Grand Riverkeeper attends Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee Session in Nairobi
Mr. Earl Hatley, Grand River Keeper/LEAD, a delegate of California Indian Environmental Alliance Third Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC)
The third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a globally legally binding instrument on Mercury (INC3) was held in Nairobi, from October 31st to November 4th, 2011. Our Grand Riverkeeper, Earl Hatley, was there on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus, to address the human health impacts of mercury contamination on Indigenous populations. The US Indigenous Caucus is sponsored and recognized by the International POPs Environmental Network (IPEN) and the California Indian Environmental Alliance (CIEA). Both are accredited by the UNEP, as NGOs for the Mercury treaty.
In Hatley’s own Oklahoma, ten Indigenous Nations are located along the Grand River. Fish from the river have mercury in their flesh, and those that consume locally caught fish have high levels of mercury found in their hair. As Hatley addressed the delegates, he explained that mercury is transported to the Arctic by air and ocean currents from human activities elsewhere. Regions with significant coal combustion are a large source of mercury through local emissions and long-range transport. Another major source of mercury emissions is mining; many large-scale mining sites are within indigenous territories, and documentation of mercury poisoning can be seen in the residents.
Mercury tends to disproportionately contaminate the traditional foods of Indigenous Peoples. Communities in highly effected regions, such as the Polar Regions to the Pacific Islands, throughout the Americas and the Southern Hemisphere, remain at a higher health risk from mercury contamination because of their reliance on culturally traditional foods.
Hatley urged the UN delegates to recognize the international human rights aspect of mercury contamination, and to apply these standards to a globally binding mercury emissions treaty. The Indigenous Caucus requested specifically that the words “Indigenous Peoples” be inserted in front of “sensitive populations” in order to recognize their rights and struggles. In a summary of the conference, the US, China, Japan, UK, and Canada refused to allow the words “Indigenous Peoples” in the language of the treaty. The result was little, if any, change to the treaty. Below are Hatley’s closing remarks to the delegates.
“Mr. Chair, this is a life and death issue to our indigenous Peoples that maintain a land, water, and ice-based culture. We appreciate short-term approaches as preliminary actions, but the only true long-term solution is to rigorously reduce mercury contamination in the environment and in the species that sustain us. Although Indigenous Peoples are particularly impacted, we share with you the recognition that this is a global threat which affects not only the future generations of Indigenous Peoples, but all people and all Life.” –Earl Hatley, Grand Riverkeeper
For swimmable, drinkable, fishable water, let’s keep pushing for change.