Browsing Category 'Indigenous'

City to review study on shockingly early death rates amongst Toronto’s native population
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One of the three sites of Anishnawbe Health Toronto.

by Steve da Silva

A recent study Walking in their shoes published by Anishnawbe Health Toronto finds that the average age of death for users of four “Aboriginal” health and social service centers in Toronto are shockingly below the average Torontonian at 37 years.  The Indigenous male clients who died over the period of the study at the four centers had the average age of 34, with women at 41.

The study’s method was to review the medical history of 43 clients of Anishnawbe Health Toronto who died 2012-2013, as well that of 66 other individuals across three other agencies.  The study then coupled this research with interviews with 20 community members who knew people among the deceased in an attempt to identify “root causes” of these premature deaths.

Acknowledging that “Indigenous peoples face some of the heaviest burdens of ill health,” the study unsurprisingly concluded that the “loss of culture, unstable housing and homelessness, a lack of education and stable jobs, and a lack of social supports” is the result of “histories of colonization, marginalization, discrimination, and racism.”

From the interviews conducted emerged narratives of the deceased that traced many people’s health issues back to the “overarching theme of colonial policies,” with sub-themes of “assimilation policies, systematic discrimination, and cultural disruption.” Among the colonial policies named in the study included the “60s scoop” period when Indigenous peoples made up as many as 40% of children in foster care in Canada, and the violence people experienced in Residential schools.

“[The deceased’s] brother was [raped] by the priest there,” or [The deceased] had bent over to do up her shoe, and because she was showing so much leg, a nun beat her with a yardstick. She was just a little girl,” are just a couple of the harrowing narratives among the many recounted in the study.

This image is taken from the 'Walking in their Shoes' study, illustrating the ripple effects from colonial policies to early deaths.

This image is taken from the ‘Walking in their Shoes’ study, illustrating the ripple effects from colonial policies to early deaths.

Though initial media coverage at CTV last week misreported the study’s findings as accounting for the “life expectancy” of all clients at the four centers (as opposed to just those who died over a defined period), comparison with other life expectancy stats across the world are instructive for demonstrating how serious the problem is.  In 2010 Afghanistan was ranked by the World Health Organization as having one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, at an average of 47 years.  Afghans – not unlike Indigenous peoples in Canada – have suffered decades of colonial violence and occupation by foreign powers, which included the Canadian military between 2001-2014.  Yet, the life expectancy of Afghans as a whole is still a decade above the average age of death for the subjects of the Walking in their Shoes study.

In light of the City of Toronto’s declaration of 2013-2014 being the ‘Year of Truth and Reconciliation,” Anishnawbe Health Toronto has called for a “multi-year action plan” with “defined and measurable outcomes”, that should consist of more partnerships with the Aboriginal community from the public and private sector, an Aboriginal employment strategy, better representation of Aboriginal people in municipal agencies and corporations, and decreasing the “empathy gap” through “cultural competency training.”

BASICS asked the principal author of the study, Dr. Chandrakant Shah, how effective these recommendations could be in light of ongoing policies of colonization in Canada, including massively disproportionate incarceration rates and ongoing land dispossession and resource plunder:

“We need to address the empathy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and to do this we need to first address history. If you don’t know this history, and you only hear about the adverse conditions Aboriginal people are facing, people shake their heads and may blame these people.” Relating Indigenous people’s health issues to the history of colonialism, Dr. Shah said “I call what’s happening here a “delayed tsumami effect.”

“I don’t want pity or compassion for Aboriginal people, I want empathy. I want people to walk in Aboriginal peoples shoes, before we can really begin to address the policies and programs needed. We need a lot of education to get there.”

The presentation made by Dr. Shah to Toronto’s Aboriginal Affairs Committee on March 26, 2014 was forwarded to City Hall’s Executive Committee and was set to be discussed at the April 23, 2014 meeting.  The report was also forwarded to the Directors of Equity, Diversity and Human Rights, and Strategic Recruitment Compensation and Employment Services for consideration as part of the city’s programs and policies.

 

This piece was co-produced with the Two Row Times.

