On June 17, after years of resistance from environmental groups, citizens, and opposition parties, the Conservative government signed and approved the Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. The pipeline, which stretches across Alberta and British Columbia, has been in the works for the last few years, despite many Indigenous communities and Canadian scientists coming out to oppose the plans Enbridge has lain out. The fact that the government is ignoring these communities, sadly, should surprise no one.

The pipeline, which is $7.9 billion dollar project, will see the shipment of crude oil to Asian markets. The Toronto Star remarks will put Canada on the path to becoming a “global petropower,” something the big business loving Conservatives no doubt envision for Canada’s future.

However this is just another example of the voices of citizens being lost in the government quest to appease big business. The pipeline’s approval will affect all peoples in Canada, especially those who reside in the affected areas. We all know too well the devastating effects of oil spills. Look no further than the 2010 BP oil spill to see the devastation caused. Since the newly greenlit project was proposed, there has been fierce opposition from environmental groups as well as ordinary citizens who fear the damage the pipeline could have on one of the most beautiful areas of the country.

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The coverage on the pipeline appears to be generally focused on these environmental concerns, which are extremely important, and the approval signifies a total disregard for environmental issues by the federal government. However, something that also should not be overlooked is that it’s also, not so shockingly, another example of this government’s continued role in colonialism across this country.

Harper’s Conservatives, with the approval of the pipeline, are continuing to drive home the message that Indigenous peoples in Canada are to be ignored. The Northern Gateway pipeline will cross large amounts of unceded territory, without the consent of many of communities that reside on the land.

While it should be noted that agreements do currently exist between Enbridge and around 60 per cent of the Indigenous groups who will see the pipeline cut through their land, this still means there are groups that have not agreed and will therefore have to face the pipeline crossing through and destroying their land, without their consent.

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While the continued ignorance of Indigenous populations across the country is hardly new news (one only needs to look at the total lack of action over missing and murdered Indigenous women to see the level of government concern for Indigenous rights), the Northern Gateway pipeline is yet another case that cannot be ignored.

However the fight is far from over. Five lawsuits are currently on the table against the pipeline,  and three of the five come from First Nations groups in British Columbia. The pipeline project also is not scheduled, according to accounts, to begin construction until 16 months from now – a great deal of time that could see growing opposition.

Canadians should make their voices heard about the pipeline through whatever means are at their disposal. Over the next few weeks it can be guaranteed that there will be demonstrations against the project in cities across the country for people to make their voices heard. If you are more of an armchair activist, you should also be in contact with your MP – there will be an election in 2015, and no doubt the pipeline will become an election issue. The NDP and Liberals are currently claiming that they will fight the issue in parliament.

With support from wider swaths of the Canadian public, there is the chance that the pipeline could be halted. This is something that would be beneficial to all Canadians, especially those who will watch their land be destroyed if the pipeline comes into fruition.

On June 11 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons and offered apologies on behalf of the Canadian government for the hideous Residential School program – a program with the purpose, in the words of its most ardent supporters, was to “civilize” First Nations, Inuit, and Métis populations. It was a system of cultural cleansing with a sole finality to destroy the remains of any Indigenous way of life and thus allowing for their complete assimilation.

The apology was supposedly a watershed moment in Canadian history, a moment which would allow for renewed dialogue, a dignified correspondence between the ‘saviours’ of such a system, their children, and the non-aboriginals populations of Canada. The Conservative government at the time, as it still does today, boasts about the historic moment as proof of their efforts to build a stronger partnership with Indigenous communities.

Outside of the universe of smoke and mirrors, of the political spin and lip-service that is Ottawa, the apology put forward by the Conservative government is a chef d’oeuvre of hypocrisy and the paragon of why the federal government’s relationship with Indigenous communities is not just broken, it’s non-existent.

A sincere apology is first and foremost a lesson and promise. It is an acknowledgement that our past ways were inhumane, cruel, and racist, and a statement that from this day forth the federal government would fight to eradicate the remainders of colonialism and neo-colonialism in all of its forms. Unfortunately six years after, the Canadian government’s apology seems void of any concrete steps to change the nature of our relationship with Indigenous communities, much to the contrary in fact.

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The honeymoon period following the apology was short-lived. Within a few years of the statement the Conservative government was handed a majority and since then, it’s been a race to the bottom when it comes to the state of aboriginal/federal government relations.

In the past few years of Conservative majority rule there have been an incredible amount of low points when it comes to this government’s respect of Indigenous rights, and especially with regards to their unalienable right to self-determination and sovereignty within their own communities. For some right-wing pundits – read Ezra Levant – the  storyline is the following: Conservative government pushes for  natural resource extraction on Native land , Indigenous peoples oppose extraction, the Conservatives pushes forward with it because that’s what’s best for the economy and what’s best for the economy is what’s best for the aboriginal peoples of Canada … But when bill C-33, or the First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act (in good Conservative newspeak) is thrown into the mix, the “prosperity” argument that the ‘neo-cons’ construct to justify their willing incapacity to uphold treaty rights and their rampant violation of aboriginal sovereignty doesn’t apply.

Bill C-33 might have stemmed from a good intention (even though that is very doubtable), but a very misguided one to say the least. Bill C-33 is the legal framework for an education system for First Nations communities drawn in Ottawa without the consent or the input of First Nations – a framework that would impose an educational system in which the transmission of knowledge from one generation to another isn’t important, and the only objective is to “integrate”.

