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‘Cultural genocide’? No, Canada committed regular genocide June 24, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Education, First Nations, Genocide.
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Roger’s note: for the most part the living conditions for Canada’s First Nations Peoples are a disgrace, characterized by high degrees of poverty, sickness, alcoholism and violence (primarily against women).  Do not look for truth much less reconciliation from Canada’s current hateful Tory government.

The word “cultural” seems to suggest that the residential school system was designed to destroy cultures but not people, a fact far from reality.

A classroom of St. Joseph's Residential School in Cross Lake, Man., in 1951. Residential Schools were predicated on the notion that Indigenous children were less human than other children, writes Jesse Staniforth.
HO / Canadian Press

A classroom of St. Joseph’s Residential School in Cross Lake, Man., in 1951. Residential Schools were predicated on the notion that Indigenous children were less human than other children, writes Jesse Staniforth.

Perhaps the most controversial issue to follow the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has been the affirmation that the government of Canada had committed “cultural genocide” against Indigenous people through the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) system.

The word “cultural” seems to suggest that the IRS system was designed to destroy cultures but not people, a fact far from the reality of Residential Schools. “Cultural” is a civilizing adjective: it says that our policies were not truly evil, just deeply misguided.

Already this strangely diplomatic term has been a flashpoint among people unwilling to admit that our country committed any kind of genocide, even one eased by a reductive adjective. Our history must make these critics uneasy. The IRS system, though its mandate did not include deliberately killing members of Canada’s Indigenous populations, was active in the following crimes, each of which constitutes genocide under the UN’s convention on Genocide (1948):

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Canada did not pack Indigenous people onto train cars and send them to be gassed, or march them into fields and execute them with machine-gun fire. However, our country committed not “cultural” genocide, but just regular genocide.

We forcibly took children from families — sometimes at gunpoint — and flew them to remote locations they could not escape — sometimes in tiny handcuffs — where they were submitted to a program of forced labour and “education” designed to destroy their cultures and civilizations. This desire to destroy cultures seems to be the reasoning for various public figures’ use of the adjective “cultural” before genocide. The other reason, I presume, is that some cling tightly — and childishly — to the idea that Canada has always been on the side of goodness and justice, and they find it very hard to accept, admit, and announce that we are a country that committed a program of genocide that lasted for many decades.

Yet Residential Schools were predicated on the notion that Indigenous children were less human than other children, so they were worked like animals in the slave labour many schools mandated. For the same assumption of their lesser humanity, children in the IRS system were often deliberately malnourished and kept in cramped, filthy quarters. When they subsequently fell sick as a result of this racially motivated neglect and mistreatment, they were not provided adequate medical treatment and died by the thousands.

The Canadian government was happy to leave these children to die because they were Indigenous. In the early part of the century we stopped keeping track of how many children died: the commission concluded this was because it made us look bad as a country. We did not change any of the conditions — we just changed the habit of keeping track of the children our system killed. And when Indigenous children died, we often did not consider them human enough to inform their families, to record their genders or their ages or the causes of their deaths, or to mark their graves.

Which part of this sounds civilized enough that it deserves to be mitigated by the adjective “cultural”? I’m not talking about the sexual violence. That was closely connected but it wasn’t part of our state policy. The rest was, and it constituted a policy of genocide.

As a Canadian journalist working in Indigenous media, I have faced the fact that the history of this country is difficult and tragic. My great-grandfather was decorated for valour at Vimy Ridge at the same time as Aboriginal children were being taken at gunpoint to have their culture beaten and starved out of them. National histories are too big and complex to love simply.

I’m not so attached to my country to contort myself into defending our history of genocide — and I’d like to ask those who are: how would admitting that our country was guilty of this crime against humanity change your relation to this nation, to yourself, and to Indigenous people?

As of the closing of the TRC, the facts of the Canadian genocide of Indigenous peoples are now a part of the official record of this country’s history, both for those who wish to face it, and those who wish to pretend it isn’t there. These facts stand and will not change, because they are in the past. In the present day, it is only Canadians who can change — and will have to change — in order to acknowledge the disgraceful but fixed facts of our history.

