Our message begins with hope for the health and wellbeing of all our friends and partners around the world. We at First Peoples Worldwide are seeing all of the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic is having and will continue to have on Indigenous Peoples locally and globally.
We are watching, especially here in North America, how the pandemic affects the health of Native communities in their physical, cultural and spiritual wellbeing, and their economic situation. We are buoyed by the many messages of cultural and spiritual grounding in these uncertain moments.
We are also watching the ways that the federal government’s stimulus bills will be offered and taken up in Indian Country. We are thankful for the strong leadership advocating for Native interests by NAFOA, NCAI, NCAIED and so many others. This week, we released a guidance resource and will continue to provide updates.
We are also watching, from our position at the intersection of business and human rights, the ways that critical protections of Native lands and resources are being trampled even during this worldwide health crisis. In no uncertain terms – now is not the time.
On March 31, 2020, TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) announced that it would begin construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline despite the fact that this means that hundreds of workers will flock to the area during a pandemic, bringing with them the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to already under-resourced rural communities. Given these concerns, several tribes filed a temporary restraining order to halt the start of construction to protect the physical health of their communities. Still, construction is slated to begin soon. The short-sighted focus on construction of this pipeline is putting Native communities directly in harm’s way for corporate economic gain. Now is not the time.
We have seen that the EPA has temporarily suspended enforcement protocols over critical protections of land and water resources, thereby allowing for environmental harms to go unchecked for an undetermined amount of time. We have seen where rules regarding fossil fuel efficiency standards will be rolled back such that they lose the pressing focus on mitigating climate change. Now is not the time.
The Bureau of Land Management has indicated plans to move forward with the oil and gas lease sales in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge despite continued opposition from Indigenous leaders. Even during this national health emergency, the federal government continues to move forward with these resource development and public comment processes that ignore the on-the-ground realities that tribal leaders are facing as they navigate this public health crisis on behalf of their communities. Now is not the time.
Now is not the time for hushed reversals of federal protections. But we are watching. And, in the coming months, we will deploy our expertise to connect Indigenous Peoples with the resources necessary to continue to build their communities from a position of strength, sovereignty and self-determination. We will build on existing tools for tribes to deploy the strategies of corporate engagement as a means to elevate their concerns, with an eye towards this new economic moment.
Of note, our work to promote the rights of Indigenous Peoples in international venues, including within the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of the United States, has been delayed in part. The review of the United States’ human rights record in Geneva has been rescheduled from May to November 9, 2020. We are continuing to work closely with our Indigenous partners to protect their human rights and their lands, territories, and resources — and we will be posting an update on this work in the coming weeks.
In short, we are watching, we are listening and we are finding ways we can work together. Now is the time to listen, to reflect, and to prioritize health and wellness. Indigenous communities will experience disproportionate impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we remain steadfast in our commitment to elevate the voices of Indigenous Peoples, to Indigenize corporate values, and to forward Indigenous rights.