In the words of its proponents, it brings First Nations youth into the Canadian economy, aka assimilation by other means. The best manifestation of that is the fact that the teaching of First Nations languages doesn’t even have a place in the bill.  This new education system would answer to the needs of the market, the needs of Canadian employers, not to the aspirations of First Nation communities wanting to make sure their cultures and languages are passed on to the next generation.

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On the other hand, contrary to Conservative belief, 100% First Nations’ controlled education systems are the models that work the best. The province of Nova Scotia is the best example of a 100% controlled First Nations education program.

Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey has been an incredible success story. Today Nova Scotia has the highest rate of First Nations high school graduation in the entire country at a staggering 88% compared to 35% nation-wide. Statistics such as these put the Conservative government in a very awkward situation, because they prove that self-determination works, which puts the Conservative government’s entire economic plan in porte-à-faux.

Indigenous communities throughout Canada have been on the frontlines of the fight against the ruthless exploration and pillage of Canadian natural resources, which only benefit multinational corporations at the expense of the rest of us. We non-Indigenous peoples of Canada are indebted to these communities historically in many ways, but we are ever so indebted for the struggle they lead against the destruction of our natural wealth in this day and age.

This Conservative government is truly afraid of what Indigenous communities have to teach all of us, primarily that our greatest wealth is our environment. We cannot eat money, and that’s why the Conservative government is the main obstacle on the path towards a strong autonomous Aboriginal educational system in Canada. The Conservatives are scared of an educational system that promotes an alternative worldview in which prosperity is measured in environmental and social terms, not economic ones.

If we want to build a truly prosperous Canada, we have much to learn from our Indigenous sisters and brothers.

After years of demands for a national inquiry into the status of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has finally released the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

The number – 1,186 women missing or murdered over the past thirty years – was made public last week by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson. The reported cases of missing Indigenous women date back from 1952 onward, however a majority of the cases reported occurred from the1980s onward. The RCMP report found 1,017 Indigenous women were murdered from 1980 to 2012. 186 of the cases were of missing women.

These numbers are staggeringly higher than what was previously thought. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) estimated in 2010 that there were over 500 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, though also pointed to the fact that the number could be substantially higher.

NWAC was also behind the Sisters in Spirit (SIS) project that aimed to track the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. However SIS lost federal funding in 2010, causing the research to end. Despite this, initiatives to investigate the number continued independently.

The numbers first came to light last week when Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) released the tip, forcing the RCMP to announce that the numbers were in fact correct.

According to the RCMP report, Indigenous women only make up 4 per cent of the population in Canada, however they make up 16 per cent of murdered women, and 12 per cent of missing women.

Despite these numbers, the Conservative government is still opposing calls for a federal inquiry. The New Democratic Party (NDP) however have spoken out since the report has been released on the need for an inquiry, with leader Thomas Mulcair calling on Monday for the federal government to take action.

The current Conservative government has previously ignored all calls for a federal inquiry. Despite the fact that they ended funding for SIS with claims that it was time for “concrete steps,” none have appeared to actually have been taken. The numbers being released only shows how much a federal inquiry is needed to properly shed light on the issue – however it seems highly unlikely one will occur under this government.

James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the welfare of Indigenous peoples, also called on May 12 for Canada to launch a ‘comprehensive national inquiry’ into the status of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

These numbers, while higher than previously thought, only reinforce how much of a culture of violence is tolerated against Indigenous women in Canada. While the RCMP are releasing these numbers, they should also be looking internally into how they themselves address cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, as so far they have proven to be just as complacent – at best – in properly addressing cases.

The numbers are part, according to the RCMP, of a larger National Operational Overview on Missing and Murdered Women to be released in the coming weeks.

The world was supposed to end in 2012. It didn’t. In fact, if 2013 in the news is any indication, it didn’t even change all that much.

There were a few pleasant surprises, a few unpleasant ones, some things didn’t change at all, for better or worse, and there was distraction and that’s where I’ll begin…

Distraction

Biggest distraction of the year? Without a doubt, this guy:

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Not only did Rob Ford dominate the headlines in Canada, distracting from the Senate scandal among other things, he managed to take top billing in the US for a while, overpowering problems with the Obamacare rollout, and even made headline news in Africa. His biggest accomplishment, though, seems to be that his crack use and personal problems have distracted everyone from the fact that he really has terrible policies and kinda sucks as mayor.

The biggest distraction this side of the 401 has got to be the Charter of Quebec Values, or the Charter of Secularism or whatever Marois and company are calling it now. It’s garnered the ire of everyone from the Jewish General Hospital, QPIRG Concordia and even Anonymous and it’s the proof that, despite how they may try to promote it, the PQ has lost any progressive cred they may have had.

With even Harley Davidson coming out against it, it’s clear that some people are seeing through what it essentially a cynical ploy designed to galvanize the right-wing separatist portion of the PQ’s base. Marois’ endgame is clear: re-establishing politics as usual in Quebec, which brings us to…

More of the same

You’d think in a year that saw a record-breaking three different mayors of Montreal, there would be some change. Well, unfortunately, Montrealers, or a small portion of them, voted in Denis Coderre, a candidate that ran with a good chunk of Gerald Tremblay and Michael Applebaum’s former Union Montreal teammates. So far, he’s stuffed the executive committee with his own people despite not having a majority and has declared war on erotic massage parlours, something he didn’t mention at all during the campaign.

