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Hupacasath First Nation the Last Line of Defence Against FIPA

After public outcry was ignored and the NDP’s motion to reject the agreement dismissed, the Hupacasath First Nation is the only thing standing between the Harper government and the ratification of its Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Act (FIPA) treaty with China.

The Hupacasath will be in court June 5-7 when the judge will hear final arguments from both sides. This is the last step in a nine-month long process to stop the Government of Canada from signing a treaty that would give Chinese companies the power to exploit First Nations’ territory without consulting First Nations people. A decision is expected no earlier than a month from the closing arguments.

With support from the Tsawwassen First Nation, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario and the Chiefs of Ontario, Hupacasath spokesperson Brenda Sayers believes the case is strong.

“I’m feeling very positive that things will fall in our favour. We have a strong argument that we’ve put forth under section 35 of the constitution.”

The tiny nation from the Alberni Valley in BC, caught on to the agreement, signed in secret last September with the intention of ratifying it in November, and filed the court challenge that stalled the process. Last month, NDP MP Don Davies’ motion to refuse to ratify the agreement was voted down in House of Commons. The Hupacasath are now the last line of defence.

“This will affect our natural resources in our traditional territory to a great extent,” Sayers said. “China is the second largest economic power in the world, moving up to number one, and they have the power and the means to come in and buy Canadian companies and extract the resources from our traditional territory.” The terms of FIPA would mean that any attempt on the part of First Nations to protect their land could be seen as interfering with China’s right to profit, thereby triggering legal action against Canada.

The Hupacasath have also reached their goal of making the challenge publicly funded, raising more than $150,000 through a fundraising campaign supported by Leadnow and the Council of Canadians.

“The way that we’ve looked at this from the start is that it’s everybody’s court challenge. It’s everybody’s responsibility to support the work that’s been undertaken by the First Nations,” she said, adding that she’s disappointed that the provincial government still hasn’t stepped in to support its people.

One of the biggest challenges throughout the process has been getting the word out to Canadians and First Nations across the country. With little coverage from major media outlets, she said it has been difficult for the small nation—of less than 300—to reach a national audience.

“I said it from the beginning and I’ll continue saying it: we need the support. We can’t do it alone,” she said. “We need the support of Canada in a large way to end this thing. We need people to show that they’re not in favour of the Canada-China FIPA.”

The Hupacasath are calling for a Unity Gathering, a peaceful gathering of supporters outside the Vancouver Federal Courthouse on June 5, 6 and 7.

Erin Flegg is a freelance writer and journalist, and her work appears in the Vancouver Observer, Xtra West and This…

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