 

 

Death threats issued to Toronto priest for commemorating Hugo Chavez

by Steve da Silva

One of Toronto’s inner suburbs has become a focal point in the ongoing struggle in Venezuela between the Bolivarian transition to socialism and the fascist resistance that has been developing over the last month.

With its face to the bustling city moving past it on Dufferin, just a little south of Lawrence, the quaint little church of San Lorenzo appears as a modest sight to unwitting passersby.  But the small church, and its Latin American Community Centre to the rear, are more than simple sites of worship.

Since its establishment in 1997, the San Lorenzo parish has become a beacon for  many in the Latin American community who have fled fascist dictatorships and military juntas over the decades from places like Chile, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  But its message and ministry amount to more than a salve for the restless migrant soul, more than a home away from home.  In the words of the Church’s patron saint, San Lorenzo: “The poor are the treasures of the church.”

That this church actually treasures the poor (as opposed to seeing the poor as a source of its treasures) can be seen in the day-to-day activities that drive the vibrant community organization that has built up around San Lorenzo.  Its community centre is home to Radio Voces Latinas 1660 AM, Canada’s only 24-hour Latin American radio station and a key alternative to commercial news, views, and music that dominate the spectrum.

Ambulances on the Caravan of Hope decorated for their trip to El Salvador.

Ambulances on the Caravan of Hope decorated for their trip to El Salvador.

San Lorenzo is also the organizer of the annual “Inti Raymi – Festival of the Sun,” which draws thousands into Christie Pits under the summer sun to to mark the celebration of the summer solstice in the tradition of the Andean region’s Indigenous peoples.  The festival routinely raises thousands of dollars for the church’s solidarity missions and charity drives.

Among those programs include fundraising drives for disaster relief in Haiti, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela; as well as the community centre’s Caravan of Hope,” which drives decommissioned ambulances and wheel-trans buses to El Salvador annually.

However,  over the years, San Lorenzo and its priest Hernan Astudillo, have courted more controversy than one may think such acts of humanitarianism would invite.  When charity becomes solidarity — when one proceeds from charitable handouts to morally and materially supporting  struggles to emancipate people from their class oppression — some hearts simply stop bleeding for the poor.

As the old proverb has it, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But what if this man is violently dispossessed of his fishing rod? His family chased away from his lake-side community and into the urban slums?  What if the rivers are being poisoned by large corporations?

It is the understanding that such social inequalities are the basis for poverty and suffering that drives San Lorenzo’s and Hernan Astudillo’s theology, which is part of the liberation theology tradition in Latin America that has prioritized the poor and their emancipation and which is seen as reflecting historical Jesus’s lived practice.

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This past March 9th, San Lorenzo held a mass to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez — a tradition in keeping with past ceremonies held by the church for Latin America’s champions of the poor, with masses marking the deaths of various fighters for freedom, from the assassinated Che Guevera to the murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Romero was the Catholic bishop in El Salvador who was assassinated in 1980 in wave of terror that targeted thousands of leftists, including many clerical elements. Romero is also a key figure in Latin America’s liberation theology tradition.

“I did the mass in honour of Hugo Chavez, who I consider with all humility, a very holy man,” priest Hernan Astudillo told BASICS. The result was predictable and sadly not unfamiliar to Astudillo and the church.

“I received a fax saying they would ‘eliminate’ me personally… basically, a death threat, they will kill me. We have received death threats over the phone. We have received two messages: One sent by email from an anti-communist organization insulting our people who work on the radio station, saying that they are going to take out our [radio] antenna.”

On March 6, the church received a letter from an organization calling itself “Contracomunistas” in which the Radio Voces Latinas was cited as a target.  On March 12, the fax threatening Father Hernan’s life came in.

But the threats are nothing new for Father Hernan: “This reminds me how when 14 years ago I performed a mass for Monsignor Oscar Romero in this same church, I had also received death threat letters because I was holding a mass for a ‘communist bishop’.”

If only this was all just some verbal aggressiveness from the Latin American community’s right wing, the threats could perhaps be dismissed as posturing from disgruntled elements anxious about their oligarchic families and classes losing their grips on power back home. But a history of these threats actually materializing on the Church gives great cause for concern.