Jesse Staniforth is a Montreal-based freelance journalist and a regular contributor to the Nation magazine, serving the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and the communities around James Bay.

The Way of the Warrior: How To Stop A Pipeline November 11, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, First Nations.
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Roger’s note: This is direct action.  These are people taking their destiny into their own hands, perhaps the government and oil monopolies have left them no alternative.  I can foresee a violent and tragic confrontation.  I am sure they are expecting in and are ready for it, perhaps ready to die protecting their land and people.  A lesson to all of us.

With a newly elected Congress gearing up to pass Keystone, the inspiring story of the Unist’ot’en Camp, an indigenous resistance community established in northwest Canada to protect sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory and blockade up to 10 additional proposed pipelines aimed at expanding Alberta Tar Sands operations. The Uni’stot’en Clan, which has families living in cabins and traditional structures in the direct pathway of the Northern Gateway and Pacific Trails fracking lines, argues that “since time immemorial” they have governed Wet’suwet’en lands, which thus remain unceded and not subject to Canadian law “or other impositions of colonial occupation” – an argument that has been sustained in court cases, and bolstered by the camp’s recent peaceable ejection of a drilling crew..

Camp leaders note that delays caused by their and other grassroots blockades are said to be costing Kinder Morgan and other companies up to $88 million a month, one reason the companies have filed multi-million suits against camp leaders that are still pending. But with Wet’suwet’en law requiring consent from the traditional indigenous governments in territories  where indigenous people probably outnumber “settler people,” opponents appear to have the law on their side. “Our Chiefs have said no to these projects, and no means no,” says Freda Huson, Unist’ot’en Clan member and camp spokesperson. “You can’t continue to bulldoze over our people. Our lands. Our final say.”

 

 

Wynne ruins Xmas in Grassy Narrows, logging plan approved December 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Environment, First Nations, Ontario.
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Roger’s note: Let’s here it for Liberal governments.

GN_FB_ProfileBIMMEDIATE RELEASE Dec. 23, 2013

Grassy Narrows – Today the Wynne government approved plans for another decade of clearcut logging in Grassy Narrows Territory against the will of this Indigenous community. The decision has ruined Christmas in a community already struggling with the long term health impacts of mercury poisoning. The Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan 2012-2022 plans for dozens of large clearcuts on Grassy Narrows Territory, some nearly the size of pre-amalgamation Toronto.

 

“Premier Wynne, it is within your power to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated at the expense of another generation of Grassy Narrows children,” said Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister. “I call on you to intervene to repeal this hurtful plan and to ensure that never again will Ontario attempt to force decisions on our people and our lands.”

Download the plan here.

Speak out against the plan here.

The plan sets out a schedule to clearcut much of what little mature forest remains on Grassy Narrows Territory after decades of large scale industrial logging. Clearcut logging elevates mercury levels in fish – deepening the tragedy caused when 20,000 lbs of mercury poison were dumped into Grassy Narrows’ river by a paper mill upstream in the 1960’s.

This logging will further erode the Aboriginal and Treaty Rights of the community which depends on the forest to sustain their families and to practice their culture through fishing, hunting, trapping, medicine harvesting, ceremony and healing for all generations.

“Ontario has ignored our voices, and has added insult to injury by delivering this bitter blow during Christmas,” said Joseph Fobister. “My heart sinks because I know that clearcut logging has devastating consequences for our people. We cannot allow this.”

Premier Wynne visited Grassy Narrows in the summer of 2012 as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, saying that she wanted to rebuild Ontario’s relationship with Grassy Narrows to “get it right.” Instead Ontario has unilaterally pursued this clear-cut logging plan against the will of the community and without consent

We were not properly consulted and we do not accept any application of this plan to our traditional lands. The Chief and Council along with community Elders stand united on this issue and are determined to protect the community’s way of life; Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear Grassy Narrows’ case against Ontario in May, with a decision following by six months or more. The legal action argues that Ontario does not have the right to unilaterally permit logging on Grassy Narrows land due to promises made by Canada in Treaty 3.
The new logging plan takes effect in April.