Denis Coderre

2013 also saw more police repression with the SPVM enforcing bylaw P6 in a very unapologetic and hardcore way. It’s also been the year of police political profiling, fortunately some activists like Katie Nelson are now fighting it in the courts and the court of public opinion. ortunately, protesting Stephen Harper still seems to be kosher in Montreal.

It’s also nice to see that the Idle No More movement continues to grow, despite it not being as big in Quebec. Local activists here did have a facepalm-inducing run-in with the cops when they tried to put up a tipi in Montreal. F

There’s also supposed to be another multi-million dollar building going up on the lower Main, an area that doesn’t need it. But, believe it or not, it’s not all more of the same locally, there were…

A few pleasant surprises

We’re getting new metro cars! And we’re not talking about a few tweaks, this is actually a new design! Who would have thought such a thing was possible?

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Also, Projet Montreal did end up doing quite well in the municipal election. They held on to two boroughs, nearly added a third, became the official opposition and held Coderre to a minority on council. Melanie Joly also had an impact on our municipal scene and will be someone to watch in the years to come.

Most of the pleasant surprises this year happened in Ottawa (David DesBaillets goes through some of them) and internationally (Niall Clapham Ricardo takes a look at socialism on the rise). For me, the biggest standouts are how Canada just decriminalized prostitution, the courage of Edward Snowden and the fact that the US somehow managed to bungle its way out of a war that nobody wanted or needed in Syria, but most (including me) thought was inevitable.

So that’s just a brief look at how I saw 2013. I do hope that in 2014, we can do away with the distractions and the status quo. That would be a pleasant surprise, but not an impossible one.

* Top image by Jay Manafest

For many, Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald may just be the guy on the ten dollar bill and generally a good man. Not everyone knows that the man behind the face we see when we spend a ten on some food intentionally starved First Nations peoples in order to make way for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

NDP MP Charlie Angus wants people to know more about the ugly side of Sir John that we don’t get in many history books. He has recorded a song callled Four Horses, inspired by the bestselling book Clearing the Planes by James Daschuk and released a very passionate and informative music video.

It’s not your typical Canadian Heritage Minute, but it should be.

Davyn Calfchild served in the Canadian military and earned three medals over five years. He attended Remembrance Day events in Toronto yesterday not as a protester but as a veteran.

He was carrying a Haudenosaunee flag, the flag of his people, while his friend stood next to him carrying a Mowhawk Warrior flag. They were there to represent Native veterans who served or are serving in the Canadian military.

Toronto police didn’t see it that way and arrested both men for refusing to take down their flags along with a third Native man who was filming the incident. This despite repeated pleas from Calfchild that he was a veteran and there to support veterans, which, after all, is the purpose of Remembrance Day.

While most mainstream media focused on how Rob Ford was booed while one veteran refused to shake his hand or what Stephen Harper was doing, this video made the rounds online, showing how, sadly, not all veterans are welcome at official Remembrance Day events.

Earlier this evening, Montreal police took down and destroyed a tipi that activists had set up as part of the Idle No More Global Day of Action. According to witnesses, police did not attempt any negotiations and moved into the camp, pushing aside a group of Aboriginal women who had surrounded the tipi.

“It was one of the most random and arbitrary attacks on an extremely peaceful event that I have seen,” said protester Katie Nelson, “nevermind disrespectful and extremely insensitive to First Nations.”

In the following audio clip recorded by Nelson, SPVM officer Arruda claims that they are afraid the event would turn into another Occupy Montreal and asks “do you think the City of Montreal cares…” without finishing his question.

While the irony of equating native protesters to occupiers when non-Aboriginals are in fact the ones that have been doing the occupying for centuries seems lost on Arruda, the question he never finished is one we should be asking. Does the city or moreover the people in it care about the First Nations and how the police behave at demonstrations? We can only hope so.

Give it a listen:

* Photo by Katie Nelson via Twitter

Last week, people in several cities around the country held peaceful demonstrations  demanding that the government disclose everything that it knows about the crimes of Canada’s disgraceful residential schools. Predictably, the old media ignored it, much as they have done with other Idle No More type actions recently.

The latest outrage was prompted by a shocking discovery made by a researcher at the University of Guelph that in the 40s, the Canadian government conducted secret experiments on aboriginal school children, at least one of which involve deliberately depriving hungry children of milk to see what effects it might have on their already extreme malnutrition (an idea that would no doubt make infamous Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele proud). This news comes at a particularly tense period in relations between the government and First Nations over the lack of progress being made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), tasked with exposing the atrocities committed in the name of “civilizing” aboriginal kids by members of the churches running these schools.

The courts, in particular the Ontario Superior Court, have also ruled in favour of the TRC with regards to the obligations of the government to hand over all relevant documents (read about the Ontario Superior Court decision here ) despite the government’s attempts to bog it down in legal bickering over the definition of what “relevant documents” is ( is it any wonder people hate lawyers???). Basically, the Aboriginal affairs department made the intellectually dishonest and lazy argument that, under the definition contained in mandate of the TRC, it was not required to go beyond its own archives and provide historical documents only available through the National Archives of Canada.

Might this have something to do with the cost of searching and producing such materials? Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s 2013 report on the Fed’s expenses seemed to hint that it was. The cost of gathering all the documents is estimated by Library and Archives to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 million and would take 10 years to digitize.

Aboriginal Affairs already complained to the AG that they were given less than 20 million to do the job, so far. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the TRC’s mandate which expires in 2014.

As Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations recently said in an op-ed published in the Globe, it’s Harper’s responsibility to make good on his 2008 apology to First Nation Canadians and our responsibility as a Country to see that the government reveals our shameful past: “Canada, this is your history. We must confront the ugly truths and move forward together.”

* For more on residential schools in Canada, please watch the documentary Unrepentant http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqUvhDG7x2E

Some may see the growing Idle No More movement as simply an aboriginal issue, but in truth it is also a stand against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s environmental policies. The movement was born in Saskatchewan by four women complaining about bill C-45, the Conservative’s second omnibus budget bill that threatens existing First Nation treaties.

These four women started organizing events throughout Saskatchewan culminating in a national day of action across Canada. It was on that day of action that Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario announced in Ottawa that she would be starting a hunger strike. The strike has garnered national attention and has helped to push the protest movement to the forefront of news cycles. Spence has survived solely on tea and fish broth and the hunger strike is now entering a fifth consecutive week.

If you wanted to find the crux of the protests you could undoubtedly go back centuries, but I believe that the real heart of the problem may lie in the Conservative’s failure to pass the Kelowna Accord. The Kelowna Accord was a series of agreements between the Government of Canada (led then by Prime Minister Paul Martin), Provincial Premiers and five national aboriginal organizations.

The Accord was a five billion dollar plan to improve the education, employment and living conditions for First Nation people. Stephen Harper who was elected soon after the agreement was made, quietly disposed of it. Following his defeat, Paul Martin introduced a private members bill to ensure the agreement was implemented, but in 2007 the Conservative Party voted against it and didn’t try to replace it with anything.

2013_01_02_idlenomorehuffpoThe problematic truth of the aboriginal situation in Canada is that many first nation communities across the country look more like third world countries. Many don’t have basic grade schools, proper housing or even clean drinking water. Unemployment is also extremely high and substance abuse is rampant. I can’t understand why any Canadian would tolerate how we treat the original Canadians of this country.

I’m sure these issues are in the backs of the minds of the Idle No More Movement, but like I said before the main sticking point was bill C-45. This Conservative Government Budget Bill actually changed the legislation contained in 64 existing acts and regulations including the Indian Act, the Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act.

The changes to the Indian Act (done without the approval of first nation communities) effectively streamline’s the designation of First Nation land for leasing. Previously, if corporate interests wanted to lease land on a reserve it would have required the majority vote of all those on the reserve. Now it requires just those who attend the meeting about the lease. This can open the door to bribery, corruption and leave thousands without a say on who occupies their land. Also, during negotiations the Aboriginal Affairs minister can ignore a resolution from the reserve’s council that opposes a decision at the meeting.

The Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act are the other two sore points for the Idle No More movement. Both could have a profound impact on Canada’s environment and should be of concern to all Canadians.

The Navigation Protection Act removes a requirement for major pipeline and power line project backers to prove their development plan won’t damage or destroy the waterway it crosses. This means that even the most incompetent energy companies can get their projects approved. These companies could still be sued if something goes wrong, but by then the damage will have been done. The act effectively removes protection for 99.9 percent of our lakes and rivers.

The Environmental Assessment Act was first implemented back in 1992. It required federal departments, including Environment Canada, to conduct environmental assessments for proposed projects that involves federal funding, permits, or licensing. In 2012 the Conservative Government repealed and re-wrote the law to the point where the name itself has lost all meaning.

The new version no longer requires environmental assessments of projects proposed or regulated by the federal government unless the Environment Minister demands it. By design, the current post belongs to Conservative Peter Kent who is more business friendly than environmentally friendly.

Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence - Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence on Dec. 6 Sean Kilpatrick/CP

I find it awe-inspiring to know that despite the awful living conditions on some First Nation reserves, many of the people who live there are still more concerned with our environment. The same environment we’ve been destroying since we took their land all those years ago.

Prime Minister Harper for his part finally decided to meet with Theresa Spence and other First Nation Leaders in the coming days. Hopefully for everyone’s sake, it won’t be a simple lip service from Harper. Keep in mind that Idle No More is a grass roots movement just like the carre rouge in Quebec or the Occupy Movement that preceded it. Idle No More doesn’t need to answer to anyone and like their name suggests, they won’t be going away until substantial change is seen.

I’m sorry to inform everyone that this will be my last Quiet Mike’s Mumblings article for Forget the Box. While I might continue to contribute periodically, I have decided to put most of my energy into my own site quietmike.org. I would like to take this occasion to thank Jason, Chris and the rest of the Forget the Box family for helping me get started and giving me an audience for over two and a half years.

It has been a pleasure writing for you and I implore everyone who routinely read my column to keep visiting the site. Forget the Box is without a doubt the best blog in the great city of Montreal. Thanks everyone… for everything.

Today is the 12th day of Chief Theresa Spence’s fast. Around Canada, North America and beyond, Indigenous Peoples and their allies are rallying around this Chief’s determination to stand up for her community of Attawapiskat and demand that the human rights of her community be heard by the government. Earlier in 2012, this community declared a state of emergency due to a severe housing crisis.

At around the same time as Chief Spence began her fasting (also described as a hunger strike), the Idle No More movement began with four women named Sylvia McAdam, Jess Gordon, Nina Wilson, and Sheelah Mclean “who felt it was urgent to act on current and upcoming legislation that not only affects our First Nations people but the rest of Canada’s citizens, lands and waters.” Discussions around the upcoming Bill C-45, led to an increasing need for action and they began teach-ins and organizing for actions across the country. Flash mob round dances, walks and highway blockades are occurring across the country as we speak urging people, native and non-native, to take part in a revolution “which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water.”