In 2006, the antenna of Radio Voces Latinas was discovered to have been shot after having experienced some unknown technical problems for a period of time.

BASICS asked Father Hernan if the threats have ever translated into bodily harm: “I’ve received death threats more than ten times and on two occasions, a group has stolen money from us during our summer festival at Christie Pits park. In September 2008, they even came to my office, hit me, and dislocated my right shoulder. They were trying to instigate me to react violently, but I refused to.”

A mural of Oscar Romero in San Lorenzo.

A mural of Oscar Romero in San Lorenzo. Photo Credit: Steve da Silva / BASICS.

Father Hernan drew out the irony and hypocrisy of the attacks on his church’s concern with the poor and their social struggles: “I’ve been meditating over how during this time of Lent [the season of penance and prayer leading into Easter], I might receive even more letters like this [death threats] as I prepare mass for Jesus Christ, because he was really far stronger than Monsignor Oscar Romero and many other martyrs and prophets in the world. His actions, his life, his decisions were always with the poor people.”

BASICS asked Father Hernan if he’s seen any of this opposition or resistance to the church’s pro-poor messaging and its socialist sympathies from within his own parish: “This is from outside.  This parish knows what kind of theology we have. We don’t practice the theology of the conquerors. We follow the theology of the historical Jesus Christ, a man who gave his life for equal rights, a man who was fighting the Roman Empire.

“Jesus Christ was not a person who was faking his spirituality in his life. He was a wonderful human being with a pure and transparent identity, to rehumanize the world he was living in at the time in Nazareth and Galilee.”

Juan Montoya

Image to the left of Juan Montoya (Credit: Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera). Image to the right is a poster for Montoya from some years ago that reads “For the complete freedom of Juan Montoya – “Juancho” – He’s not a terrorist, he’s a revolutionary” at a time Montoya was being persecuted by the Venezuelan government. Indeed, the Bolivarian government has had moments of strained relations with the independent armed organizations in the barrios that long precede Chavez coming to power.

BASICS correspondent and San Lorenzo parishioner Pablo Vivanco was also in attendance at the March 9 mass for Chávez, which brought out a single anti-Chávez protestor.

“One individual brought out a placard in the mass that stated something to the effect of honoring the ‘student martyrs’ in Venezuela,” Vivanco commented.

“Of course, the names he had on there (some of them incorrectly spelled) were of Chavistas and others killed by the violent opposition in Venezuela. One of the names this individual was hailing as a ‘martyr’ was Juan Montoya [killed in mid February], who was actually a prominent member the Tupamaros.”

The Tupamaros is a decades-old leftist guerrilla organization with a strong base in some of Caracas’ poor neighbourhoods that has been supportive but independent of the Venezuelan government.

“So it’s entirely disingenuous to claim Montoya’s death for the opposition cause, and equally dishonest to not acknowledge that the vast majority of people who have been killed in the last month are the result of the opposition and their actions,” a fact of the reality in Venezuela that is being assiduously documented by independent researchers.

An image from the March 9 mass.

“But the right wing sectors in the community unfortunately do not have this sort of tolerance,” Vivanco elaborated. “This isn’t the first time that threats have been issued against Father Hernan for his principled stances. What’s more concerning is that the violent right wing opposition in Venezuela is killing people and has also attacked media and journalists, so who knows if those allied with the opposition in Venezuela will try something like that here.”

In 2010, Father Hernan Astudillo visited Venezuela to learn about the vast expansion of popular media projects in the country and to deliver the community-generated funds to victims of landslides.

From his own experiences in the country, Father Hernan shared with BASICS his view that: “The opposition in Venezuela is fighting not because they want to help the poor people, but because they want Venezuela’s oil wealth to themselves.  They are not fighting because they want to help the poor people, like President Hugo Chavez did. That finally poor people have hope is beautiful.“

The evidence of the threats against San Lorenzo and Hernan Astudillo are now in the hands of Toronto Police Services. BASICS contacted 13 Division’s Criminal Investigations Bureau on the morning of March 19, but the assigned detectives were not available at the time of publication for comment.