Grassy Narrows is the site of the longest running native logging blockade in Canadian history – an ongoing grassroots action which recently celebrated its 11th anniversary. Grassy Narrows youth, elders, women, and land-users put their bodies on the line to stop logging trucks from passing.

CONTACT: Chief Simon Fobister (807) 407 0170
JB Fobister (807) 407 2745

High res photos and b-roll available: riverrun2010@gmail.com.

– See more at: http://freegrassy.net/2013/12/23/wynne-ruins-xmas-in-grassy-narrows-logging-plan-approved/#sthash.VW4IajJa.dpuf

Indigenous Rights are the Best Defense Against Canada’s Resource Rush April 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Idle No More.
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Roger’s note: Governments in power and political pundits are fond of invoking the “rule of law,” which is supposed to be sacred in a democracy.  However, when it is not in their self interest, the rule of law is ignored with impunity.  The actual operational principle is “might makes right.”  This article shows us how in spite of having the law on its side, the Canadian First Nations Peoples are not considered to be a legitimate force for lack of political clout.  The Idle No More movement is challenging this notion.  In the end, as has become evident to me over the years, it is not law or elections or government that determine social and economic justice, but rather organizing action outside of the electoral and juridical structures.  In the world of capitalism, government’s first loyalty is to the corporations who are in effect the owners of government; only massive social movements, fueled by anger and a sense of justice and human values can override this phenomenon.

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.

(Photo: Mark Blinch/Reuters)

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.

Martin Lukacs

Martin Lukacs is a writer and activist, and an editor with the Canadian grassroots newspaper the Dominion

Indigenous Nationhood: Beyond Idle No More January 29, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Idle No More.
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Published on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 by Taiaiake

by Gerald Taiaiake Alfred

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.

© 2012 Gerald Taiaiake Alfred
Gerald Taiaiake Alfred

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

Idle No More: Indigenous Uprising Sweeps North America January 10, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Democracy, Environment, First Nations.
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Roger’s note: the Conservatives of Stephen Harper (a friend refers to them as the suposi-Tories) formed a majority government with barely 40% of the popular vote and now act with mean-spirited Social Darwinistic impunity (with attacks on social programs, aboriginal rights and environmental protection, etc.).  They call themselves Conservatives but in reality the old Progressive Conservative Party has been hijacked by the quasi-fascistic Reform Party (Canada’s Tea Party).  They cannot be stopped through parliamentary means, the struggle is in the streets.
Published on Thursday, January 10, 2013 by YES! Magazine

Idle No More has organized the largest mass mobilizations of indigenous people in recent history. What sparked it off and what’s coming next?

  by  Kristin Moe
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It took weeks of protests, flash mobs, letters, rallies, and thousands of righteous tweets, but Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally caved. He agreed to a meeting with the woman who had been petitioning him for twenty-four days, subsisting on fish broth, camped in a tepee in the frozen midwinter, the hunger striker and Chief of the Attawapiskat Theresa Spence.

The mobilization around Chief Spence’s hunger strike has already grown to encompass broader ideas of colonialism and our relationship to the land.

No, this is not normal parliamentary process. The hunger strike was a final, desperate attempt to get the attention of a government whose relationship with indigenous people has been ambivalent at best and genocidal at worst, and force it to address their rising concerns. The meeting, set for this Friday, January 11, is unlikely to result in any major changes to Canada’s aboriginal policy. Yet the mobilization around Chief Spence’s hunger strike has already grown to encompass broader ideas of colonialism and our collective relationship to the land. The movement has coalesced under one name, one resolution: Idle No More.

Closed-door negotiations spark a movement

The Idle No More movement arose as a response to what organizers call the most recent assault on indigenous rights in Canada: Bill C-45, which passed on December 14. Bill C-45 makes changes to the Indian Act, removes environmental protections, and further erodes the treaties with native peoples through which Canada was created.

Indigenous leaders accuse the Harper administration of “ramming through” legislation without debate or consultation.