Metis blogger Chelsea Vowel (l) and Filion at the #idlenomore March in Montreal (photo by Tanya Gill-Lalonde)

On Friday, December 21st, 2012, I put aside all of my other commitments and took to the streets with others in support of Idle No More and Chief Theresa Spence. We met at Square Cabot where the organizers recognized the Haudenosaunee land upon which we stood. Next, Kanehsatake Mohawk indigenous human rights activist Ellen Gabriel opened the gathering with a speech that strongly moved me. Looking around me in the crowd, I spotted many friends, coworkers and allies that I have worked alongside with over the past six years of my time in Montreal.

The drumming led us down St.Catherine as we walked peaceful chanting for people to not stand by idly anymore as the Conservative government not only ignores the needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in Canada, but moves forward with bills (such as Bill C-45) and legislations that will effectively worsen conditions and relationships between Canada and First Peoples and continue its assault on the environment.

We walked all the way to the front of Place des Arts where more speakers shared their messages including Michelle Audette from Femmes autochtones du Québec, social media activist Chelsea Vowel and a few others. They delivered powerful messages reminding us of what is at stake and what needs to be done. We then began a round dance on the steps in front of Place des Arts, holding hands and standing together a determined community of different persons dedicated to seeing change now for the sake of this generation and the seven to follow.

Instead of writing more on this movement is in my words, I would like to act as a resource and lead you to those amazing articles and statements that have already been made. I think that these voices are powerful ones and that more people should hear these messages. Furthermore, I would ask that those who want to work in solidarity with Idle No More, please respect the ways in which organizers are leading the responses.

For example, those who attend events, protests, round dances and/or rallys may be asked not to cover their faces and to act as peacefully as possible. It is very important to respect these guidelines in the name of being good allies and also to ensure that the movement is not discredited by the media and the government in an attempt to deny the issues and realities that Idle No More and collaborators are working hard to see addressed.

First and foremost, have a look at the Idle No More website.

Furthermore, I invite you to read and pass along this pamphlet by Taiaiake Alfred and Tobold Rollo entitled Resetting and Restoring the Relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Canada.

As well, I encourage you to read Chelsea Vowel’s article entitled “The natives are restless wondering why?” as well as the rest of her blog where you can learn more about Attawapiskat, Chief Theresa Spence’s community, and other issues and topics related to First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in Turtle Island (North America). Then check out part of Chelsea Vowel’s speech during the Idlenomore gathering on Dec, 21st, 2012 in Montreal, Quebec.

* Top image by Marc Saindon, CPNUQAM

What does it mean when your community makes the news? (Not always that much).

Five years ago, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation on the St. Clair River near Sarnia, Ontario made national headlines for their birth rates: between 1999 and 2003, only one third of babies born in the community were male. From 1995-2003, the male birth rate was still only 41% according to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives.

The reason? Aamjiwnaang reserve is situated next to one of the most polluted areas in Canada. Within 25km of Sarnia there are 62 large industrial facilities, which in 2005 were emitting around 1800 kilograms of air pollution per resident. That was around 131 992 metric tonnes of pollution, according to Ecojustice, the non-profit that broke the story in 2007.

Besides causing birth defects in local communities, high exposure to chemicals from these facilities are linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

But despite some in-depth reporting by the CBC and a flurry of articles and a documentary in the mid 2000’s, Sarnia remains one of the most polluted cities in Canada. In 2011, the World Health Organization gave the city the worst ranking in Canada for air pollution, though Ontario as a whole had reduced air pollution.

Ecojustice reports that many of the facilities are continuing with business as usual, or even increasing production.  In 2011, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment even gave the green light to Suncor Energy Products to increase production by 25%.

Ecojustice is currently representing Ada Lockridge and Ron Plain, two members of the 700-resident Sarnia 45-Reserve who are attempting to block expanded production of one facility, which was approved by the Ontario Ministry of Environment. Lockridge lives just 1.4 km from a Suncor petroleum refinery, while Plain said he left the reserve because of the high level of pollution, according to an EcoJustice report for the Environmental Law Centre at University of Victoria.

The case is currently under review by a judge as Suncor is trying to block it, so the Ecojustice lawyers weren’t too keen to talk yet when I emailed them, but they are essentially arguing that this is a case of environmental racism. According to their blog they have submitted over 2000 pages of evidence and  have 13 witnesses.
They also have a nifty timeline about the community on a blog post.

Some factors in this argument include the fact cultural and economic barriers make it difficult to move away, the pollution impacts their ability to practice cultural activities, and that the adverse health effects are passed down through generations.

Or from a similar report on environmental racism in Canada:

“Related to the race or class debate, largely due to the role of the housing market as a systemic sorter of individuals and communities, is the “chicken or egg” polemic. On the one hand, hazards may concentrate disproportionately in existing communities of least resistance. On the other, hazards suppress land values making properties affordable to those of lower status.”

Eco Justice has a blog about the case, you can follow, but it seems like they are up against some pretty steep odds. But we’ll keep following the story to see what happens next…

With the debate over the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal heating up in Ottawa, and the likely scenario of some sort legal battle emerging, it might be time to look what the law, and in particular the Supreme Court, has said about aboriginal land claims in the past to see if we can better predict the outcome of any trial on this contentious subject.

