Tags: Canada, canada government, canada indigenous, canada mining, environment, First Nations, idle no more, indigenous peoples, martin lukacs, roger hollander, rule of law, sovereignty summer, Stephen Harper, tar sands
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First Nations people – and the decision of Canadians to stand alongside them – will determine the fate of the planet
In a boardroom in a soaring high-rise on Wall Street, Indigenous activist Arthur Manuel is sitting across from one of the most powerful financial agents in North America.
It’s 2004, and Manuel is on a typical mission. Part of a line of distinguished Indigenous leaders from western Canada, Manuel is what you might call an economic hit-man for the right cause. A brilliant thinker trained in law, he has devoted himself to fighting Canada’s policies toward Indigenous peoples by assailing the government where it hurts most – in its pocketbook.
Which is why he secured a meeting in New York with a top-ranking official at Standard & Poor’s, the influential credit agency that issues Canada’s top-notch AAA rating. That’s what assures investors that the country has its debts covered, that it is a safe and profitable place to do business.
This coveted credit rating is Manuel’s target. His line of attack is to try to lift the veil on Canada’s dirty business secret: that contrary to the myth that Indigenous peoples leech off the state, resources taken from their lands have in fact been subsidizing the Canadian economy. In their haste to get at that wealth, the government has been flouting their own laws, ignoring Supreme Court decisions calling for the respect of Indigenous and treaty rights over large territories. Canada has become very rich, and Indigenous peoples very poor.
In other words, Canada owes big. Some have even begun calculating how much. According to economist Fred Lazar, First Nations in northern Ontario alone are owed $32 billion for the last century of unfulfilled treaty promises to share revenue from resources. Manuel’s argument is that this unpaid debt – a massive liability of trillions of dollars carried by the Canadian state, which it has deliberately failed to report – should be recognized as a risk to the country’s credit rating.
How did the official who could pull the rug under Canada’s economy respond? Unlike Canadian politicians and media who regularly dismiss the significance of Indigenous rights, he took Manuel seriously. It was evident he knew all the jurisprudence. He followed the political developments. He didn’t contradict any of Manuel’s facts.
He no doubt understood what Manuel was remarkably driving at: under threat of a dented credit rating, Canada might finally feel pressure to deal fairly with Indigenous peoples. But here was the hitch: Standard & Poor’s wouldn’t acknowledge the debt, because the official didn’t think Manuel and First Nations could ever collect it. Why? As author Naomi Klein, who accompanied Manuel at the meeting, remembers, his answer amounted to a realpolitik shoulder shrug.
“Who will able to enforce the debt? You and what army?”
This was his brutal but illuminating admission: Indigenous peoples may have the law on their side, but they don’t have the power. Indeed, while Indigenous peoples’ protests have achieved important environmental victories – mining operations stopped here, forest conservation areas set up there – these have remained sporadic and isolated. Canada’s country-wide policies of ignoring Indigenous land rights have rarely been challenged, and never fundamentally.
Until now. If it’s only a social movement that can change the power equation upholding the official’s stance, then the Idle No More uprising may be it. Triggered initially in late 2012 by opposition to the Conservative government’s roll-back of decades of environmental protection, this Indigenous movement quickly tapped into long-simmering indignation. Through the chilly winter months, Canada witnessed unprecedented mobilizations, with blockades and round-dances springing up in every corner of the country, demanding a basic resetting of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples.
Money is not the main form this justice will take. First Nations desperately need more funding to close the gap that exists between them and Canadians. But if Indigenous peoples hold a key to the Canadian economy, the point is to use this leverage to steer the country in a different direction. “Draw that power back to the people on the land, the grassroots people fighting pipelines and industrial projects,” Manuel says. “That will determine what governments can or cannot do on the land.”
The stakes could not be greater. The movement confronts a Conservative Canadian government aggressively pursuing $600 billion of resource development on or near Indigenous lands. That means the unbridled exploitation of huge hydrocarbon reserves, including the three-fold expansion of one of the world’s most carbon-intensive projects, the Alberta tar sands. Living closest to these lands, Indigenous peoples are the best and last defence against this fossil fuel scramble. In its place, they may yet host the energy alternatives – of wind, water, or solar.
No surprise, then, about the government’s basic approach toward First Nations: “removing obstacles to major economic development.” Hence the movement’s next stage – a call for defiance branded Sovereignty Summer – is to put more obstacles up. The assertion of constitutionally-protected Indigenous and treaty rights – backed up by direct action, legal challenges and massive support from Canadians – is exactly what can create chronic uncertainty for this corporate and government agenda. For those betting on more than a half-trillion in resource investments, that’s a very big warning sign.
Industry has taken notice. A recent report on mining dropped Canada out of the top spot for miners: “while Canadian jurisdictions remain competitive globally, uncertainties with Indigenous consultation and disputed land claims are growing concerns for some.” And if the uncertainty is eventually tagged with a monetary sum, then Canada will, as Manuel warned Standard & Poor’s, face a large and serious credit risk. Trying to ward off such a threat, the government is hoping to lock mainstream Indigenous leaders into endless negotiations, or sway them with promises of a bigger piece of the resource action.
But this bleak outlook intent on a final ransacking of the earth doesn’t stand up to the vision the movement offers Canadians. Implementing Indigenous rights on the ground, starting with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, could tilt the balance of stewardship over a vast geography: giving Indigenous peoples much more control, and corporations much less. Which means that finally honouring Indigenous rights is not simply about paying off Canada’s enormous legal debt to First Nations: it is also our best chance to save entire territories from endless extraction and destruction. In no small way, the actions of Indigenous peoples – and the decision of Canadians to stand alongside them – will determine the fate of the planet.
This new understanding is dawning on more Canadians. Thousands are signing onto educational campaigns to become allies to First Nations. Direct action trainings for young people are in full swing. As Chief Allan Adam from the First Nation in the heart of the Alberta oil patch has suggested, it might be “a long, hot summer.”
Sustained action that puts real clout behind Indigenous claims is what will force a reckoning with the true nature of Canada’s economy – and the possibility of a transformed country. That is the promise of a growing mass protest movement, an army of untold power and numbers.
Tags: environment, First Nations, jacob chamberlain, keystone, keystone xl, piipeline, roger hollander, tar sands, tar sands blockade
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Week of anti-pipeline actions erupt across the country
Climate activists on both sides of the U.S. and Canadian border are ratcheting up the fight against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline this week as the U.S. Senate ponders a recently proposed bill that would expedite its approval and “short-circuit” the State Department’s pipeline environmental review.
In the past week over 30 protests have taken place in dozens of U.S. cities as part of a “March 16-23, Week of Action to Stop Tar Sands Profiteers,” which has been coordinated by over 50 grassroots organizations.
So far, thirty-seven protesters have been arrested “for disrupting business as usual at TransCanada and their investors’ offices,” with more actions planned in the coming days.
“Organizers seek to expose green-washed corporations like TD Bank, a top shareholder in TransCanada, and force them to divest from the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” Tar Sands Blockade stated Wednesday.
“It’s encouraging to see people around the country taking action to stop tar sands profiteers,” said Ron Seifert, spokesperson for Tar Sands Blockade. “No longer will we allow them to build KXL and invest in toxic projects that endanger the health of low-income and communities of color. We will not allow ‘business as usual’ to continue.”
From the Tar Sands Blockade, below are a few highlights from the week of action so far:
- 100 people occupied a TransCanada’s office in Westborough, Mass., holding a “Funeral for Our Future” and disrupting work for several hours. Twenty-five were arrested for locking themselves inside the office: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/funeralforourfuture/
- TD Bank branches have seen protests at multiple locations including three people who were arrested for locking themselves inside a branch office in Washington, DC. http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/weekofaction-day4/
- Twelve people arrested for blockading a fracking pipeline in upstate New York: http://ourfutureisunfractured.wordpress.com/
- Portland, Oregon held a bike tour of the city’s worst polluters including a rally at a TransCanada office: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/weekofaction-day3/
- Dozens of activists in grim-reaper garb surround Michels Corporate office in Kirkland, Wash., demanding that Michels stop building KXL: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/weekofaction-day3/
Meanwhile, native leaders from both Canada and the U.S. took to the Canadian Parliament on Wednesday to urge opposition to both the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines—telling lawmakers that an alliance of native groups on both sides of the border are preparing to fight the pipelines in the courts and through unspecified direct action in the coming months.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said natives are determined to block the pipelines.
“It’s going to be a long, hot summer,” he said at a news conference.
“We have a lot of issues at stake.”
“We’re going to stop these pipelines on way or another,” said Phil Lane Jr. of the American Yankton Sioux.
“If we have to keep going to court, we’ll keep doing that,” said Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation in northern B.C., adding that pipeline opponents will never back down.
“We’re the ones that’s going to save whatever we have left of this Earth,” he said.
“We, as a nation, have to wake up,” said Chief Reuben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation north of Vancouver. “We have to wake up to the crazy decisions that this government’s making to change the world in a negative way.”
More actions are expected throughout the U.S. in the coming days including six more actions against TD Bank in New York City, Washington D.C., Montpellier, Vt., Newark, Del., New Haven, Conn., and Asheville, N.C., Tar Sands Blockade reports.
On Thursday, March 21 in Oklahoma, the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance is planning what is slated to be the largest action of the week. Activists have pledged to “physically stop KXL construction.“
Click here for a full list of actions and live updates from around the country. March 18 – Over 40 rally outside Michels Corporation in Kirkland, Washington (Alex Garland) March 19 – Banner Drop in Oklahoma Promotes Week of Action (Tar Sands Blockade)
“To Get the Gold, They Will Have to Kill Every One of Us First” Tribal Leaders Fight Gold-Hungry Investors February 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Mining.