With the legitimacy that the Canadian government has given to the violent opposition and the blame for violence that is has misattributed to the Venezuelan government, we shall see if the threats against San Lorenzo will be treated with the same severity that such threats would be met with if they threatened a corporate leader or a Canadian politician. Updates on this investigation will be made here.

The Jesus represented here is seen by liberation theology as reflecting the historical Jesus of Nazareth more closely than "the conquerors" Jesus.

The Jesus represented here in a mural at the front of San Lorenzo reflects liberation theology’s view of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, a stark contrast with the Jesus brought by the “the conquerors” Jesus. Photo Credit: Steve da Silva / BASICS

Baffin Region Mayors Oppose Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration

Nunavut Mayors’ Forum Passes Motion Opposing Seismic Surveys

by Warren Bernauer

The mayors of Nunavut’s Qikiqtani (Baffin) region passed a motion opposing offshore oil and gas exploration at the 2014 Baffin Mayors’ Forum. The motion was passed unanimously, with all thirteen mayors of the region voting in favour.

The motion states, “the people have expressed concerns of the [oil and gas] activities that can have adverse affects on the ecology of our offshore region, and our hunter gatherer society”.

“The Mayors of Baffin Island are opposed to oil & gas activity, including seismic testing in Davis Strait & Baffin Bay until such time when our concerns have been met and Inuit can be full participants of such activity.” Read more…

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Six Nations meeting rallies community against Bill C-10 

by Noaman G. Ali

Six Nations of the Grand River | “The introduction of Omnibus Bill C-10 is an attempt to criminalize the hard-working families and entrepreneurs of Six Nations and other territories,” Jonathan Garlow said to over two hundred people gathered at the Polytechnic of the Six Nations of the Grand River on February 22.

“It will disrupt the reconciliation efforts by Canada to restore the relationship of peace and respect with Indigenous nations, possibly resulting in another confrontation.”

Jonathan Garlow, founder of Two Row Times, speaks to BASICS.

Jonathan Garlow, founder of Two Row Times, speaks to BASICS. (SHAFIQULLAH AZIZ/BASICS)

The meeting was organized by the Two Row Times newspaper. Garlow, founder of the Two Row Times and owner of a small printing shop in Six Nations, told BASICS the community meeting was held to inform the many families in Six Nations who are involved in and benefit from the tobacco trade about the upcoming Bill and to start a conversation about resisting it.

The law not only criminalizes unstamped tobacco, it also introduces mandatory minimum sentencing that could land ‘offenders’ in prison for at least two years.

Read more…

Feb 14: Over 600 gather outside Police Headquarters to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women

by Nicole Oliver

Several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the Toronto Police Headquarters in downtown Toronto to protest state inaction on missing and murdered indigenous women.  SHAFIQULLAH AZIZ/BASICS.

Several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the Toronto Police Headquarters in downtown Toronto to protest state inaction on missing and murdered indigenous women. SHAFIQULLAH AZIZ/BASICS.

“The strawberry represents love, courage, and women,” explained Wanda Whitebird in Toronto at the 9th Annual Strawberry Ceremony Honoring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and those who have died violent deaths by colonialism in ‘Canada.’

“Over 600 strawberries and cups of water were handed out,” Audrey Huntley of No More Silence posted on the Strawberry Ceremony Facebook event page.

The Toronto ceremony took place February 14 outside the Police Headquarters in downtown Toronto. From coast to coast, other communities also gathered to mourn and remember beloved sisters, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers who have gone missing or have been murdered in recent decades.

Photo: SHAFIQULLAH AZIZ/BASICS

Photo: SHAFIQULLAH AZIZ/BASICS

“We stand together on this day to show our solidarity with the community of the downtown eastside in Vancouver where the Memorial March has been taking place for 23 years and because the violence is here too and inherent to settler colonialism”, Huntley shared with BASICS.

Indigenous women are five to seven times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence, cites Canadian government statistics. Still officers of the colonial state, including the police, have a track record of over-persecuting and under-protecting indigenous women. In Canada, Onkwehon:we (original) peoples make up four per cent of the population, yet First Nations, Inuit and Metis women account for 32.6 per cent of the inmates in the federal prison system.