On December 4, when representatives of First Nations came to the House of Commons to share their concerns about the proposed bill, they were blocked from entering . A week later, after being repeatedly denied a meeting with Harper, Chief Spence began her hunger strike. Since then, the movement has grown to encompass a hundred years’ worth of grievances against the Canadian government, which is required by Section 35 of the Constitution Act to consult with native people before enacting laws that affect them. Indigenous leaders accuse the Harper administration of “ramming through” legislation without debate or consultation.

Even worse is the bill’s “weakening of environmental assessment and the removal of lakes and rivers from protection,” says Eriel Deranger, Communication Coordinator of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which is directly downstream from toxic tar sands mining. She knows firsthand the importance of protecting waterways from industrial pollutants. “Indigenous people’s rights,” she says, “are intrinsically linked to the environment.” She adds that the removal of such protections paves the way for resource extraction, bringing Canada closer to its self-stated goal of becoming a global energy superpower. This isn’t just a native thing, Deranger says; this is something that affects everyone.

And so begins the largest indigenous mass mobilization in recent history. Native people and their allies from all over North America have gathered to peacefully voice their support for indigenous rights: they’ve organized rallies, teach-ins, and highway and train blockades, as well as “flash mob” round dances at shopping malls.

With Twitter and Facebook as the major organizing tools, #idlenomore has emerged as the dominant meme in the indigenous rights movement. In addition to events across Canada, a U.S. media blitz tour has inspired solidarity actions all over North America, as well as in Europe, New Zealand, and the Middle East. Mainstream media and the Harper government are taking notice.

Anger at environmental destruction in Canada boils over

But why now? The answer, says Deranger, is that people are ready. Idle No More arose at a moment of growing awareness of environmental justice issues, frustration with lack of governmental consultation, and widespread opposition to resource extraction on indigenous land—like the tar sands in Deranger’s home province of Alberta and the diamond mines in Chief Spence’s Ontario. It comes after years of grassroots organizing around indigenous rights—which are, in the end, basic human rights.

Visit almost any reserve in Canada, and you’re likely to see third world social indicators in a first world country: high incarceration rates, inadequate housing and sanitation, reduced life expectancy—due in part to abnormally frequent suicides—lack of employment and education opportunities, and substance abuse. This, after more than a century of colonization by a government that refuses to acknowledge its identity as a colonial power. Meanwhile, native youth are the fastest-growing segment of Canada’s population, according to . Is it any surprise that they’re taking on repressive legislation and using social media to organize?

For Canadians—and potentially all North Americans—this is a moment of reckoning. Just as Chief Spence’s hunger strike forced the issue with Harper, Idle No More forces us all to confront the ugliness of our collective colonial history, and to recognize that colonization continues today.

It holds up a mirror to our society, questioning the historical narrative we’re all taught to believe. It asks: On what values was our country founded? And, because identity is created out of that narrative: Who are we, really? And who do we want to be?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

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Kristin Moe

Kristin Moe is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and activist who is enrolled this fall at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine.

Ecuador’s Future for Canadian Transnationals: An Exchange of Indigenous Perspectives May 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Environment.
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Jennifer Moore

www.upsidedownworld.org, May 20, 2009

“The sorrows are ours; the cows are not.”

Translation of a lyric written by Atahualpa Yupanqui (born Hector Roberto Chavero; died 1992), an Argentinian Communist exiled to Paris and who lived out his life there. The original Spanish is “las penas son de nosotros, las vaquitas son ajenas.”

Image“Welcome to the future,” says the sign behind the gated area where Vancouver-based Corriente Resources is developing an open-pit copper mine in Ecuador’s Southern Amazon. Bumping along in the back of a pick-up truck on her way to visit one of several communities slated to be displaced by the project, the idea that the future is fenced off with restricted entry for local communities that have lived on the land for years, even generations, hit home for Anne Marie Sam.

From the Nak’azdli First Nation in central British Colombia, Sam is one of two indigenous representatives who visited communities affected by Canadian-financed mining activities in Ecuador earlier this month. “We don’t even want Canadian companies in our territory, so we don’t blame Ecuadorians for not wanting them here either.” The Nak’azdli Nation opposes a proposed gold and copper mine on their territory that they have determined “would not strengthen them as a community” which includes about 1,700 members.