Tags: Alberto Acosta, alexander zaitchik, amazon, canadian mining, Ecuador, ecuador constitution, Ecuador history, ecuador indigenous, ecuador indigenous protest, ecuador mining, ecuador rainforest, gold mining, indigenous, indigenous peoples, indigenous rights, Rafael Correa, rainforest, roger hollander
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http://www.alternet.org, February 11, 2013
It was late January 2010 when a non-governmental organization bused Indian chiefs from the Ecuadorean Amazon to a multiplex in the capital. The surprise decampment of the tribal congress triggered a smattering of cheers, but mostly drew stares of apprehension from urban Ecuadoreans who attribute a legendary savagery to their indigenous compatriots, whose violent land disputes in the jungle are as alien as events on “Avatar’s” Pandora.
The chiefs — who watched the film through plastic 3-D glasses perched beneath feathered headdress — saw something else in the film: a reflection. The only fantastical touches they noticed in the sci-fi struggle were the blue beanstalk bodies and the Hollywood gringo savior. “As in the film, the government here has closed the dialogue,” a Shuar chief told a reporter after the screening. “Does this mean that we do something similar to the film? We are ready.”
Three years after “Avatar’s” Quito premiere, declarations of martial readiness are multiplying and gaining volume throughout the tribal territories of Ecuador’s mountainous southeast. The warnings bare sharpest teeth in the Shuar country of the Cordillera del Condor, the rain forest mountain range targeted by President Rafael Correa for the introduction of mega-mining.
In recent years, the quickening arrival of drills and trenchers from China and Canada has provoked a militant resistance that unites the local indigenous and campesino populations. The stakes declared and the violence endured by this battle-scarred coalition is little-known even in Ecuador, where Correa has made muscular use of state security forces in arresting activists and intimidating journalists who threaten his image as an ecologically minded man-of-the-people. This repression has only intensified in the run-up to Correa’s expected reelection on Feb. 17.
My guide to this simmering “Avatar” in the Amazon was a 57-year-old Shuar chief named Domingo Ankuash. Like many elder Shuar, Ankuash does not appear to be blustering when he says he will die defending his ancestral lands in the province of Morona-Santiago, which borders Peru. Early in my month traveling the Condor, he took me deep into the country for which he is prepared to lay down his life. After a steep two hours’ hike from his village, we arrived at a forest clearing of densely packed earth. Through the trees and hanging vines, a 40-foot waterfall replenished a deep rock-strewn lagoon. The cascade is one of thousands in the Condor cordillera, a rolling buffer between the cliffs of the eastern Andes and the continental flatness of the Amazon basin.
“We have been coming to these sacred cascades since before the time of Christ,” said Ankuash, preparing a palm-leaf spread of melon and mango. “The government has given away land that is not theirs to give, and we have a duty to protect it. Where there is industrial mining, the rivers die and we lose our way of life. They want us to give up our traditions, work in the mines, and let them pollute our land. But we will give our lives to defend the land, because the end is the same for us either way.”
Beside the bright melons, Ankuash unfolds a frail map of the Condor to come. The industrial future overlays the natural present in a dense geometric circuitry that blots out the region’s rivers and mountains with a patchwork of oddly patterned boxes, as if some madcap Aguirre had gerrymandered the jungle. Rafael Correa’s PAIS Alliance was elected in 2007 with heavy indigenous support, but the map’s vision is the president’s own. His economic development plan, enshrined in a series of controversial laws and strategic declarations, centers on prying Ecuador’s southern rain forests of their rich placer deposits of base and precious metals, which fleck the Condor’s soils and loams like the stars of the universe. Ecuador, Correa has declared, can no longer be “a beggar sitting atop a sack of gold.”
To help him grab these shiny metals, Correa has invited foreign mining firms to deforest and drill much of the country’s remaining pristine forests. Not far from where Ankuash and I are sitting, a Chinese joint venture led by the China Railway Corp. is building infrastructure for an open-sky copper mine with the “Lord of the Rings”-sounding name of Mirador. To the north and east of the Chinese concession, the Canadian gold giant Kinross is prepping its 39 lots, including the envy of the industry, Fruta del Norte, believed to be Latin America’s largest deposit of high-grade gold. These projects are merely the first wave; others wait in the wings. Together they threaten more than the Shuar way of life and the sustainable agricultural and tourist economies of Ecuador’s southern provinces. The Condor is a hot spot of singular ecological wealth and a major source of water for the wider Amazon watershed to the east. What happens there is of global consequence.
But there’s no international outcry on the horizon to concern Rafael Correa and his commercial partners abroad. What they face is a local security problem. It is the same security problem known to regional colonial powers dating back to the Inca. As Correa has always known, and as the Chinese are learning, the Condor is ancestral home to 8,000 Shuar, the most storied warrior tribe in the annals of colonialism in the New World.
“The strategy is to unite the Shuar like the fingers of a fist,” Ankuash tells me as I prepare to dive into the icy waters of the lagoon below. “The forest has always given us everything we need, and we are planning to defend it, as our ancestors would, with the strength of the spear. To get the gold, they will have to kill every one of us first.”
* * *
Among the tribes of the Amazon, only the Shuar successfully revolted against Inca and Spanish occupation. The Incan emperor Huayana Capac led the first attempted conquest of Shuar territory in 1527, an adventure that ended with his rump army bestowing gifts in retreat. The first European to follow Capac’s footsteps, Hernando de Benavente, ran briskly ahead of Shuar arrows back to Lima, where he complained to the Royal Court of “the most insolent [tribe] that I have seen in all the time that I have traveled in the Indies and engaged in their conquest.” Years of gift-bearing Spanish peace missions eventually won Shuar acceptance of trading posts at Maca and Sevilla del Oro. But these were never tranquil. “The Shuar are a very warlike people [and] are killing Spaniards every day,” observed a visitor to the outposts in 1582. “It is a very rough land, having many rivers and canyons, all of which in general have gold in such quantity that the Spaniards are obliged to forget the danger.” Some Shuar, he noted, worked the mines in exchange for goods, but did so “with much reluctance.”
The most famous case of Shuar “insolence” occurred in 1599, when the Spanish governor of Maca demanded a gold tax from local Indians to fund a celebration of the coronation of Philip III. The night before the tax was due, Shuar armies slaughtered every adult male in the Spanish hamlets and surrounded the governor’s home. They tied the governor to his bed and used a bone to push freshly melted gold down his throat, laughing and demanding to know if he had finally sated his thirst. According to the Jesuit priest and historian Juan de Velasco, the “the horrendous catastrophe” at Maca caused “insolences and destructions” by the “barbaric nations” up and down the Andean spine of New Spain. For the next 250 years, the Spanish mostly stayed away. Occasional attempts by Jesuit missionaries to reestablish contact were met with a welcome basket of skulls pulled from the shrunken heads of gold-hungry Spaniards.
Most people have heard of the Shuar, even if they don’t realize it. They are the storied Amazonian “head shrinking” tribe. Each of a long succession of enemies have learned firsthand of their tzantza ritual, in which the heads of slain invaders are removed at the collarbone, relieved of their skulls, and shrunk by seasoned boiling in a multi-day ceremony. Tzantza is just one of many rituals rooted in a cosmology of animist spirits. Collectively, these spirits are known as Arutam, a shape-shifting pantheistic godhead whose name loosely translates as “soul power.” Atop a bridge leading to Shuar territory in the southern province of Zamora-Chinchipe, I encountered an oversize statue of Arutam in human form wielding a staff astride a giant toucan, redolent of the dragon-like beasts of “Avatar.”
If James Cameron’s fictional Na’vi of “Avatar” reflect the essence and predicament of one real-world tribe, it’s the Shuar. While they do not expect an action-hero savior to fall from the sky, they recognize that avoiding further bloodshed and protecting the Condor ultimately depends on getting the attention of the wider world, and quickly.
“The world needs to know what is happening in Ecuador, because the destruction of the Condor will have effects for the Amazon, and what affects the Amazon affects the planet as a whole,” said Ankuash. “The world must understand the Condor is not an ordinary patch of jungle.”
* * *
The biologist Alfredo Luna walks with a limp and a cane, the legacy of a plane crash in the Condor that killed two of his colleagues nearly 20 years ago. The plane was carrying a team assembled by Conservation International to conduct the first and only systematic study of the Condor’s hydrological system and the abundant flora and fauna it supports. The team’s findings catapulted the Condor into the elite ranks of global hot spots as ranked by conservation significance. A synopsis of these findings is the subject of a slideshow Luna gives around the world in an attempt to catalyze the conservation community. “The Condor combines the diversity of the Andes and the Amazon in the middle of cloud forest,” Luna said one evening at an NGO office in Quito, pausing his presentation on the image of a marsupial species recently discovered in the Condor. “There is more diversity of life in one hectare of the Condor than all of North America combined.”
Luna stresses that his slideshow only hints at the majesty of the Condor’s biodiversity. “Researchers have just scratched the surface,” he said. What is known is that the Condor breathes with more than 2,000 vascular plants and flowers, including 40 unique varieties of orchid. It is home to hundreds of endemic species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, dozens of which were new to science when first cataloged by Luna’s team. “Unleashing industrial-scale mining in the region is a catastrophe equal to using the Galapagos Islands as a bombing range,” said the biologist. “Its flora has enormous potential to benefit man. So much of it, we’ve only seen from helicopters. Before we even know what’s there, they’re going to destroy it.”
The Condor’s ecological riches are a consequence of unusual wetness. The mountains of the Condor sit on massive aquifers containing a fair chunk of the continent’s fresh water. This water trickles out of innumerable crevices and pours forth from countless cascades. The streams feed famous rains. The volume of rain produced in the Condor’s water cycle is enormous, says Luna, thanks to a unique commixture of altitudes, endemic soils, and solar and wind patterns. The heavy rainwater feeds dozens of small rivers that wind east into the Rios Zamora and Santiago, which sustain the region’s agricultural economy. These eventually merge with Peru’s Marañón River, a major tributary of the continental Amazonian watershed.
