Indigenous Peoples Global Health and Mercury Program
Indigenous Peoples from all over the world suffer disproportionate impacts from mercury contamination. Mercury is a neurotoxin that bioaccumulates in fish and negatively affects the mental and physical development of babies and children. These effects continue on to adulthood and impact all Indigenous life-ways and livelihoods. Fish are not only important for our subsistence and health, but also for our social, cultural and spiritual well-being. This is particularly true for California Tribes.
Many Indigenous Peoples live in remote places where alternative food sources are scarce, and where food insecurity is common. Even low-level exposure to mercury contamination over long periods of time may have considerable health effects. Avoiding our traditional foods or our lands and territories contaminated by mercury is not acceptable and violates our human rights as recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In 2009, the United Nations Environment Programme governing council agreed to negotiate a legally binding instrument to regulate mercury, to be completed in 2013.
CIEA has actively participated as an NGO observer in the treaty negotiations, making interventions on issues of concern to the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus and meeting with country delegates to advocate for Indigenous Peoples.
Our goals for the treaty were:
1) A separate article on Health in the Treaty which will address communities particularly at risk, including Indigenous Peoples and, and involve us in implementation and in identifying effectiveness evaluation measures. The US is in the minority of countries in opposition to this article.
2) “Indigenous Peoples” must be included in the operative text of the treaty. This will enable our Peoples to fully participate in the implementation, decision-making and in the evaluation of the treaty at every level by allowing for the establishment of a working group on Indigenous Peoples during the Conference of the Parties. Existing multilateral environmental agreements do not include provisions for Indigenous Peoples to fully participate in the treaty implementation or in the development of resulting programs. This would support our cultural rights and place this treaty in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
3) Provisions to support cleanup projects and pilots in areas impacted by Legacy Mining with the participation of Indigenous Peoples in the design and implementation of these efforts. Since 2003, CIEA staff has focused on reducing mercury to levels low enough to support traditional subsistence fishing. However, our efforts to reach these goals have been repeatedly blocked by the global “background level” of mercury emitted from global sources. Meanwhile, in California the mercury legacy has encouraged leading scientific advancements to seek less expensive and replicable cleanup strategies, these are currently limited by a lack of state and federal funding.
For more information about how to participate in the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus or to support these efforts, please contact Kaylena Bray at (510)848-2043