The trip was a critical response to President Rafael Correa’s recent invitation to the Canadian Embassy to help delegitimate the position of various indigenous leaders who are critical of his mining policy. The Embassy is still responding and will soon host a second delegation of indigenous leaders. This most recent visit was coordinated by the Quito-based Pachamama Foundation in cooperation with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

The CONAIE has criticized Correa for continuing with World Bank-backed policies to substitute the country’s dwindling oil reserves with metal extraction. Ecuador has been an oil producer for more than forty years, but no large scale mining project has yet entered production here. The CONAIE is worried about possible impacts on both water and local livelihoods. They further argue that indigenous peoples and other affected communities should have the right to consent over what projects take place on their lands or territories. A position substantiated by international law.

However, Correa is unequivocally opposed to local communities having “a veto” over what he sees as a matter of national interest. He calls his critics “infantile environmentalists” and the “greatest threat” to his political project.

Coming from Canada – the world’s principal source of financing for global mining activities – Robert Lovelace, a leader from the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation in Eastern Ontario, says his experiences in the Andean nation reveal that indigenous communities in both countries “share a heck of a lot in common.” Not only does Canada have its share of environmental disasters from extractive industry and not uphold the right to consent for indigenous communities, it also lags behind Ecuador for not having ratified international conventions that recognize these rights including the American Convention on Human Rights, Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We need to see much more of each other and we need to compare notes,” Lovelace says. An ongoing relationship, he believes, could be mutually beneficial. “When people in Ecuador stand strong,” he says, “it also helps us because it tells the mining companies that nobody is going to take the stuff that they’ve been giving out regardless of where they are.”

Canada’s Glowing Reputation

While Correa hopes that indigenous leaders invited by the Canadian Embassy will drown out the CONAIE’s criticisms, the recent visit by Sam and Lovelace revealed that Canada’s story is not as harmonious as Correa would lead Ecuadorians to believe.

“[Canada] has understood how to respect and benefit its ancestral peoples,” said Correa during a national radio address. The first people to benefit in Canada from mining, he added, “are the ancestral peoples.”

But Lovelace, speaking during two events in Quito which included members of Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum and an international group of lawyers, called Canadian mining a “two fold problem: for us and the rest of the world.” He insisted that within Canada it has to be seen within the context of colonialism and poor regulation.

The firm but soft-spoken leader explained that indigenous peoples are the most impoverished group in Canada, with high rates of suicide particularly for those who have lost their traditional ways of life, and that they have suffered official attempts to destroy their social and cultural fabric leading to rampant addictions and many broken homes. This, he explained, is a cost of the extractive and commercial mindset with which Canada was founded and continues to operate.

Lovelace has been opposing a proposed uranium mine on Ardoch territory, and shared his experience about how his community was sued for $77 million dollars by Frontenac Ventures and about his three and a half months in jail as a result of efforts to prevent mining activities on their lands.1 Radioactive contamination of lakes and rivers from uranium mining, occupational health hazards, and the uses of uranium for nuclear energy and arms are a few reasons why they do not support the mine.

Speaking to the national press, he added that the proliferation of Canadian mining companies can be explained by the fact that “we don’t have tough rules” and have poor infrastructure to enforce the rules that we do have. The Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) lists almost 60% of mining companies worldwide with over 1,400 projects in Latin America and more than 8,000 around the globe.2

He thinks stronger regulation, backed up by good monitoring and enforcement, should be “the cost of doing business for companies that are invited into other countries and invited onto indigenous land, as a bare minimum. Canada has to acknowledge that and do that because it is immoral not to.” The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has also urged Canada to develop such legislation.

But Canada has been reticent. It took the government four years to respond to parliamentary recommendations to strengthen its mining legislation for extractive industry abroad, and its recent decision reinforces voluntary guidelines rather than tightening regulations.