The amount of water pulsing through the Condor, says Luna, makes laughable government and industry claims that large stores of toxic mining waste can be contained in tailing ponds, and that samples of the region’s wildlife can be preserved in greenhouse Arks for future replanting. “The Condor cycle is supported by at least two dozen kinds of fragile soils and vegetation cover,” he said. “This web of microclimates will not survive the violence of major mining. It all begins with the rain and the rivers, and the mining will affect rainfall, drying up and contaminating important hinges in the larger Amazon River system. The fools don’t understand that disturbing one part disturbs the whole.”
* * *
Shuar life in the Condor remained largely unchanged until well into the last century. Regular contact with the modern Ecuadorean state began at mid-century, when the government began a settlement program in what it called tierra baldia — “no man’s land.” Thousands of mestizo farmers were moved into the mountains and given plots of land. With them came state schools, paved roads, cattle ranching, artisanal miners and frontier towns. Beginning in the 1960s, a new character began appearing in these frontier towns: the wildcat geologist seeking El Dorado. Drawn by the old myths and encouraged by the new infrastructure, they surveyed the mountains, broke rock, sifted soils and bagged samples. “They always said they were studying the flowers,” remembers an old Shuar woman who served many first-wave geologists at her roadside grill, where she sells fish baked in leaves that sweeten the meat. “They walked around with maps and little axes. They came from many countries.”
The samples they took revived the legend of Condor gold. In the 1990s, the first mining concessions were handed to politically connected firms. The World Bank funded a geological survey of the region that turned up traces of more than 300 minerals. International mining juniors were lining up to find the biggest deposits in 1995 when the country went to war with Peru for the third time in half a century, suspending exploration. The Shuar lived along the disputed border and played an important role in the war, reinvigorating their reputation as the Gurkhas of the Amazon. In multiple Shuar villages, veterans of the war spoke of decapitating Peruvian soldiers they killed in jungle firefights and carrying the heads back home for skinning and shrinking. “The tzantza ceremony protects against us from further invasion and shows that we do not kill lightly,” explained a Shuar veteran named Patricio Taishtiwiram. With a twinkle in his eye, he added, “It also makes us feel like we are winning.”
The foreign mining firms who set up exploratory bases in the Condor after the war probably did not know the tzantza is a living tradition. But they knew enough about the local population to stay low and mask their purpose. “They came in very quiet, always changing names as they grew,” said Tarcisio Juep, a 50-year-old Shuar from a village near the proposed Mirador site. “First it was Gemsa, then Billington, then the Canadian ECSA, and now it’s the Chinese ECSA. They never asked permission. They never explained their plans. Then some years ago they told us they had bought the land, that mining was coming, that they’d give us jobs, that they would be the only jobs. It was a crime in pieces.”
In 2005, Corriente went public with the scale of the Mirador project. The Canadian firm announced it would build an open-pit copper mine dwarfing anything in Ecuador’s history. The mine required hollowing out one of the region’s largest mountains and clear-cutting several others. A massive tailing pond would hold the 200-plus million tons of toxic effluvia generated over the mine’s 18-year lifespan. The site designated for the waste sits half a mile from the Rio Quimi, a tributary of the Rio Zamora, whose waters support the local agricultural economy on their way into the Amazon basin. Roads and bridges are being built for 18-wheel truck traffic to carry hundreds of tons of copper concentrate on a daily nonstop loop between the mine and a port on Ecuador’s Pacific coast. (Such projects receive much of President Correa’s “populist” infrastructure spending.)
Corriente announced its plan coated in absurd assurances that the mine and the waste pool were nothing to fear. The company even claimed that after the mine had closed, the tailing pond could be converted into a “resort lake” for swimming and water sports. Corriente printed up leaflets showing people swimming in the crystal waters of this man-made lake that once contained millions of tons of cancer soup. “They think we are stupid and will believe their children’s stories,” said Ankuash, the Shuar chief. “But even our children can see through them. We know what oil drilling has done in the north of Ecuador. We know what industrial mining does. We are in contact with our indigenous friends in Chile and Peru and have learned from them. We know the companies will come in and take all the minerals, leaving devastation behind. Wherever companies are most active, the communities are weakest. Where people used to help each other, they begin to think only of themselves. Families are not as strong. Correa’s mining policy will be the end of everything. Already the exploratory drills are polluting the water.”
In Tundayme, the community closest to the Mirador site, the old agricultural economy has withered. “The exploratory machines create dirty runoff by drilling huge 7-foot holes,” said Angel Arebelo, a farmer who last year moved to the nearest frontier town to drive a cab. “You can taste it in the rivers of the Quimi Valley. It is just beginning. Eventually everyone here will die from the chemicals.”
“We used to grow our own food, corn and yucca, and sell the rest in Pangui. Now they come here to sell,” said Eva Correa, a young Shuar mother in Tundayme. “Everything is upside down. They took our land away and now we need money, but the company pay is not enough and the work is dangerous. The new model is not working.”
One afternoon, I stopped by ECSA’s two-story mirrored-glass corporate office, which sits at the end of El Pangui’s short and dusty commercial strip. In the lobby, a poster showed Chinese managers and local employees in hard hats working together. Another poster featuring bright green frogs advertised the company’s sponsorship of an environmental-photography contest. I was directed to the office of Ruth Salinas, ECSA’s garrulous light-skinned communications officer. She dismissed the idea that mining would undermine local agricultural and tourism and launched into a rant against the Shuar. “The Indians can’t lecture anyone on the environment!” she huffed. “They hunt, you know? They fish with poison leaves that ruin the rivers. They cut down trees. They only want money from us, but they are not responsible enough to use it. They don’t do anything but grow yucca and drinkchichi beer.”
As I got up to leave, she reached into a box and handed me some ECSA literature. One of the pamphlets had on its cover a pretty indigenous girl in traditional dress, squatting by a stream. Above her it said, “Copper: A New Era for the Nation.”
* * *
In October 2006, mestizo and Shuar leaders organized the first action against the introduction of mining in the south: a peaceful march to the Mirador site. The protesters didn’t get far before trucks blocked their path and unloaded dozens of ski-masked men armed with rifles, machetes, sticks, and knives. The organizers of the march were badly beaten. “That was the turning point,” said Ricardo Aucay, a local farmer and leading figure in the local resistance. “The company started the chaos, the mess, the vengeance and the hatred.”
A group of Shuar communities next declared a “mining sweep” of their territory. They gave a Corriente subcontractor until November 1 to vacate the village of Warints, where it had set up a base. When the deadline passed, hundreds of Shuar swept into the camp from the forest side at dawn. They trapped company managers inside while the women and children used long spears of chonta wood to block rescue helicopters from landing. The mining staff was only allowed to leave the following day with their equipment. The Shuar army continued by foot to a site near the main Mirador complex, where they slipped past a military guard and took over the buildings. After a three-day standoff, all of the company’s machines were hauled away on military trucks. The state responded by militarizing the other mining camps. Throughout the area, road protests erupted that blocked mining traffic with burning tires, boulders, and bodies. The protests escalated in response to news that a massive dam and power lines were being built near Macas to provide Mirador with cheap energy. Spreading beyond rural hamlets, a general strike was called throughout the southern provinces.
On November 12, the government of Alfredo Palacio announced a suspension of Corriente’s mining activities and agreed to discuss turning the Condor region into an ecological and tourism reserve. Corriente and its subcontractors simply ignored the decree. On December 1, after the state made clear it was with the company, hundreds of protestors again marched to the Mirador site. While attempting to cut razor wire that had been placed in their path across a narrow bridge, police and private security units attacked. The tear-gas-beclouded battle lasted one hour. Bullets rubber and real ripped through several protestors amid Indian war whoops, chants of “Ecuador!” and old mestizo women crying, “Teach them with your blood, Oh Lord!”
Among the dozens of protestors arrested and beaten was the anti-mining prefect of Zamora-Chinchipe, a Suraguro indian named Salvador Quishpe. Six years later, Quishpe remains in office and organizes with the seven-party alliance contesting Correa in February’s election. “Quito has slowed down payments to the province as punishment for my position on mining,” he told me one afternoon in his home on the outskirts of Zamora. “But money isn’t all. They don’t have enough to pay off the conscience of the entire country. More conflict is coming.”
Those who fought alongside Qichspe echo his conclusion. Vinicio Tibiron was shot through the chest at the bridge protests and expects to be shot at again. “It will be wars throughout the region,” Tibiron told me over a bowl of yucca beer at his remote Shuar village of Ayantaz. “They will send police and military, and we will gather our weapons. Outsiders have always called us savages because they could not conquer us. If they continue, their actions will compel us to show them savagery, to act like the Indians we are.”
Sitting near and observing us is a thick middle-aged woman named Mercedes Samarent, herself a veteran of several violent clashes. “They will be fighting all of us,” she said, holding up a machete. “The men have their weapons, and we have ours.”
* * *
Rafael Correa was elected president in the weeks following the bloody bridge protest. Upon taking his oath, his left-wing PAIS Alliance fulfilled a campaign promise and convened an assembly to draft a new constitution, Ecuador’s twentieth. Burning questions of indigenous rights and environmental protection, it seemed, would be addressed democratically before the entire nation.
The constituent assembly gathered in the western town of Montecristi toward the end of Correa’s first year in office and ratified 500 articles. Among them were reforms allowing the president to run for a second term and dissolve Congress. But the bits that made international news, and promised a resolution to the mining conflict in the south, was the surprise enshrining of the Indian concept of sumak kawsay, or “good living in harmony with nature.” Ecuador’s new constitution also formalized the rights of nature itself. It was with nature’s new constitutional rights in mind that the assembly temporarily suspended all mining activity until the passage of a new mining law, which the president promised soon.
Correa, meanwhile, had pivoted away from the indigenous rights rhetoric of his presidential campaign. In televised speeches, he dismissed Indians as backward “donkey-riders” who were blocking access to the country’s “pot of gold.” Fatal road protests from Zamora to Quito flared back up as it became clear that Correa’s forthcoming mining and water bills would ratify and expand industrial mining and water privatization. After running clashes with police in which a Shuar schoolteacher was killed, the government attempted and failed to shut down the Shuar radio station, Arutam.
