in turn to the survival of Indigenous peoples, are common to communities all around the world. Imposed disruption of food and traditional economic systems, established cycles of agriculture, food gathering, hunting, and fishing, is a form of continued colonization that damages the attitudes, and eventually the cultural knowledge, of Indigenous peoples. Hunger and food insecurity are unfortunate companions to poverty and undeveloped economies. Solidarity among Indigenous communities in resistance to these threats is essential.

  4. This colonization can be subtle, as in the case of organic farming standards that require changes in sustainable agricultural methods that have been practiced by Indigenous peoples for millennia. It can also be overt and fundamentally aimed at the displacement of traditional Indigenous peoples from their territories through destruction of self-sufficiency and economic autonomy. This in turn facilitates resource extraction and industrial agriculture. Either form of colonization is worthy of resistance.

  5. Historically, development activities have been based upon a western model to raise gross domestic product at the expense of recognition of basic human rights.

  6. Climate change and global warming by greenhouse gases (CO2) have been found to negatively impact food security within Indigenous lands. Oil, gas and coal increases the greenhouse gases. The combination of climate change and environmental degradation has: created conditions that have spread infectious disease; altered the balance of predators and prey; disrupted the ecological balance effecting the biodiversity and loss of species; destroyed forests and marine ecosystems; caused frequent and violent storms, hurricanes and drought; caused destruction of fisheries, rising sea levels threatening the survival of small island states and many other effects.

  7. Money cannot fully compensate for debilitating illnesses, death, loss of traditional lands, degraded water quality, threatened long-term food security, or diminished economic autonomy. Therefore, precautionary principles and the prevention of harm should be the cornerstones for agricultural or any other type of development that will affect Indigenous peoples.

  8. The policies of economic globalization, carried out by financial and trade institutions and agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), other global institutions as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) all stress food production for export rather than for local consumption. Under these trade regimes food is neither produced nor distributed equitably. Indigenous and local communities and farmers, who once nourished themselves from local sustainable food systems, are forced from their lands, either by forced-choice or no choice, due to privatization of their lands or development of large-scale agribusiness or natural resource extraction. Indigenous peoples and local farmers are forced to migrate to cities to compete for low-wage jobs, resulting in putting themselves and their families in conditions of poverty, malnourishment and hunger.


  1. Governments must unconditionally support the adoption by the United Nations of the current United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.

  2. Government and industry must recognize that Indigenous peoples’ food related traditional knowledge and practices are valid and valuable to food security, yet they must not implement policies that violate Indigenous peoples’ rights to maintain their traditional knowledge, practices, seeds and other food related genetic resources.

  3. Governments should support, rather than discourage or infringe upon, Indigenous peoples’ own methods and institutions for the registration, protection, management and continuation of traditional knowledge, practices and food related genetic resources.

  4. Governments must take effective steps to ensure that Indigenous peoples can freely access their lands and territories, and protect the biological regions and habitats in which their traditional knowledge and foods are based.

  5. Governments and multinationals must, under international human rights standards, consult with Indigenous peoples in all matters that may affect them, including those that will affect their subsistence, right to food and food security. These consultations must be carried out in “good faith,” meaning that there is no fraud, manipulation, duress nor guarantee that agreement will be reached on the specific project or measure. Good faith consultations also require that the Indigenous peoples involved:
    • Give free and informed consent to conduct the consultations;
    • Be provided the means and capacity to fully participate in them; and
    • Can exercise both their local and/or traditional decision-making processes, including the direct participation of their spiritual and ceremonial authorities and the traditional practitioners of subsistence and cultural ways in the consultation process and the expression of consent for the particular project or measure

  6. Industrial, natural resource, agricultural development and the application of technology in Indigenous communities must not threaten the communities’ economic autonomy or long-term, traditionally-based food security, and must therefore respect Indigenous peoples self determination, rights to land, water and other productive resources, as well as the right of a community to provide for itself in accordance with their millennial traditional knowledge.

  7. International mechanisms must be developed to support technology transfer, capacity building and financial mechanisms to Indigenous communities to address poverty, malnourishment, hunger and other food security issues related to building sustainable development initiatives that embrace traditional knowledge. Developing sustainable food systems can meet our need for food and expanded economic development.

  8. Governments must expeditiously sign and ratify the Stockholm POPs Convention. Governments and their heads of state and environment ministers around the world must ratify the POPs treaty and three other treaties: the Rotterdam Convention on prior informed consent for trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides; the Basel Convention and its 1995 ban on the export of hazardous wastes from OECD to non-OECD countries; and the 1996 Protocol to the London Convention on ocean dumping.

  9. In order to protect human health, native seeds and other food related genetic resources, there should be an immediate moratorium on the development, cultivation and use of genetically modified seeds, plants, fish and other organisms.

  10. Governments and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) must take rigorous steps and immediate and effective measures to stop CO2 emissions in the sites of origin. There must be a moratorium of the expansion and exploration of new sites of oil, natural gas and coal development in and near Indigenous lands as a step towards eliminating fossil fuels as a primary energy source. The promotion of clean renewable energy.

  11. A moratorium on bilateral and multilateral loans, and on national credits and subsidies by the World Bank, IMF and other national and international financial mechanisms for natural resource development, logging and deforestation, hydrocarbon extraction projects, fossil fuel energy generating projects, nuclear power, mega-scale hydro electric projects, mining and other developments, until a national assessment and inventory is conducted on the social, economic and cultural impacts of these developments on Indigenous peoples. This moratorium must also be applied to the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP’s), which heavily influence the economic and social policies of debtor governments, hence impacting the poverty and food security status of Indigenous peoples.

  12. The cancellation of the internal debt of countries of the South, which results in pressure for unsustainable natural resource developments and energy extraction.

  13. Governments, industry and multi-lateral institutions should adopt and abide by the precautionary principle in all decisions, recognizing that each decision will have impacts on the future generations of all Peoples.

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