Interestingly, Ecuadorians from the northwestern valley of Intag recently launched a lawsuit against the TSX with the objective that the case will help lead to stronger regulations in Canada. Inteños have broadly opposed open-pit copper mining for over twelve years, but this has not stopped current project owner Copper Mesa Mining (formerly Ascendant Copper) from trying to use forceful means to try to reach its concessions. The TSX was warned before the company was listed that further financing could lead to human rights violations and violence in the valley.3

ImageThe Environment, an Afterthought

However, Correa would have Ecuadorians believe that TSX-listed companies who are irresponsible, well, they are simply not Canadian. “Be careful!” he has warned on national radio. “There are some companies that try to pass themselves off as Canadian because they trade on the Canadian stock market, but they’re not Canadian. Canada has strict, very strict, environmental requirements.”

But the Canadian public does not even know how much pollution mining operations have generated.

Only several weeks ago, the Federal Court released a “strongly worded decision” ordering the Canadian government to “stop withholding data on one of Canada’s largest sources of pollution – millions of tonnes of toxic mine tailings and waste rock from mining operations throughout the country.”4 Indicating the strength of Canada’s mining lobby, it has taken sixteen years since the National Pollutant Release Inventory was created for the sector to be held to the same reporting requirements as every other industrial sector.

When Anne Marie hears a question translated for her from an audience in Quito: “Mining companies say that their projects will be clean, that they won’t have serious enviromental impacts, what do you think?” she laughs at the coincidence. “We hear the same thing,” she remarks. “But the question isn’t whether a company will contaminate our water, it’s when.”

Given the industry’s track record in her home province, Anne Marie’s nation has not been swayed by company promises that environmental impacts will be mitigated. A recent press release from the Nak’azdli Nation states, “There are close to 2,000 abandoned or closed mines in BC and two third of them are still polluting the land and water.”5

So, when the Nak’azdli First Nation was approached by Terrane Metals to develop a gold and copper mine on their lands at the headwaters of the Peace River watershed, they did not jump at the opportunity for an agreement with the company. They did, however, take the chance to do some of their own investigations and accepted the company’s offer of $150,000 CDN without promising any further agreement.

Anne Marie was appointed to study the issue.

“Our elders advised us not to focus just on the economic aspect, but to also seriously consider the social and cultural implications,” she said.

With the company funds, they hired their own experts and examined the social, cultural, economic, environmental and legal ramifications of the project put together in what she calls an “Aboriginal Interest and Use Study.”

They concluded that they could not support the project. Even when they hit a period during which many of their members were without work, they determined that the kinds of jobs they could qualify for based upon their education and experience – cleaning, cooking and construction – did not outweigh the impacts.

Their disapproval has not stopped the company from seeking other nearby First Nation communities that would accept the project. Nor did it stop the provincial government from recently approving the company’s Environmental Assessment despite not having consulted the Nak’azdli Nation. However, it has been a key tool in their resistance.

It is a challenge because “time is not on the side of First Nations when it comes to a mining project. It’s always the timeline of the company.” But, she laughs, thinking about the time it took to read through the 6,000 page environmental assessment that the company provided and in which they found many weaknesses, “if I didn’t read [the study], I wouldn’t be able to tell you this story.” Education and communication, she says, “are key.”

ImageSorrow is Ours, the Cows are Not

The newly elected Prefect of Ecuador’s southernmost Amazonian province, Salvador Quishpe, welcomed the Canadian delegation to their final event in El Pangui. The Condor Mountain Range stretches along the eastern horizon of this steamy jungle town situated near some of the most contentious mining developments in the country.

Whereas Bob Lovelace contextualizes Canadian mining in terms of colonialism, Quishpe frames Ecuadorian mining around twenty five years of neoliberalism that he says continues despite Correa’s slogan “Our patrimony belongs to all.” He jokes for a moment: “the Canadians came along and said, “Belongs to all, eh?” “Hey, that’s good, then that includes us too!”

Quishpe reminded the 400-strong crowd that UNESCO has declared part of the Condor Mountains a World Bioreserve which has over 48 distinct ecosystems and is one of the highest priority areas for scientific research in the neotropics. He also reminded the audience that vast stretches have been claimed for mining exploration and that the principal concession holders are Vancouver-based Corriente Resources and Toronto’s Kinross Gold.