In January 2009, Correa reactivated hundreds of mining permits and granted foreign companies access to indigenous territory and resources in any projects he deemed “in the national interest.” All of this occurred just before the start of the Mining World Fair in Ontario, where Correa administration officials told the gathered, “In Ecuador, large-scale exploration has begun.”
The primary target for this message was and remains China. Ecuador is a serial defaulter with a radioactive credit rating, and Correa’s entire economic program is dependent on loans from China in return for wide access to its minerals. As in Venezuela and Bolivia, China has become a happy lender of last resort, offering Quito a credit line of up to $10 billion in long-term, low-interest loans collateralized with the stuff in the ground. Where Western development banks once attached strings of political, economic and regulatory reform, the China Development Bank wants the resources. Toward this end, China has become Latin America’s biggest banker with $75 billion loaned since 2005 — which is more than the World Bank, the IDB and the U.S. Export-Import Bank combined. Beijing’s top regional borrowers are Ecuador and Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has described his nation’s oil as “at the service of China.” As of this writing, Ecuador’s debt to China approaches a quarter of its GDP.
Mirador is just one of a number of recent Chinese strategic investments in Latin American mineral reserves. The firms Zijin, Minmetals and Chinalco have snatched up the largest copper mines in Chile, Peru and Mexico. But Mirador is the prize. The concession is estimated to hold up to 11 billion tons of copper, with a large secondary store of gold. Adding another layer of strategic depth to the holding, the contract includes rights to the waste rock, possibly a signal of Chinese expectations that the site contains uranium and even molybdenum, a coveted rare earth suggestive of Avatar’s unobtainium. Even before estimates had been made of Mirador’s bounty, Chinese gentlemen are said to have lurked among Zamora’s dirt-floor provincial gold markets, examining bags of rock and sand brought in by small-scale miners in rubber boots, who understood the Chinese had interests beyond their ken.
* * *
On the morning of my return north to Quito, I attended an environmentally themed panel discussion in a swank downtown hotel. Vandana Shiva, the globetrotting Indian anti-GMO and water-rights activist, was the star. Shiva had just returned from an official tour of Rafael Correa’s showcase conservation project, Yusani National Park. Flanked by the leaders of Ecuador’s largest indigenous groups, Shiva praised the president for his vision and happily announced her acceptance of a post as “goodwill ambassador” to Yasuni. Her comments were more suited to an international audience than an Ecuadorean one. She seemed taken aback when local activists challenged her on Correa’s mining policy and an emerging corporate police state in the southern provinces. Shiva isn’t alone in praising Correa without knowing much about his policies. John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” penned a column for CommonDreams.com gushing about a “new consciousness” in Correa’s Ecuador that “honors the dream of the people of the forests.”
The indigenous groups that supported Correa in 2007 do not share Perkins’ enthusiasm. Nor does the seven-party left-wing alliance campaigning against him. The leading figure of this alliance is Alberto Acosta, Correa’s former minister of mines and the first president of the 2008 constitutional assembly. “There is nothing new in Correa’s development plan for the next century. He has simply replaced Uncle Sam with Uncle Chen,” Acosta told me after a campaign stop in Zamora. “He cites the dependency school theorists, but his idea is the same center-periphery economic model of exporting raw materials. The government is thinking short-term about sustaining its social programs and political position at the expense of long-term sustainable industries. There’s a modern parallel to the Conquistadors, who gave the indigenous mirrors for gold. It’s happening again.”
Those who have organized against Correa’s policies have not fared well. If they’re lucky, they are merely harassed. More than 200 other non-violent activists end up in court and face serious jail time. “Like a dictator, everyone in government repeats his pro-development themes and slogans: Responsible mining, man over nature, Indians versus progress,” said Fernanda Solis, a weary-eyed campaign coordinator for the Quito group Clinica Ambiental. “There is no independent judiciary. The three powers of government are acting with Correa and everyone knows it. Because Correa represents the left, opposing him opens you up to the charge of supporting the U.S., or the old right that bankrupted everyone. He’s betrayed the new constitution and proven himself a neoliberal with redistributive touches. He’s avoided pacts with the U.S. but has sold the country to China.”
Last March, Solis helped organize a 370-mile march from Zamora to Quito under the banner, “For water, for life, for the dignity of the people.” Seven thousand people walked boisterously under enormous flags of indigenous rainbows and Popular Front red. Correa’s government issued the permit request only after he organized a counter-protest to meet the marchers in Quito. In a radio address that described anti-mining Indians as tools of “the old right,” Correa mobilized his supporters against what he warned was an indigenous-led coup attempt.
Amid stacks of reports in her cluttered office, I asked Solis about the upcoming election, as well as the narrowing political route open to the opposition through international forums such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
“Correa will win reelection and nothing will change,” she said. “Like the Mapuches in Chile, it is going to get violent.”
* * *
When I last saw Domingo Ankuash, he was celebrating the birth of his latest grandson, whose name is Espada, or sword, but which he defined with a flourish as lanza de Guerra. He was also organizing two summits of anti-mining forces, including a meeting of Shuar and their ancestral enemies, the Achuar, living on both sides of the Peru-Ecuador border. The first summit concluded with a statement citing the 2008 Constitution and urging the world to take notice: “We warn the country and the world that the government intends to militarize the Amazon region to promote the interests of mining and oil companies. The Cordillera del Condor and the rest of our territories are inalienable, indefeasible, and we state our decision to defend them to the end.” Similar declarations continue to emerge like smoke signals from across the Condor. A recent statement of the Yaupi village declares, “We will not take a step backward in defending our territories. Interlopers will be submitted to the punishment of our ancestors. Any such bloodshed will be on the Government’s hands.”
The hour of renewed escalation may be near. Last month, Ecuador’s indigenous organizations filed legal action in Ecuadorean courts; they are currently preparing another suit for international bodies citing conventions on indigenous consultation. Both are seen as acts of desperation, final attempts at a peaceful solution few expect. The state, meanwhile, is already spending China’s money, and developing budgets on the expectation of more to come. Other international mining firms, having been told Ecuador’s south is open for business, are lining up on the door.
The Shuar are not without an alternative plan. They say they can develop the region sustainably with agriculture, small-scale ranching, dairy, and regulated small-scale traditional mining. “Industrial mining is not sustainable,” said Ankuash. “The gold and the copper will be gone in a few years, leaving behind nothing but poisoned earth for our people. We can have an economy here without destroying nature and the culture. We are open to the world. Let the people come here and see the native way — the bears, the monkeys, the trees, the cascades.”
And the visions. Some Shuar villages have taken advantage of growing Western interest in ayahuasca, the potent hallucinogen and healing plant used throughout the Amazon. As we walked back from the waterfall to Domingo’s village, I saw what looked like an apparition: a young blonde woman in a white cotton dress sitting by the river directly under a beam of sunshine. She had traveled from Berlin for a week-long ayahuasca regimen under the guidance of a local Shuar shaman named Miguel Chiriap. She pointed me down a nearby path, at the end of which I found to a large open-air structure of wood and thatch. Sitting on one of a dozen pillows arranged in a circle was a young herbalist from Hull, England, named David. One of several westerners at the retreat, he was paying hundreds of dollars a week to work with Chiriap, he glowed with the kind of serenity earned from drinking ayahuasca 15 consecutive nights. He was surprised and saddened to learn he was sitting in the middle of a soon-to-be exploited mining concession. “It would be a shame to see all this ruined,” he said. “It’s paradise, isn’t it?”
The government continues to exploit the promise of paradise even as it prepares to annihilate the reality. Police cars and tourism posters in Los Encuentros, the company town of Kinross Gold, display scenes of nature above the slogan “Jewel of the Amazon.” When I met with the mayor of El Pangui, a nervous little yes-man from Correa’s ruling alliance, he dutifully muttered industry lies while sitting beneath yellowing tourism posters touting the area’s pristine forests, roaring cascades, dew-kissed orchids, and smiling Indians.
The dissonance between Ecuador’s tourism pitch and the imminent destruction of the south followed me back to Mariscal, Quito’s hostel district. There, a Jumbotron lords above the clubs and cafes day and night, beckoning backpackers south with high-definition images of happy natives and brightly plumed birds of paradise. “This,” declares the a slogan on continuous loop, “is Ecuador.”
I spent much of my last day in Ecuador drinking coffee at a café with a good view of this Jumbotron. After a month in the south, the slick nature montage appeared to me as the billboards in dystopian science fiction, a sunny, high-tech tourism version of “War Is Peace,” or Latin versions of the electronic messages projected into the dark, rainy worlds of “Blade Runner” and “Children of Men.” I was pulled out of this reverie by the appearance on the screen of a giant pixilated toucan. With wings spread wide, the bird reminded me of the Arutam statue above the bridge in Zamora-Chinchipe. As told to me by a Shuar shaman named Julio Tiwiram, the image of Arutam and the toucan comes from a bit of tribal folklore dating to first-contact with the Conquistadors.
Arutam, who lives in the rivers, the trees, the fish and the flowers, would also like to recline, Zeus-like, on a golden throne high above the mountaintop mists. One day, foreigners “with beards and large eyes” came into the area seeking food. But what they really coveted was Arutam’s golden throne. After eating their fill, the strangers searched for Arutam’s treasure. To thwart them, the spirit hid the throne deep inside the mountains. He told the Shuar to stay vigilant, that the strangers must be kept out, by force if necessary. The bearded men could not be trusted, he said. They would take everything and leave them nothing with which to live. He warned them that though he hid the gold, they would one day return. Arutam then mounted a giant toucan, looked in the direction of the Condor’s highest peak, and flew away.
Alexander Zaitchik is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY.
You’re All Illegal February 6, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Immigration, Race, Racism.
Tags: abby zimet, anti-immigration, dream act, First Nations, genocide, Immigration, native american, racism, roger hollander
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by Abby Zimet
WATCH THE VIDEO!!!