Harper and his oil business cronies probably would have preferred that the Northern Gateway project fly under the radar, but his loudmouthed Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver didn’t get the PM’s memo, evidently. Tasked with the unenviable job of trying to greenwash the tar sands for sale in the U.S. and elsewhere, Oliver is ratcheting up the us-versus-them rhetoric in the wake of the recent delay to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline due to Obama’s controversial decision to withhold permission. Reeling from this setback, and the prospect of the same thing happening to their latest pipeline dream, Oliver made the now infamous remark that Canada’s economic interests were being threatened by “environmental groups and other radical groups…attempting to hijack our regulatory system!”

Luckily, no one in their right mind is buying what Oliver is selling, least of all first nation groups for whom the pipeline could have a massively negative impact on their traditional lands, most disturbingly at the location where the pipeline ends in Kitimat BC, which happens to be in the heart of one of the world’s most sacred and delicate ecosystems, the Great Bear rainforest.

The government maintains that it has been in consultation with First Nations through the Joint Panel Review, set up by the feds back in 2006. But is this enough? Most experts on aboriginal law in the context of Supreme Court rulings related to section 35 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (affirming “existing aboriginal treaty rights”) are deeply skeptical that the government has done its constitutional duty to involve First Nations in this process from the start.

This duty basically stems from two key precedents in Canadian law: Mikisew (2005) and Delgamuukw (1998). Before the latter decision was used by the court to assert the legitimacy of native sovereignty over their own land, governments tended to try and minimize the importance of those claims by pretending that native communities only exercised their rights in relation to hunting, fishing and various other traditional activities.

The former is perhaps even more significant in its implications for the proposed pipeline. In his opinion, Justice Binnie laid down a twofold obligation on the part of the government: 1) the crown ( i.e. the feds) must be in consultation with affected First Nations at the earliest stages of development. 2) The results of that consultation must be factored into the planning of the project in question.

Two pieces of evidence belie the feds’ position, in light of the cases I just mentioned. The leadership of the Haisla people, who historically occupied the land where the tanker farm would be built, had not only been denied a meeting with the relevant ministers in ’05, but when then environment minister Rona Ambrose made her first public statement about the project in ’06, it contained virtually no mention of their concerns. Furthermore, the Joint Review Panel seems to be a toothless government public relations tool with no legal powers to decide aboriginal title or land claims. Not to mention that the Crown chief representative lacks negotiating authority.

Another potential legal issue raised by the Harper governments mishandling of this matter is the question of Joe Oliver’s now infamous letter. Aboriginal legal experts say it could be used as evidence that the crown is not negotiating with First Nations in good faith. According to Michael Lee Ross: “On its face, this looks inconsistent with the requirement that the Crown proceeds with an open mind. It does suggest the process has already been predetermined.” Hardly surprising that the Carrier-Sekani nation have filed a lawsuit against the project.

However, despite this duty to consult, it’s important to remember that, by virtue of the archaic Indian Act, First Nations still don’t have the power to veto development projects on their lands. Ultimately, the best that the communities involved in this battle can hope for is that by raising awareness about the harmful consequences to environment, local enconomy and their people, the combination of negative publicity generated and legal red tape created will cause Enbridge to back down from their controversial plan.

Today is the day when we give thanks to the natives, those aboriginal peoples whose land we forcibly colonized, raped, and conquered. We fought several wars over it and we generally treated both aboriginals and colonizers alike, in very bad ways. At least today is the day in Canada (Americans celebrate this in November) where we give thanks to the natives for showing us how to survive the long, cold winters, which game was good eating and which plants were which.

At least the food was good

It reflects a time when those too conservative for Great Britain and for that matter the rest of Europe were essentially kicked out for being too puritanical and fanatic about it. If, say, you happened to be female and for whatever reason they decided they didn’t like you, they would brand you a witch and murder you accordingly.

So they came to a new land, the “New World” and promptly began colonizing. A large part of this colonization involved a religious colonization, called a “mission.” These people were on a mission to obliterate the culture and most of the personnel within the indigenous population, or to enslave them.

This colonization took part using arbitrary people based in Europe and to hell with any non-european already occupying the land. In fact, there once was a great city called Hochelaga, where more than 500 000 people lived. There is still a city on that site today, except now with a population of just over 3 million. 3 million colonizers’ descendants and other immigrants and the descendants thereof, that is. While the indigenous population were mostly slaughtered, or forcibly re-located to a village on the south shore.

Of course, I refer to Montreal, an important island in the Mohawk nation.

The truth of the matter is, this land known as the New World, was conquered by three major European countries, all of which were fighting wars with each other constantly. Serial killers and mass murderers, like Adam Dollard des Ormeaux, were heroised, while true heroes would have been seen as enemies, traitors and general pariahs. These colonizing countries sent their worst prisoners here as well, to settle and rape the land and force Christianity, primarily in the form of Catholicism, to become the “National” state religion, very often in a cruel and sadistic, extremely abusive manner.

In an effort to forcibly assimilate the native populations even recently, the state imposed residential schools which stole the children from their parents, essentially kidnapping them to make then wards of the state, committed physical, sexual, emotional and other forms of abuse on these children, told them lies about their parents, et cetera. Residential schools were essentially concentration camps.

-At least, that’s how I understand it. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe not. Either way, those of us of European descent, myself included, probably shouldn’t be here. Having said that, if my family wouldn’t have come to Montreal, I probably wouldn’t have been born, as my family would have most likely fallen prey to the European anti semites, missionaries, conquistadors and the like.

-Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy!

…And then the magmic intrusion suddenly became active again, forming a large crater at its crown with sudden rivers of fire flowing down the sides of the mountain, destroying the park and the populated city around it.

Hot stuff! A magmic intrusion into sedimentary rock, forming a mountain, indeed, a whole archipelago within the enormous river. Upon this island grew thick, lush forests of both deciduous hardwoods and coniferous softwoods. There are numerous assorted creatures living in this forest.

Soon, an Ice age comes over this island and many creatures perish, but many new creatures are born and evolve around it. The ice age ends, the forest re-grows, although winters are harsh and very cold.

After a little while the first native people come to settle a small village on this island. The village grows until it becomes a bustling city of five hundred thousand people. There are longhouses here and soon tailor’s shops and tanneries and butcher shops and hunting grounds and livery stables, along with hospitals and cemeteries and other things one finds in a city at this point in time.

However, nature is an important thing, as it can master one’s existence. One must respect the land and the livelihood that the land brings, while keeping careful to make sure that one can survive in the weather.

And then the new immigrants come from Europe. Actually, they’re colonists who bring strange customs and devilish practices to this island. They bring alcohol and guns and Catholicism.

They soon conquer the city and decimate it’s population, using a combination of murder and germ warfare, in part because they bring many foreign diseases with them. As they conquer, they also expand the city for themselves, eventually taking up the entire island and much of its surrounding areas.

After a while, the infestation of these new immigrants has effectively taken over the land. Mass murderers are hailed as heroes and rapists are sent by the kings of the foreign countries in Europe that these immigrants came from.

It is many generations later. The natives have been subjected to all manner of torture, destruction and subversion, along with many torturous methods employed in an attempt to assimilate them.

The new government is modeled after the European examples of the immigrants’ homelands. Whole nations have been assimilated or carved up, according to the people in charge in Europe, with no regard to the nations throughout the land previously.

The descendants of these people do perhaps feel a little guilty, but as they’ve never known any other home, the feeling isn’t that bad. There are descendants on the native side too, most of whom now are forced to live off of the island, in a small area reserved for them.

Those that leave the reserve often find themselves homeless, helpless, raped, pimped, murdered, or any combination thereof. The small reserve is repeatedly encroached upon by these Europeans and their descendants, forcing the natives into ever smaller conditions.

Then somebody decides they want to build a golf course.

Free speech has become a game.   Being an activist for several years now I have found that free speech is really just a myth.   Sure, you have folks spouting about gay marriage, health care, abortion, women’s rights and the environment but when it comes to native rights we are the ones who get arrested and thrown in jail.

How is fighting to protect your small piece of land from developers any different from speaking out against stem cell research?   The answer, big business!

Flags in Caledonia

Let’s kid not ourselves folks, protesting can only go so far.   Just ask the Mohawk in Caledonia Ontario who have been blocking passage to a work site since February 28th 2006 because of ongoing land disputes.

Like Caledonia there have been many disputes regarding the First Nations vs the government and big business.   In 1990, during the Oka crisis when the town of Oka tried to extend the golf course by going through a graveyard, the Mohawk spoke out and years of pent up frustration came out.   In the end, though, they lost against public opinion, poor media coverage and a government determined to hide the fact their policies have done way more harm than good!

There are a few subjects that are strictly taboo to speak out against, them being the First Nations, the Israeli conflict and big business.   If you are against the Israeli government for what it has done to the Palestinians then your branded an anti Semite because you’re not allowed to do that.

It’s the same thing with big business.   Take a map of all the deforestation, mining and oil drilling in Canada then take a map of all the First Nation reserves and you will see how they practically line up.   Yet when we speak out against this we are arrested and thrown in jail.

You see big corporations run the government.   They lobby the government over jobs, saying that they need to drill or mine or cut down this forest in order to help the economy.   What they don’t mention is the devastation they leave in their wake and when I say devastation I mean bad water, poisoned land and death.

Tar Sands impact on the First Nations

The folks of Fort Chipewan near Alberta’s Tar Sands have been experiencing a spike in rare cancers that can only be explained the toxic damage caused by the tar sands.   Though big business had said that there is no reason to suspect the tar sands independent research has suggested that they are to blame.

So how do we fight the hypocrisy in our country?   How do we fight the insurmountable odds facing our communities?

How do we win the PR war?

Montreal: On October the 4th, 72 communities organized vigils and marches across Canada to remember the over 500 missing or murdered native women in Canada.  Though some groups estimate the number to be much higher, the Native Women Association of Canada has said that there are 521 confirmed cases of native women going missing or having been murdered in nearly 30 years.

The situation is only getting worse with several cases just this past year.  Native groups have called on the government to investigate these cases but so far, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.  The United Nations and Amnesty International have made similar requests and all have been ignored by the federal government, only the Manitoba Government has taken to steps to curb the problem by creating a task force that will work with native groups to investigate the 78 confirmed cases in that province!

In Montreal, Missing Justice, a grassroots organization that formed last April took up the task of organizing this year’s vigil and March.  The weekend began with a panel at Concordia University to discuss the root causes and impacts of violence against Native women.  The panellists included Melanie Morrison from Kahnawake (sister of Tiffany Morrison, missing 3 years), Craig Benjamin, Campaigner for Indigenous Rights with Amnesty International, Yasmin Jiwani, professor in Communication Studies at Concordia and former researcher and coordinator of the BC Yukon FREDA Centre for Research on Violence against Women and Children and Kary Ann Deer, member of the Board of Directors of Projets Autochtones du Quebec.