Blu, the event’s emcee, shared with those gathered at College and Bay that “when my Kohkom [grandmother] was murdered – her life was taken and this took something away from me, my family members, from people in my community”. When describing how healing and solutions to end the violence requires the collective efforts of community members, Blu stated, “we ask the men to help, to stand beside us, to support us as we are a community and a community involves everybody”.

Tobacco ties were handed out to participants as the Strawberry Ceremony progressed into a march from Toronto Police Headquarters to the 519 Church Street Community Centre. As an indigenous medicine, tobacco is seen as a plant responsible for acting as a medium for communication with the Creator, with its smoke seen as lifting prayers to the Creator to be heard. When offering tobacco in ceremony it signifies that those involved are to be of one heart, one mind, and one spirit moving forward with the same purpose.  Those who took the tobacco ties were asked to “tie them in a place where they will be seen, so that those who come will know that someone has been there before representing not a closing, but a beginning” explained Whitebird.

John Fox, father of Cheyenne Fox, led the march of over 200 community members to  519 Church. Cheyenne Fox of the Sheguiandah First Nation died at the age of 20 in April 2013 after mysteriously and tragically falling from a 24-storey condo in Toronto. After only 8-hours police had ruled the death a suicide. John Fox has been vigilant in pressuring the police to look further into the death of his daughter.

Michelle Schell, an Ojibwe woman, shared with BASICS, “I was staying at a Native women’s shelter and I heard a story of a woman who was raped in the backyard…I later found out that this was Cheyenne Fox. The fact remains that she was harmed in a place where she was supposed to be safe. So it’s not just a question of whether she jumped from that balcony or whether she was pushed, but I cannot help but wonder had she not left that place because obviously she did not feel safe after what happened, if things might have happened differently. Either way she may not have found herself in the position of being on that balcony”.

Schell’s insight into Cheyenne’s death speaks to the continued systemic failings that indigenous women are continually subjected to by service providers and agencies set up by the Canadian colonial government.

Since last year’s ceremony, Toronto has seen the unresolved violent deaths of three indigenous women – Cheyenne Fox, Terra Gardner, and Bella Laboucan McLean.

As the march carried forward to the beat of hand drums and songful voices, major intersections were occupied by those who came out to honor the lives lived and the loved ones of indigenous sisters no longer with us. Before partaking in a community feast prepared by the men of NaMeRes, a round dance took place at the intersection of Church and Wellesley. Schell told BASICS that the Strawberry Ceremony is held in front of Toronto Police Headquarters because “it’s symbolic… to make it visible and to let people know that they have failed in so many cases and that they just don’t seem to care”.

"From coast to coast, other communities also gathered to mourn and remember beloved sisters, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers who have gone missing or have been murdered in recent decades" - Nicole Oliver.   Photo: SHAFIQULLAH AZIZ/BASICS

“From coast to coast, other communities also gathered to mourn and remember beloved sisters, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers who have gone missing or have been murdered in recent decades” – Nicole Oliver. Photo: SHAFIQULLAH AZIZ/BASICS

Native hip-hop artist Young Jibwe (Cameron Monkman) of Lake Manitoba First Nation created a song featuring Robbie Madsen entitled “Come Home” to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered indigenous women of Turtle island.  Young Jibwe was in attendance at the Feb 14 event in Toronto and he told BASICS that “I want to show my respect to the missing and murdered women and acknowledge my cousin Unice Ophelia Crow. She was murdered in Winnipeg in August. She was 19.  She was stabbed multiple times on her upper body. I came out to shine light on that. I feel people need to know who she was. She was a great person. It’s just sad that community loses great people”.

In discussing where the solutions to end the violence will come from Schell told BASICS, “I think the answers will come from the community itself; whether it’s an indigenous issue or not we have to stop relying on the government…obviously they don’t listen, obviously they don’t do anything … they keep saying there’s no money, we don’t have it, so we have to look to ourselves to organize.”

