Native Americans Push for Indigenous Chapter of NAFTA

MILWAUKEE (CN) – The National Congress of American Indians agreed this week to support the efforts of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations to add an indigenous chapter in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The proposed chapter would ensure indigenous representation from all three NAFTA parties, the United States, Canada and Mexico. The trade deal is currently being renegotiated, and talks are expected to go into next year.

The indigenous chapter would also cite the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and seek to prevent any deal from negatively impacting Native Americans.

The two groups met in Milwaukee on Tuesday at the five-day National Congress of American Indians 74th Annual Convention and Marketplace to begin working to establish the chapter request.

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde applauded the NCAI’s support in a statement.

“I thank the National Congress of American Indians for passing a unanimous motion supporting in principle an Indigenous Peoples Chapter in a renegotiated NAFTA and supporting our work to protect Indigenous rights,” he said. “This is a strong show of solidarity by the First Peoples of Turtle Island and a strong message to the nation-states involved in the negotiations. Our inherent rights, treaty rights and international rights in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be respected in the negotiations and in any final agreement.”

Bellegarde is an advisor on Canada’s NAFTA Council and will participate during the upcoming international negotiations to “modernize” the trade agreement.

“I want to bring the message to our brothers and sisters south of the border – a border that we did not create – that we can stand together to uphold our rights in our homelands,” Bellegarde said. “First Nations were here before the borders, with our own treaties guiding territorial control, trade, and diplomatic relations. Today, international agreements can affect our lands, our lives, and our abilities to trade and visit with one another.”

NAFTA was implemented in 1994 and eliminated all tariffs and almost all quantitative restrictions on trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The agreement includes chapters covering an array of negotiation policies including rules of origin, customs procedures, agriculture and sanitary measures, government procurement, investment, trade in services, protection of intellectual property rights, and dispute settlement procedures.

Founded in 1944, the NCAI is the longest running, largest and most representative advocate organization of Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the United States.

AFN was founded in 1982 and advocates for First Nations citizens in Canada.

After the motion Tuesday to support AFN’s efforts, NCAI members will formally vote Friday to approve a resolution entitled, “Supporting the Inclusion of an Indigenous Chapter in any Renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement.”

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