Global Conference on Indigenous Rights and Environment Set to Launch Nov. 10 in Canadian Rockies

Organizers for Banff Event Include Major Canadian and Ecuadorian Indigenous Leaders and Environmentalists; Public Invited

CALGARY, Canada - A major international conference exploring indigenous legal principles, the environment, and reparations for environmental disasters is set to launch in Banff, Canada on November 10 with several high-profile speakers and academics gathering from around the world. The public is invited to register and attend. 

The three-day conference is being organized by professors at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law.

Issues surrounding the historic Ecuador case, Aguinda v Chevron, including the unpaid judgment owed to impoverished Ecuadorian indigenous communities and farmers for the world’s worst oil-related environmental disaster will be one of the important themes discussed by both experts and indigenous representatives who will attend from Canada, the United States, Ecuador, and other countries.

Panels will include one with survivors from Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest devastation; an analysis of reparations based on indigenous legal principles; how corporate obstructionism to human rights and environmental cases creates impunity; how private arbitrations under international trade treaties impact human rights protections; an analysis of successful reparations for mass harms in Canada; and conceptualizing harms from the perspectives of those harmed rather than those who harm. Conflicts of laws, corporate structuring, corporate social responsibility, the equitable enforcement of judgements, the ethics of SLAPP suits, the intersection of  human rights and the environment and the role of the courts in dealing with corporate power are also on the agenda.

Those slated to speak include Phil Fontaine, the thrice-elected leader of the Assembly of First Nations, Canada’s national indigenous federation representing 653 first nations; Dr. David Suzuki, the esteemed ecologist and environmental leader; Luis Macas, considered the founder of the modern Indigenous movement in Ecuador; Kathleen Mahoney, one of the world’s leading authorities on truth and reconciliation, and the chief negotiator for First Nations communities in the historic residential schools settlement in Canada; Grand Chief Ed John, lawyer and co-author of the U.N. Declaration On the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Aritha van Herk, an award-winning Canadian novelist from Alberta who has won acclaim throughout North America and Europe.

Also slated to speak are Cora Voyageur, a Dene leader from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and advocate of interests of First Nations; Professor Val Napoleon, an architect of the first indigenous law degree program in Canada, Glen Murray formerly of the Pembina Institute, Canada’s leading energy think tank; Rex Weyler, the Greenpeace co-founder and author; Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson, a leading thinker on asymmetrical litigation; and Steven Donziger, the New York-based environmental justice advocate who, with his Ecuadorian clients, have been widely discredited  in SLAPP-style retaliation campaigns after their successful judgments in their law suits against Chevron.

Also speaking will be Sharon Mascher, a professor at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law and expert on climate change litigation; Nigel Bankes, law professor and expert in Natural Resources law, Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, an international lawyer and also an architect of the United Nations Declaration On the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Aaron Marr Page, a leading American human rights lawyer. Professor Richard Devlin, a highly respected judicial educator and advocate for fairness in judicial decision-making will be the Rapporteur for the conference.

Organizers say one of the main goals of the conference is to establish a global coalition to advance the ideas and solutions coming out of the panel discussions. “We live in a critically important moment in history when extractive activities on traditional indigenous lands raise a number of cutting edge legal and policy issues that the conference will explore,” said Mahoney, Professor of Law at the University of Calgary, and an organizer of the event.  The coalition project would be “intimately connected” to the Paris Accords to reverse global warming. “We hope that representatives of the oil and gas industry and other extractive industries will attend so that the issues can be discussed holistically, inclusively and cooperatively in the search for solutions for the survival of the planet.”

The conference is being co-hosted by Fontaine, the former National Chief and the recipient of 19 honorary doctoral degrees; Macas, a Saraguro leader from Ecuador; and Mahoney, who is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Supporters of the event include philanthropists Ian, Victoria, and Lucinda Watson, among many others.

Top officials from Canada’s Assembly of First Nations, a national group which represents all First Nations in the country and is considered one of the most influential rights groups in the world, will also attend and speak. The AFN last year signed a joint protocol with Ecuadorian Indigenous groups to hold Chevron accountable for failing to address its pollution issues.

Fontaine said he had high hopes for the conference, calling it “a potential paradigm-shifting” event by advancing the use of Indigenous legal traditions in national court systems. 

“This is also about examining better ways to hold polluters accountable for wrongdoing in a timely fashion,” he said. “The Ecuador pollution case is an important context in which to better understand the issues involved which are critical for all Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world. “

Also planning to attend are several Ecuadorian indigenous persons and farmers who won the judgment against Chevron. Among them is Luis Yanza, an Ecuadorian author and community leader who in 2008 won the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Registration is available via this website, which contains an updated list of speakers and a current overview of the program.