A bumper sticker being sold outside Milwaukee
Staging his own small, fierce, truth-telling protest, a Native-American man pushing a baby stroller confronted anti-immigration zealots at an Arizona rally by furiously pointing out that they are the real “illegals” for invading his country. Enough, he said, with their race-baiting, flag-waving “bogus arguments.” Meanwhile, young immigrants loudly interrupted a staid Congressional hearing on immigration, protesting GOP opposition to the DREAM Act by chanting, “Undocumented and Unafraid.” They were thrown out by security officials as legislators snickered.
“We didn’t invite none of you. We’re the only native Americans here,” he yelled. “That’s what (the American) flag stands for – all the Native Americans you killed to plant your houses here. That’s the truth.”
Indigenous Nationhood: Beyond Idle No More January 29, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Idle No More.
Tags: Canada, canada indigenous, First Nations, gerald taiaiake alfred, idle no more, indigenous, indigenous nationhood, roger hollander, theresa spence
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Our collective action in Idle No More has shown that there is support among Canadians for a movement that embodies principled opposition to the destruction of the land and the extension of social justice to Indigenous peoples. When we as Indigenous people have a political agenda that’s consistent with our Original Teachings – to have a respectful relationship with the land and the natural environment and to have a respectful relationship among all of the nations that share this land – we have seen that this is a powerful draw for many people in our own nations and
in the broader society.
But it is clear too that the movement has plateaued. Much of the passion, urgency and attention Idle No More generated is dissipating in the wake of Chief Theresa Spence’s fast and the “13 Point Declaration” supported by Chief Spence, the Assembly of First Nations and the two Canadian opposition parties – which to many people in the movement represents a cooptation of the movement’s demands by the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations in support of their ongoing negotiations and long-running bureaucratic processes.
The question in the minds of many people in the movement who are committed to more serious and transformational goals is how do we revive the momentum driving us towards fundamental change that we had at the start of the movement? I think that the only way to keep this movement going is for us to see our actions in Idle No More as part of a larger and long-standing commitment to the restoration of Indigenous nationhood.
We need to focus our activism on the root of the problem facing our people collectively: our collective dispossession and misrepresentation as Indigenous peoples. Now is the time to put ourselves back on our lands spiritually and physically and to shift our support away from the Indian Act system and to start energizing the restoration of our own governments. Our people and our languages and our ceremonies should be saturating our homelands and territories. Our leaders should answer to us not to the Minister of Indian Affairs or his minions. Our governments should be circles in which we all sit as equals and participate fully and where all of our voices are heard, not systems of hierarchy and exclusion legitimized and enforced by Canadian laws. Restoring our nationhood in this way is the fundamental struggle. Our focus should be on restoring our presence on the land and regenerating our true nationhood. These go hand in hand and one cannot be achieved without the other.
Idle No More has been a good and necessary thing. Like thousands of others over the last couple of months, I am proud to have been a whole-hearted participant in educating the wider public, making the connection between our Native rights and the democratic rights of all citizens, and arguing for the protection of the environment under the Idle No More banner. But the limits to Idle No More are clear, and many people are beginning to realize that the kind of movement we have been conducting under the banner of Idle No More is not sufficient in itself to decolonize this country or even to make meaningful change in the lives of people.
Those of us in the movement need to ask ourselves this hard question: what have we accomplished through Idle No More? There’s been politicization of some Native people. There’s been some media attention. There have been rallies and demonstrations. Great art and music has been produced. These are all good. But in terms of meaningful change in the lives of people and the struggle for justice, things are no different now than when this whole thing started. The federal government has not responded or felt the need to address in any way the challenge we’ve presented so far. We are in danger of becoming institutionalized and predictable as a movement, or worse, becoming kind of a giant Facebook rant that like all Facebook rants is a closed circle easily ignored which has no real relation to things actually happening in people’s lives. What this means if we are committed to making change and achieving justice for our people is that we need to alter our strategies and tactics to present more of a serious challenge on the ground to force the federal government to engagement our movement and to respond to us in a serious way.
I believe that what our movement needs is a mobilization of people on the basis of Indigenous Nationhood, led by traditional chiefs and clan mothers, medicine people, elders and youth, to start acting on our inherent rights on the land and to demand respect for our traditional governments. In practical terms, we need to go beyond demonstrations and rallies in malls and legislatures and on public streets and start to reoccupy Indigenous sacred, ceremonial and cultural use sites to re-establish our presence on our land and in doing so to educate Canadians about our continuing connections to those places and how important they are to our continuing existence as Indigenous peoples.
If we do this we can, once again, make the Assembly of First Nations, the mainstream media, the opposition parties hear the true voice of Indigenous people in this country and if we are strong and tenacious in demonstrating our commitment to these goals, we can force the federal government to take us seriously.
Now is the time to transgress, reoccupy, rise… as Original Peoples.
Gerald Taiaiake Alfred is a Kahnawake Mohawk author, educator and professor at the University of Victoria where he specializes in studies of traditional governance, the restoration of land-based cultural practices, and decolonization strategies. His books include Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto and Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors: Kahnawake Mohawk Politics and the Rise of Native Nationalism. Read more of his work on his website. Follow him on twitter: @Taiaiake
Tags: archana rampure, Canada, Canada Conservatives, canada government, common causes, environment, First Nations, Free Trade, idle no more, neo-liberal, political protest, roger hollander, Stephen Harper
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Stephen Harper has an agenda and it is all about turning Canada into a resource-extraction economy. He would like to make sure that nothing and no one stands in the way of exploiting the oil and the gas, the minerals and the water.
When Aboriginal people stand up for their rights and demand that they be consulted before natural resources are ripped out of the earth, the racist rhetoric begins to fly. When environmentalists suggest that this is a short-sighted, unsustainable and one-time-only plan, they are called radicals and terrorists. NGOs that network with the Global South peoples whose resources we exploit find themselves replaced by mining companies.
The list goes on: trade unions are demonized as big labour and compared to big corporations as though there is any real comparison between the power and influence wielded by corporations and that of the union movement. Aboriginal communities are abandoned by a Federal government which accuses their leaders of financial mismanagement.
These are the smoke-screens being put up to obscure a neo-liberal agenda that will brook no opposition. What I remember from my first anti-free trade protest more than a decade ago still rings true: deregulation, privatization and globalization is still the name of the game.
To me, much of this comes down to the sharp new focus on bilateral trade agreements that this Federal government has made its trademark. Free trade agreements and foreign investment promotion and protection agreements seem to be the Harper Conservatives answer to every problem we are facing. Their relentless drive to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU is emblematic of their mistaken policies: at a time when Canada`s industrial heartland is struggling with the loss of unionized manufacturing jobs, we are deep in the final stages of negotiating an agreement that might open up other sectors of our economy to transnational competition.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is a“next generation”free trade agreement that Canada and the EU have been negotiating since 2009. Make no mistake about this — it might not be called a free trade agreement but it will be Canada’s most expansive free trade initiative since NAFTA. It will impact the ability of our elected governments to regulate and it will have a huge impact on how municipal and provincial governments use procurement for local economic development or for environmental sustainability. As far as we can tell from the leaked documents that have been made public so far, the provisions that it will include on investor-state dispute resolution will once again allow foreign corporations to bypass our legal system and appeal to secretive tribunals. The EU’s demands around intellectual property translate into billions of extra dollars for brand-name pharmaceuticals.
And the Canada-EU CETA is only one among the stack of free trade deals that the Harper government has tied itself to: there are now on-going negotiations on free trade between Canada and India, Japan, Korea, Morocco, the Ukraine, the Dominican Republic and a number of other countries. There are also multi-lateral trade agreement negotiations that we are participating in such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Investment promotion and protection agreements are another key feature of this government’s foreign policy initiatives: in 2011 and 2012 alone, FIPAs have been negotiated between Canada and the Czech Republic, Romania, Latvia, the Slovak Republic, Benin, Kuwait, Senegal, Tanzania, China – the now infamous one! – and Mali.
At a time when Canada is supporting a resource war in Mali, and when we “partnering” with multinational mining corporations as part of our international “development” work, it hardly surprising that this government is so enthusiastically supporting Canadian “investment” and “investors” in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe.
This foreign policy — where the ultimate goal is to extract resources — is a mirror reflection of Harper’s economic roadmap for Canada. What the Global North exported to the Global South has now come home to us all: if we do not form Common Cause to stop this government, our home on native land will continue to experience the consequences of a single-minded drive for resource extraction combined with an attack on universal public services. It is more than time for us to come together, to act now, for ourselves and for those with whom we have Common Cause — aboriginal peoples, immigrants and migrants, environmentalists, trade unionists, students, seniors, the poor and the marginalized, activists — anyone who still believes that there is an alternative to the neo-liberal model of life. We cannot wait till 2015. We have to act together now.
Today, I will be standing up against Harper and his neo-liberal vision for us all as part of a joint day of action called by Idle No More and Common Causes. I hope it will be the first of many actions that Common Causes is part of, that it sparks the kind of committed, continuous action that will help us build a better Canada, and a better world.
Archana Rampure works as a researcher for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Tags: c38, c45, Canada, canada mining, canada petroleum, canadian government, Damelahamid, First Nations, genocide, history, idle no more, indigenous, merv ritchie, roger hollander, sacred circle
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The Cree, the Sioux, the Apache, and the Iroquois have nothing to do with the descendants of Demalahamid, Temlaham. Nor does; the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), the AFN (Assembly of First Nations), the Idle No More Movement, or Attawapiskat Chief Teresa Spence. None represent the Tsimshian, the Gitxsan, the Haisla, or the Tahltan. It would be difficult to find anyone in Ottawa, Indian or otherwise, speaking for any of the Nations of Northwest BC, the Sacred Circle.
Indians living elsewhere in Canada, or anywhere else in BC outside of the Northwest, have virtually nothing in common with Damelahamid outside of being original, evolving inhabitants on the land.
The Northwest Coast was, and is, an identity all to itself. The first explorers and traders, followed by the missionaries, all described these people as having a unique but similar ‘Tsimshian’ language. This unifying tongue is still spoken and taught today.