Melanie Morrison addresses the panel

Melanie Morrison, whose sister Tiffany went missing June 18th 2006, spoke of the trend of ignorance when dealing with the police who did not take the case seriously at first.  Tiffany, who has a young daughter, was in a taxi coming home from a concert when she disappeared.

“She always called if she was going to be home late so that no one would worry,” said Morrison, who has been lobbying and finally received help from Pattison to try to put up a billboard with Tiffany’s picture on highway 132 and 138, both of which go right by her home of Kahnawake. Morrison, with the help of the Quebec Native Women’s Association, held a vigil on the anniversary of Tiffany disappearance.

Kary Ann Deer, who worked closely with Morrison at the QNW and sits on the board of Directors of Projets Autochtones du Quebec, shared her experiences of dealing with ignorance from the Justice system and a complacent media.

Kary Ann Deer speaks on the panel

“There are a lot of Prejudice and negative stereotypes placed on our native women and that is wrong,” said Deer, “we have to break down the stereotypes.  No one took the Morrison family seriously and this happens in a lot cases.  Many families deal with the knuckle dragging by police, the media and the government.  These stories are all too familiar!”

Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International echoed Morrison and Deer’s sentiments about the ignorance from all levels of Canadian society:

“Part of what’s happening, part of the violence that is experienced by native women is the public indifference, the apathy.  That is a big part of the reason why this issue has been ignored for so long,” Benjamin said, “this is the ground of which we see the failure of Justice, this is the ground of which the police do not feel compelled to investigate to the same extent that they would a non aboriginal woman.  This is the ground that the politicians do not feel compelled to respond to change that indifference.  So what we have to do is change the public’s opinion on this issue.”

Yasmin Jiwani talked about how history portrayed native women, the uses of negative stereotypes to describe the struggles of native women and of First Nations culture within Canada and the attack on native women by the establishment ie: the justice system, government, police ect ect.

“How many aboriginal journalists are there to tell the stories from the aboriginal communities, because that is important in order to get the message out,” Jiwani mentioned, “if 500 soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, there would be an uproar.  Five hundred Aboriginal women have disappeared or have been murdered in Canada and no one cares.”

The panel took place at the De Seve Theatre where about 150 people attended many of which attended the March and vigil two days later

The March

People began to gather at Cabot Square around 5:30pm, the Native Friendship Centre drum group Tiohtià:ke began drumming at 6pm.  Quebec Native Women President opened the event with a prayer, followed by speeches from Missing Justice, the NDP and Amnesty International.

As the march began, the police did their best to stay out of the way while doing their jobs as the hundreds of marchers went down St Catherine Street in the heart of downtown Montreal.  As we passed the bars and strip clubs, the chants got louder demanding justice from a government who has been inept up to this point.

The march

The longer we marched, the bigger we got and when we arrived at Philips Square after dusk, we lit up the small square with hundreds of candles.  Each one was a reminder of a fallen sister, daughter, mother, grandmother, niece and aunt.

The first of the speakers was Anne St Marie from Amnesty International who asked “what are we waiting for?”  She spoke of the last 5 years, the Stolen Sisters Report and the amount of progress that had been made but also of how much more is needed to be done with this issue.  She echoed the previous speakers, asking how a government could just ignore the issue for so long.

Crissy Swain from Grassy Narrows in Manitoba, who had just finished a walk from Kenora Ontario to Ottawa where she held a ceremony on Parliament Hill, told the crowd: “I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to say here tonight and the only thing I can think of is that back in 2001, I gave birth to my first baby girl and at that time there was a woman from my community who had been murdered.  I felt sorry for my daughter because of all the things she has to go through as an Anishinabeqwe, everything she would have to face when she became a woman.” Swain then began to drum and sing a song that she would for the missing and for the earth because she is also a woman Swain said.

The next speaker was QNW President Ellen Gabriel who spoke about how happy she was to see such a mixed crowd of people and how the number had grown substantially from the 25-30 people just two years ago.

Her message spoke of equality and understanding when dealing with police and the justice system, that violence against women needed to end and that the men in the audience needed to tell their brothers to stop the violence

“It’s not okay to beat your wives, your girlfriends and your daughters,” she said “you have to have a good relationship with your daughters, fathers, so that when they grow up they know that they are valued that they are worth something”.

The vigil

She spoke of what colonization had taken away from indigenous people, one thing being the ability of aboriginal men to take care of the women.  “Colonization, the Indian act and residential schools took that away and now we live in poverty,” she said, “today when we talk about injustice for indigenous women, I call upon you, indigenous men, pull your socks and work with the women!”

She talked about the government neglect, the money spent on war when none was spent on peace, the billion dollar bailouts for the auto companies when aboriginal communities were falling apart.  She urged that we work with police and community leaders to ensure that native women are protected.  She spoke of Harper’s comments that Canada has no history of colonialism.

The final speaker of the night was Cheryl Diabo who arrived with her two children.  She spoke about how important it was to have events like the Sisters in Spirit and the importance of the land and of community.  After her closing song there was a moment of silence afterwards.  Tiohtià:ke closed out the evening with one more song.

This was the 4th annual Sisters in Spirit vigil in Canada and next year the 5 year initiative will end.  What happens then?  That will depend on how many people were touched by the issue, but I can say for certain after seeing the turnout that night there will be vigils in Montreal for years to come.