He observes that the industry’s principal proponents –  the Ecuadorian representatives of Canadian transnationals – are in large part former officials from the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. So, he remarks, the same people who helped institute the neoliberal framework for mining in the 1990s are now sitting on top of some of the best deposits of gold and copper. “It is ultimately the companies, not the government, who makes mining policy in this country,” he concludes. “And while it’s a mortal sin to say it,” he continues, “mining should be nationalized.”

Having recently been called “an enemy of the government” and a “dumb leftist” by Correa, Quishpe adds, “We are not against development.” Rather, he emphasizes, his province needs proper planning with strong participation. He proposes at least one industry – tourism – that he plans to promote during his upcoming term in local office. “We want development for the well-being of our peoples, not so-called development by which a transnational company takes away our riches for itself.”

Sam has a similar comment. “Our community has always said, we’re not against development. But we need to have a say in what development happens in our area and where, and right now we’re not being given that opportunity.”

The Waterkeepers

As the event wraps up, Anne Marie hands Salvador a card. She explains that the image of a red and green frog was drawn by an artist from her community. The frog represents the waterkeepers, she says, and Salvador is a water defender just like she and the rest of her clan from the Nak’azdli First Nation.

“Coming here has opened my eyes to how connected we are,” says Sam reflecting on the visit shortly later, “and how similar the fight we have to protect the land and the connection [we have with the land] whether indigenous or not.” She thinks about El Pangui’s struggle at the headwaters of the Amazon, and recalls her own at the headwaters of the Arctic. “What we need,” she says, “is a stronger role for indigenous people that is not after the fact or after claims are made on the land.”

In British Colombia, she says they are using new technology that enables helicopters to identify and take images of what minerals are in the ground just by flying over their territories. “Instead of this information going direct to the internet so that people can begin staking claims,” she says, “the information should go to First Nations first. And then we can decide if we want to do small scale mining, or if we want to do something else because open pits are not a nice site to look at and a recreational lake in an open pit (which is what the Terrane Metals promises to leave behind in her territory) isn’t an ideal situation for us.”

Robert Lovelace also believes that a much more meaningful participation is necessary. He describes it as a spectrum that usually begins with information sessions or token consultations. “Consultation,” he explains, “is still a form of tokenism because to consult with someone does not mean that you’re going to agree with them or even take their advice into account especially when there’s a power differential, whether based on capital or politics.”

“But when the values of each of the parties are truly recognized,” he says “and we look at consensual partnerships where both parties are able to give consent, then if one party can’t give consent, a project or development doesn’t go ahead. But that’s honest partnership.”

“As long as the power of First Nations are recognized then they may assign their authority to a corporation or a level of government in order to facilitate something happening. But that’s their choice, they’re not being forced or imposed upon to do that. The last stage is true self-governance. That’s having full authority to choose to move forward with development or not, or to choose another future altogether.”

While it has yet to be seen what the Canadian Embassy’s upcoming delegation will share with Ecuadorian’s, it will most definitely get broader coverage from the Ecuadorian press. As well, one can be almost sure that free, prior, and informed consent; recognition of the inherent rights of indigenous peoples; and the possibility of different futures other than the Canadian-owned, open-pit and underground mines envisioned for El Pangui, Yantzaza, Intag, Victoria del Portete, Molleturo, Ponce Enriquez, and many other parts of Ecuador will not be up for discussion.

Notes:

1. For further detail see: Justin Podur, “Canada’s latest political prisoners” http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/17019
2. 2007 figures based upon the Toronto Stock Exchange’s Mining Presentation
3. For more information see http://www.ramirezversuscoppermesa.com/index.html
4. Press release “Court victory forces Canada to report pollution data for mines” available at http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2009/04/24-0
5. Press release “Proposed BC mines cannot proceed without Nak’azdli First Nation” available at http://www.rightsaction.org/articles/Nakazdli_abuse_031909.html