The general population, except for those living directly in Northwest BC, reference the totem culture only with the Haida Indian and Haida Gwaii; the islands most still call the Queen Charlottes. Almost none know of the peoples residing on the land west of the Omineca Mountain range through to the Pacific Ocean; the people of Damelahamid.
Original Map from the BC Knowledge Network with an addition to reference the region discussed by BC Knowledge Network
Most do not even know where the Nisgaa territory is, yet there has been a signed modern-day treaty for twelve years.
The area is so remote if you were to ask residents of B.C. about a lava bed from a volcano anywhere nearby, 99 percent would laugh and excuse this as a ridiculous notion. This stands true even for some living within 100 miles of the Nisgaa Lava Memorial fields.
As this location is a full eight-hour drive east-northeast of Prince George, remote is almost an understatement. The highway into the territory is named the Highway of Tears after the numerous accounts of missing and murdered women from the Nations of Damelahamid along this often-deserted stretch of road. To add to the tragedy for these people it was primarily the women of the Sacred Circle who were taken off the streets of Vancouver by Willie Pickton to be murdered on his Pig Farm, Piggies’ Palace.
The following attempts to address why these people still suffer in silence. Why they are not represented at the Chiefs’ Table or featured in the Idle No More movement, even though the atrocity is so well documented. It is difficult to unite in common purpose as the wounds are still raw, the emotions still at the surface; less than a generation has passed since some lived without roads or electricity. Yes, even in BC, Canada, not 30 years ago some tribes had no direct link or contact routes. It was only 150 years ago when this region was even entered to explore.
These were not nomadic people. Huge 1000-sq-ft homes built of cedar along with settlements of dozens of these structures formed municipalities belonging to each Nation. Seasonal travel for harvesting and extensive trading was engaged in with neighbouring tribes. North and east trading with the Carrier and Dene tribes, and to the south by huge 50-foot canoes with others. Grease trails were recorded as protected trade routes throughout all of these Nations territories. They knew their land and they owned their land. Totems and Feast halls marked their territories. Nation-to-Nation territorial treaties were commonplace. Trespass could mean death, especially if you harmed any life form within the recognized territorial boundaries. Yet other areas were recognized as neutral lands and water where all Nations could meet and share without territorial conflicts.
Totem Poles at the Core of the Sacred Circle, Damelahamid by Terrace Daily News
Maybe this is why the Tsimshian, Haisla, Gitxsan, Wetsuweten, Tlingit, Haida, Tahltan, and Nisgaa are ignored; as long as no one knows this special place exists their territories can still be quietly stolen.
It is specifically about these peoples’ lands the Canadian Government passed its recent legislation, Bills C38 and C45. They did this to justify their continued assault, which began with the deliberate genocide of these peoples by germ warfare. The Canadian government wishes to conduct a final solution on these people for the Mining and Petroleum industries.
While the Cree, Sioux, Apache, Iroquois, with the AFN, the UBCIC, and others achieve media prominence, the Sacred Circle genocide and social dysfunction continues.
All of the following material was compiled by researching online. The following are three links to much of the source material:
From HistoryLink.org the Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History
From the University of Victoria – Writings on vaccination vs inoculation regarding Small Pox in the area. – click here
Words directly attributed to Dr. Helmcken – http://bcheritage.ca/salish/trad/jshelm.htm
This is a collection of evidence, extracts, to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the first settlers at Victoria, specifically the ‘white’ government of the day, targeted the Indians of the Sacred Circle for extermination.
At the present rate of mortality, not many months can elapse “ere the Northern Indians of this coast will exist only in story.” The Daily British Colonist, June 21, 1862, p. 3.
The Hon. John S. Helmcken, photographed by William J. Topley, circa 1854. by Wikipedia
After most of the northern tribes were forced from Victoria, the (Victoria) Daily Press published an editorial titled “The Indian Mortality.” It said in part:
“… What will they say in England? when it is known that an Indian population was fostered and encouraged round Victoria, until the small-pox was imported from San Francisco.
“They, when the disease raged amongst them, when the unfortunate wretches were dying by scores, deserted by their own people, and left to perish in the midst of a Christian community that had fattened off them for four years – then the humanizing influence of our civilized Government comes in – not to remedy the evil that it had brought about – not to become the Good Samaritan, and endeavor to ameliorate the effects of the disease by medical exertion, but to drive these people away to death, and to disseminate the fell disease along the coast.
“To send with them the destruction perhaps of the whole Indian race in the British Possessions on the Pacific …. There is a dehumanizing fatuity about this treatment of the natives that is truly horrible … How easy it would have been to have sent away the tribes when the disease was first noticed in the town, and if any of the Indians had taken the infection, to have had a place where they could have been attended to, some little distance from Victoria, until they recovered as they in all probability would have done with medical aid.
“By this means the progress of the disease would at once been arrested, and the population saved from the horrible sights, and perhaps dangerous effects, of heaps of dead bodies putrifying [sic] in the summer’s sun, in the vicinity of town … The authorities have commenced the work of extermination – let them keep it up …. Never was there a more execrable Indian policy than ours.” (Daily Press, June 17, 1862 in Boyd, p. 182-183, endnote 7).
Full Knowledge of the Consequences
In June 1862, The Daily British Colonist, noting the devastation of the Indians up to that time, stated the obvious inevitable consequences of these escorted canoes. Referring to a group of Haida who recently departed Victoria, the newspaper wrote:
“How have the mighty fallen! Four short years ago, numbering their braves by thousands, they were the scourge and terror of the coast; today, broken-spirited and effeminate, with scarce a corporal’s guard of warriors remaining alive, they are proceeding northward, bearing with them the seeds of a loathsome disease that will take root and bring both a plentiful crop of ruin and destruction to the friends who have remained at home. At the present rate of mortality, not many months can elapse ‘ere the Northern Indians of this coast will exist only in story.’” (The Daily British Colonist, June 21, 1862, p. 3; Boyd, p. 173, 229).
The Smallpox Vaccine
The smallpox vaccine was discovered in England in 1798 and first used in the Puget Sound area in 1837. On March 18, 1862, when The Daily British Colonist published confirmation of smallpox in Victoria, the paper made the following statement:
“[W]e advise our citizens … to proceed at once to a physician and undergo vaccination … from the loathsome disease …” (The Daily British Colonist, March 18, 1862, p. 3).
Between March 18 and April 1, 1862, The Daily British Colonist reiterated to the citizens of Victoria at least five times the importance of getting vaccinated. The paper estimated that by April 1, one-half of the “resident Victorians” were vaccinated. In 1862, Victoria, the largest town north of the Columbia River, had a white population of from 2,500 to 5,000. The nearby Indian population was about the same size. There were probably at least 2,000 Northern Indians [all whose origins were from the coastal communities between northern Vancouver Island and Alaska] camping on the outskirts of Victoria, plus at least 1,600 local Indians who lived nearby.
Initially no demands were made to vaccinate these local groups. By March 27, 1862, Dr. John Helmcken (1824-1920), Hudson’s Bay Company physician, had vaccinated about 30 local resident Songhees Indians, who constituted less than 1 percent of the nearby natives.
The Songhees Were Saved
On April 1, 1862, 18 days after the Brother Jonathan departed, the first reports were published of an Indian, who lived in town, with smallpox. The Victoria authorities and residents did not react. As the virus spread it would be more than two weeks before the local newspapers reported local Indians receiving additional vaccines. On April 16, Dr. Helmcken vaccinated another 30 Indians. By April 25, The Daily British Colonist reported that since the outbreak Dr. Helmcken had vaccinated “over 500 natives” (April 26, 1862, p. 3).
Apparently, the doctor distributed most of his vaccine to the Songhees, a local tribe that resided near Victoria. Soon after smallpox symptoms emerged at the Northern Indian encampment, the Songhees departed their Vancouver Island village(s) en masse to a nearby island in Haro Strait. Because of the vaccinations and the tribe’s self-imposed quarantine, the Songhees survived the epidemic with few deaths (Boyd, 176, 177, 183).
Was There a Shortage of Vaccine?
It is unknown how large a supply of the smallpox vaccine was kept at Victoria. Boyd states that the vaccine was “available, though in short supply” (Boyd, p. 172). Possibly there was a shortage of vaccine when the smallpox epidemic started.
According to Boyd, Anglican missionary Alexander Garrett stated in his Reminiscences that there was not enough vaccine “within seven hundred miles to go around” (Boyd p 178-9).
Still, during the entire run of the epidemic The Daily British Colonist did not mention a vaccine shortage at any time. On the contrary, during the last half of March, after the first smallpox case was discovered, the paper mentioned numerous times the availability of the vaccine. In mid-June, about when the Indian epidemic along the coast reached its height, The Daily British Colonist (June 14, 1862) asked why “our philanthropists” and “missionaries” had not started “vaccinating the poor wretches” in mid-April?
If there was a vaccine shortage, it was just temporary. Apparently, by May 1, 1862, at the latest, there was plenty of vaccine to go around. During the first half of May 1862, Father Leon Fouquet, a Catholic Missionary, reportedly vaccinated 3,400 Indians along the lower Fraser River. At the same time, other missions along both sides of the Strait of Georgia and in Puget Sound received supplies to vaccinate nearby tribes people. The ravages of the epidemic bypassed these vaccinated groups (The Daily British Colonist, March 18, 26, 27, 28, 1862, April 1, 1862, June 14, 1862; Boyd, p. 183-184).
The Epidemic Could Have Been Stopped
In the spring of 1862, the government body that administered authority over Victoria was the House of Assembly of the Colony of Vancouver Island (in 1866 Vancouver Island merged with the mainland colony of British Columbia). The town of Victoria had not incorporated, so had no town council and no mayor. At least two members of the House of Assembly, along with the Governor of the Colony, undoubtedly were aware of the obvious consequences of not immunizing the Indians, and not placing them under quarantine.
In 1862, Dr. William Tolmie (1812-1886) and Dr. John Helmcken were both legislators in the Vancouver Island Assembly, Helmcken serving as Speaker, one of the highest elected positions in the Colony. The Hudson’s Bay Co. hired William Tolmie in 1833 and John Helmcken in 1850 as physicians.
In 1837, reports reached Fort Vancouver of smallpox in northern British Columbia. Before the disease reached Puget Sound, Hudson’s Bay Co. dispatched Tolmie to vaccinate the Indians near Fort Nisqually. By mid-July 1837, he had inoculated all the women and children and probably most of the men. In 1853 Tolmie again helped vaccinate “large numbers” of Indians near Fort Nisqually during a smallpox epidemic centered along Washington Territory’s Pacific coast (Boyd, 170). John Helmcken also served as HBC physician for a number of years, and then continued in private practice until he retired in 1910. They were both well aware of the issues surrounding smallpox.
Governor James Douglas Proposes Action
Shortly after the smallpox outbreak, James Douglas, the Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, submitted a proposal to the House of Assembly regarding smallpox. James Douglas had arrived on the coast in 1826 and was familiar with two previous Indian epidemics on the coast (1836-37 smallpox and 1847-48 measles). In his March 27, 1862, proposal to the Assembly he noted that because “several cases” of smallpox had occurred it “is desirable that instant measures should be adopted to prevent the spread of the infection …” and “strongly recommended” that the House immediately appropriate funds to build a hospital in a isolated location for all cases of smallpox (Journal of the Colonial Legislatures … vol. 2, p. 350).
Dr. Helmcken and Others Oppose Action
Four days later, the nine-member House of Assembly, including Speaker Helmcken and Tolmie, met and considered the Governor’s proposal recommending a smallpox hospital and “compelling” all patients to be sent there. According to a newspaper account, Speaker Dr. Helmcken stated he was against a fully staffed hospital and against forcing all cases of smallpox to go there. The doctor expressed concern about the cost of establishing and operating the hospital and that it would interfere with the liberty of the patients. Helmcken went even further and chastised the Governor for being an alarmist about the disease.
The majority of the other members agreed with Mr. Helmcken. The members did vote to construct a “suitable building” near the present hospital for white smallpox patients, but did not require them to go. The Assembly also rejected the establishment of a quarantine for the same reasons – cost and restricting liberty. Apparently only one member, Mr. Burnaby, spoke out in favor of a fully staffed Smallpox Hospital and the quarantine. The newspaper account did not mention any discussion about what to do to prevent smallpox from infecting the Indians (The Daily British Colonist, March 28, 1862, April 1, 1862).
This inaction of the Assembly and other government officials sealed the fate of nearly every group of Northwest Coast Indians from Sitka to northern Vancouver Island and south into the Puget Sound area. Robert Boyd estimates that from April 1862 to about the end of year, more than 14,000 Indians died of smallpox and untold hundreds of survivors were disfigured for life. Boyd states unequivocally: “This [Indian] epidemic might have been avoided, and the Whites knew it” (Boyd p 172).
The paper remarked on the consequences of the authorities’ intentional refusal to act to vaccinate and quarantine the Indians:
“Were it likely that the disease would only spread among the Indians, there might be those among us like our authorities who would rest undisturbed, content that the small-pox is a fit successor to the moral ulcer that has festered at our doors. … [But] chances are that the pestilence will spread among our white population [because] … [t]he Indians have free access to the town day and night. They line our streets, fill the pit in our theatre, are found at nearly every open door … in the town; and are even employed as servants in our dwellings, and in the culinary departments of our restaurants and hotels” (The Daily British Colonist, April 28, 1862, p. 2).
In the doctor’s own words:
“Hyder [Haida] women and men came in flocks, to go away ruined forever, Indians from the North West coast met with the same fate, from which they have never and never will recover. In process of time Chinese women came and they in some measure took the business of the local Indians, Haidas, Chimpsehans [Tsimshians] and so forth and to end the matter the small pox and local demands drove them home in their own canoes, and hundred perished on their way to their own country. I may say here they nearly every Indian attacked with small pox died, whether he was taken care of in the Indian small pox hospital or not, and it was also said whether he had been vaccinated or not.
“I do not believe the last assertion because the Songish [Songhees] Indians kept comparatively free from the disease and many of them at various times had been successfully vaccinated by me, arm to arm.”
Has the prevailing attitude changed much today?
Allowing and continuing to name anything in Victoria, the Capital of BC, after this man (ie Helmcken Road General Hospital, Helmcken Memorial in Clearwater) is akin to naming things in Germany after Dr. Joseph Mengele.
Did he know better, or was it intentional?
He was hired aboard the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Prince Rupert as a ship’s surgeon on its 1847 voyage to York Factory, Rupert’s Land. After completing his certification at Guy’s Hospital, he travelled to India and China. He had intended to join the Navy, but was persuaded instead to join the HBC in 1849 as a physician and clerk on to be stationed on Vancouver Island. On the long voyage, smallpox broke out aboard ship, but Helmcken handled the situation ably, and only a single life was lost.
Hmmmm, one can only wonder. Consider this – His success in preventing the spread of smallpox among the whites on the ship was a dozen years prior to his failure to take measures to stop the spread of the disease among the Sacred Circle natives. Only one conclusion can be had – His and the government he was the ‘speaker’ for, considered the highest post, - had but one intention, the death and destruction of the Northern tribes.
Still today these people from the Nations of the Sacred Circle are relegated to the shadows, their tragedies ignored. While Indians across Canada stand up and demand recognition for the harm done over the course of the last 300 to 400 years, the harm in the Sacred Circle is so fresh it remains difficult for the surviving elders to speak of it. Those who had their children abducted, their villages burned, their daughters raped and murdered, are still alive living with the pain right now.
It remains an ongoing tragedy that the efforts of the Idle No More movement east of the Ominica Mountain Range does not come close to addressing. The genocide continues today. These are not; Cree, Sioux, Apache, or Iroquois. They are the people of Demalahamid, Temlaham. They are the; Nisgaa, Tahltan, Gitxsan, Wetsuweten, Haisla, Haida, Tlingit and the Tsimshian. The once most respected and admired traders in the Pacific Northwest. A unique totem culture based strictly on a Matriarchal, Matrilineal hierarchy with government structures based on feasting and decency. Something the British and Canadian governments abhorred and continue to destroy today.
The only reference to address the source of the women in the recently released government report on the missing and murdered women from the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, was encouraging a transit bus system along the highway of tears. These women were the potential authority, the matriarchs. A bus? The government offers these women who had their children ripped from their arms, their communities burned, their ancestors graves disturbed, are offered a bus?
The systemic tragedy continues as the government leaders continue to claim there is no money, even for the bus. It seems alright, still today, to not only rape pillage and plunder the land and resources, but also the people.
Mid 50 year old male. Generally a blue collar worker. Heavy duty mechanic by trade, later, Diesel electrician, then alternative energy systems importer, seller, designer and installer. Then a home construction general contractor and now a web (more…)
HARPER GOVERNMENT IS COUNTING ON CANADIANS NOT UNDERSTANDING January 19, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, First Nations, Idle No More.
Tags: Canada, canada government, canada parliament, First Nations, history, hunger strike, idle no more, indian treaties, International law, merv ritchie, queen victoria, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, theresa spence
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As the controversy grows regarding the Indian people of Canada the Stephen Harper Conservative government of Canada is once again banking on the lack of knowledge by Canadians of the Canadian system of governance.
In a manner similar to Harpers two previous prorogations of parliament, it is only due to the inability of Canadians (and Canadian media personalities) to fully comprehend the procedures of proper government principles is Harper able to continue unchallenged. The proper functioning of a civil democracy depends on the government following the rule of law and respecting all parliamentary procedures. All of democracy fails when inappropriate actions are taken for expediency. This is what has happened in Canada since 1867 in regards to the Indians.
The British never went to war against the Indian people who originally inhabited the land we call Canada. The Indians (from the Latin word indigenous) were allies with the British in conflicts with the Americans and the French. There was a long standing tradition of mutual respect. Many Treaties were signed to ensure this mutual respect was fully and completely understood.
Origin: 1640–50; Latin indigen ( a ) native, original inhabitant ( indi-, by-form of in- in-2 (cf. indagate) + -gena, derivative from base of gignere to bring into being; cf. genital, genitor) + -ous
The Indian people of The Sacred Circle have been been on a respectful mission to settle these issues (click here) since the mid 1800′s.
Teresa Spence, the elected Indian Chief currently on a hunger strike, has taken council from Treaty Chiefs. She is now finally following the right and proper procedure by requesting a meeting with the Queens representative. When Canada was incorporated as a Country, and later when the constitution was repatriated from Britain, Canada had an obligation to respect the intent and spirit of these treaties. If the Indigenous nations who signed these treaties feel Canada has neglected to honour them they have the right to return to the other signatory to the document, the Crown of England. Today this means Queen Elizabeth and her representative in Canada, the Governor General.
In British Columbia the Crowns representative, Governor Douglas, followed the British rule of law by making treaties and purchasing land from the Indian Nations. Subsequent to Douglas, successive governments in British Columbia have ignored international law. The same applies to various legislative acts of the Canadian Parliament; such as the legislation which allowed the Residential School system, Canada has since apologized for.
Expecting the indigenous peoples to be completely literate and knowledgeable on the various aspects of law is to ignore the reality of the Indian peoples. Most people of European decent were raised by parents and grandparents who could read and write. For many western generations the knowledge and skills required to survive in western society was shared. For most indigenous people reading and writing skills of parents and or grandparents only existed two or three generations. Only today are the survivors, of these ancestors who signed the Treaties, beginning to fully recognize how wrong they have been treated. The rest of the world is also witnessing how badly Canada has treated the Indian people they signed treaties with. The treaties are, after all, internationally recognized obligations.
If the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, will not respect the documents signed by her predecessor and Queen Victoria’s father, King George III, the Indian people will have to plead to the International Court for these treaties to be respected. Queen Victoria had an understanding similar to her fathers by respecting and protecting the original inhabitants; honouring the Royal Proclamation of 1763. She is quoted as stating; “It is not in our custom to annex countries”. Wars were not engaged in; treaties of mutual respect were made.
These respectful transactions were continued through her reign as the Queen of England, 1838 to 1900. It was the corporate elite, those desiring to benefit financially by theft or fraudulent behaviors, which had Queen Victoria and King George III act as protectors.
In Canada today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is claiming his new legislative actions are required to meet financial objectives. This might be true however in respect of these treaties signed on behalf of Canada he has reneged on Canada’s international responsibilities.
The demand to meet with the Queens representative then is to elevate the discussion to a more serious level.
Canadians did not understand the prorogation of Parliament was a damaging, unprecedented action, which harmed the integrity of Canada’s Parliamentary democracy. The media in Canada did not inform Canadians properly of this inappropriate behaviour.
Today the media is unlikely to inform the public on the entirely appropriate behaviour of the Indigenous nations to demand their treaties be respected. In all likelihood the media will promote hate and bigotry by mis-informing Canadians.
Champions of ‘Idle No More’ Stage Blockades Across Canada January 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, First Nations, Idle No More.
Tags: Canada, canada protest, chief spence, first natins, idle no more, lauren mccauley, mother earth, political protest, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, theresa spence
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Demonstrators and spin-off protests undeterred by mild divisions within fast-growing movement
Though not officially sanctioned by the Idle No More campaign, First Nations chiefs and activists have picked up the momentum and are rallying across Canada Wednesday as part of a national day of action in solidarity with the ongoing environmental and indigenous rights campaign.
A protestor holds a flag aloft and an Idle No More spinoff protest in Cayuga, Ontario on Jan. 16. (Photo via @CBCHamilton)
Chiefs unsatisfied with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s slow response to First Nations demands have declared the day to assert their rights and hopefully hasten official recognition and legislative action.
Demonstrations, round dances and rallies occurred across Canada while roadblocks of local railway lines and a large demonstration at North America’s busiest border crossing have also been confirmed.
“We’re sending the message very clearly with the railway blockade that [there's] going to be no more stolen property being sold until such time that they come to the table and deal with the original owners,” said Terry Nelson, a former chief of the Roseau River First Nation in southern Manitoba.
APTN National News reported Wednesday: “Rail blockaders in Manitoba. CN confirms regional traffic has been shut down.”
Also, the Global News announced earlier:
Posts on social media Wednesday morning called on supporters to meet at the Red Sun Smoke Shop and Gas Bar just northwest of Winnipeg to join a convoy headed to the intersection of the Trans-Canada and the Yellowhead highways near Portage la Prairie. A blockade of a railway near the intersection is planned.
Occupy Carlisle (@occupycarlisle) tweeted: “Via Rail says blockade between Belleville, Ont. and Kingston, Ont. has forced company to stop trains #IdleNoMore”
Another large grassroots group led an “economic slowdown,” targeting the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Mich.
Organizer Lorena Garvey-Shepley was clear to point out the action was “not a blockade,” adding, “we don’t want to inconvenience people too much. But we want to be in places that are going to get us noticed and allow us to get our information out.”
Organizers held a “peaceful walk” towards the bridge concluding with a rally at the base on the Canadian side.
Organizers reiterated that today’s actions are expected to be peaceful though protesters are prepared to get arrested.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabaska Chipewyan First Nation said that if the indigenous movement’s demands are not recognized soon, more dramatic actions, including roadblocks, can be expected.
“The people are upset with the current state of affairs in this country and things are escalating towards more direct action,” he said.
Across Canada, protestors marched the streets—often blocking traffic—banging drums and carrying banners blatantly displaying “Idle No More.”
More pictures from today’s actions can be seen here.
CBC News has listed a partial overview of the solidarity actions planned for Wednesday.
Though inspired by the Idle No More movement, Wednesday’s actions—particularly the bridge and street blockades—highlighted protest tactics not condoned by the campaign’s founders, marking potential divisions as the movement grows beyond itself.
“If you have an impromptu blockade that doesn’t follow the legal permits, then you’re irritating the public and that’s not the purpose behind Idle No More,” said Sylvia McAdam, one of the movement’s four originators. “A lot of our children and elders are involved in the [Idle No More] activities, so their safety is our priority.”
The movement leaders are instead focusing on a Jan. 28 Idle No More International Call-to-Action during which they will protest at Ottawa’s Parliament Hill as “MPs return to the legislature after their winter break.”
In a recent interview, McAdam specified that, despite heavy media attention given to co-founder Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s recent hunger strike, Idle No More has no one leader, saying:
The grassroots movement of Idle No More is the face of all grassroots people…The founders might be considered guides or maintaining the vision, but Idle No More has no leader or official spokesperson.
A recent press release on the Official Idle No More website echoed this sentiment:
This movement has been guided by Spiritual Elders, dreams, visions, and from peoples’ core values. We are here to ensure the land, the waters, the air, and the creatures and indeed each of us, return to balance and discontinue harming each other and the earth.
January 11th’s official Day of Action and meeting between First Nation leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper exposed a rift in leadership when Idle No More leaders, namely Chief Spence, rejected the meeting on the basis it did not meet their demands while a number of other Chiefs partook despite the protest.
A poll on the official Idle No More website asks “Do you think the media is playing up the perceived divisions within IDM?”
The poll will run for a month, but thus far readers have responded 56 percent voted ‘Yes, we are stronger than ever!’, 14 percent responded ‘I’m not sure’ while 30 percent said ‘No, there are divisions and the media is playing it just right.’
Canada’s Energy Juggernaut Hits a Native Roadblock January 15, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Idle No More.
Tags: alberta oilsands, canada aboriginal, canada energy, canada environment, canada first nations, canada indian act, emissions, environment, First Nations, harper government, idle no more, indigenous, linda mcquaig, mother earth, pam palmater, roger hollander, Stephen Harper
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Those who believe we can freely trash the environment in our quest to make ourselves richer suffer from a serious delusion — a delusion that doesn’t appear to afflict aboriginal people.
A Vancouver protester highlights the environment on Jan. 11. (Photograph: Ben Nelms / Reuters)
Aboriginals tend to live in harmony with Mother Earth. Their approach has long baffled and irritated Canada’s white establishment, which regards it as a needless impediment to unbridled economic growth.
Nowhere is this irritation more palpable than inside Stephen Harper’s government, with its fierce determination to turn Canada into an “energy superpower,” regardless of the environmental consequences.
So it’s hardly surprising that the Harper government has ended up in a confrontation with Canada’s First Nations.
Certainly the prime minister has shown a ruthlessness in pursuing his goal of energy superpowerdom.
He has gutted long-standing Canadian laws protecting the environment, ramming changes through Parliament last December as part of his controversial omnibus bill. He has thumbed his nose at global efforts to tackle climate change, revoking Canada’s commitment to Kyoto.
And he’s launched a series of witch-hunt audits of environmental groups that dared to challenge the rampant development of Alberta’s oilsands — one of the world’s biggest sources of climate-changing emissions — as well as plans for pipelines through environmentally sensitive areas.
But, while there’s been some resistance from provincial governments, opposition parties, and environmentalists, Ottawa’s energy juggernaut has continued to surge ahead.
At least until now. With the First Nations, Harper may have met his Waterloo.
Among other things, Harper’s attack on Canada’s environmental laws included rewriting parts of the Indian Act, thereby removing safeguards for native land and waters that are protected in the Constitution.
Of course, even with the Constitution on the side of aboriginals, it’s hard to imagine a group consisting of some of the poorest people on the continent taking on the federal government, backed up by corporate Canada, and winning.
After all, the First Nations are divided, and the government has deftly exploited these divisions. Furthermore, many influential media commentators side with the government, helping it portray aboriginals as impractical dreamers unable to understand the dictates of the global economy.
And restless natives have been a permanent political backdrop in Canada, unable to even ensure clean drinking water for themselves, let alone shape the government’s agenda.
But what’s new and potentially game-changing is Idle No More, the youth-based native initiative that, suddenly and unpredictably, has grown into a feisty grassroots movement — one that has shown the potential to attract activists from Occupy Wall Street, the Quebec student movement and even middle-class Canadians starting to wonder if barbecuing weather in mid-January suggests we’re playing too fast and loose with the environment.
Idle No More grew directly out of the resistance to Harper’s energy juggernaut. Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq and spokesperson for Idle No More, notes that changes in the omnibus bill make it easier to overcome native resistance to energy projects. For instance, the changes would enable a handful of natives, without support from the band majority, to surrender reserve land to Enbridge, enabling it to build a pipeline.
The Harper government will undoubtedly mobilize resources and cunning against Idle No More.
Whatever happens, it’s hard not to be inspired by this gutsy, earthy band that has asserted itself in the tradition pioneered by native-influenced governments in Ecuador and Bolivia, both of which have passed laws giving Mother Earth legal protections.
Canadians have reason to be ashamed of our treatment of aboriginals — from residential schools to the continuing failure to provide basic necessities like water, housing and education to people whose ancestors were here long before ours arrived.
Ironically, their insistence on their constitutional rights, as Palmater notes, may be the last best hope of Canadians to reverse our own culture’s reckless disregard for the dictates of Mother Earth, who ultimately is more demanding and unforgiving even than the global economy. Rising GDP levels won’t mean much if we’re swamped by rising sea levels.
The very least we can do is to get behind this ragtag group that has, in a few short weeks, shown more wisdom than our “advanced” society has mustered in decades.
Linda McQuaig’s column appears monthly. firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda McQuaig is a columnist for the Toronto Star. She first came to national prominence in 1989 for uncovering the Patti Starr Affair, where a community leader was found to have used charitable funds for the purpose of making illegal donations to lobby the government. McQuaig was awarded the National Newspaper Award for her work on this story. The National Post has called her “Canada’s Michael Moore”. Linda is the author (with Neil Brooks) of Billionaires’ Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality, published by Beacon Press.