Community-run database tracking violent deaths of Indigenous women

Grassroots Initiatives Honour and Remember Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Lead Up to February 14 Strawberry Ceremony

by Nicole Oliver

1602129_10153675039540596_855674983_o“We will come together again in Toronto this February 14th for the 9th year in a row. We stand together on this day to show our solidarity with the community of the downtown eastside in Vancouver where the Memorial March has been taking place for 23 years and because the violence is here too and inherent to settler colonialism”, Audrey Huntley of No More Silence shared with BASICS.

In January, 1991, a woman was murdered on Powell Street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Her family wanted to share their love for their daughter on Valentine’s Day and so the annual march began honouring women who have died violent and premature deaths. The family requests that her name not be spoken.

Indigenous women are five to seven times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence, cites Canadian government statistics. Still officers of the colonial state, including the police, have a track record of over-persecuting and under-protecting indigenous women. In Canada, Onkwehon:we (original) peoples make up four per cent of the population, yet First Nations, Inuit and Metis women account for 32.6 per cent of the inmates in the federal prison system.

To coincide with this year’s marches No More Silence, Families of Sisters in Spirit and their community partners including The Native Youth Sexual Health Network having been working on the creation of a community run database documenting violent deaths of indigenous women, two-spirited, and trans people.

”This year our hearts will be heavy with loss as we will grieve three beautiful lives cut far too short in 2013. Cheyenne, Terra and Bella were loved and leave behind family and friends whose lives have been shattered and forever shared,” Huntley told BASICS.

Since last year’s ceremony, Toronto has seen the unresolved violent deaths of three more indigenous women – Cheyenne Fox, Terra Gardner, and Bella Laboucan McLean.

Cheyenne Fox, 20; Terra Gardner, 26; and Bella, 25, were all killed in violent deaths within a few months of each other. Bella and Cheyenne plunged to their deaths from condo highrises, while Terra was struck dead by a train near Summerhill station at a time when she was been compelled to testify in a murder investigation.

Cheyenne Fox, 20; Terra Gardner, 26; and Bella, 25, were all killed in violent deaths within a few months of each other. Bella and Cheyenne plunged to their deaths from condo highrises, while Terra was struck by a train near Summerhill station at a time when she was been compelled to testify in a murder investigation.  Read this piece by Nicole Oliver for more info.

Between 2005-2010, the Native Women’s Association (NWAC) with the support of the federal government’s Status of Women Canada fund created the Sisters in Spirit project. This included a database with over 200 variables to record information related to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada.  In 2010 the federal government decided to terminate funding to NWAC’s database project.

When the Sisters in Spirit database project funding was cut and the project terminated, 582 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women had been documented. Comparatively, in what is being described as a one of the most comprehensive fully public databases to date, Maryanne Pearce an Ottawa researcher, documents that 824 Inuit, Métis, or First Nations women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada since 1980. Pearce began this database as part of her doctoral dissertation in Law at the University of Ottawa.

The information documented through the Sisters in Spirit project remains inaccessible to the families of missing and murdered women and the wider public, despite the 10-million dollars of public funds allotted to compile the data. Initiatives by the federal government announced remaining funds would be directed to the RCMP for another database on missing persons with no particular focus on women, let alone Indigenous women. As the documentation was never made public the information collected cannot be validated nor analyzed by an outside party.

1395145_590940100954020_310946208_nIn response to the violence that continues to affect indigenous women, their families and communities, No More Silence, Families of Sisters in Spirit and community partners including The Native Youth Sexual Health Network envision a database beyond the reach of Canada’s institutions. The work of No More Silence and the database are to be part of building a larger movement not only against gendered colonial violence, but also for decolonization. This database is intended for the families of the missing and murdered and for communities to access, unlike NWAC’s exclusive database. No More Silence is a network of volunteers. They have started gathering information from nothing – with no funding and no data.

Since the research is led by and for Native women working with allies, it is not constrained by legal or academic definitions: the categories and understandings of the deaths and disappearances have been broadened, derived by rich process work with the families involved. The database documents the lives of women who have died violent and premature deaths, such as suicides and deaths not necessarily committed by one perpetrator, but have more to do with colonial violence in the context of a woman’s life. The database includes deaths and disappearances of Trans and Two-Spirit women as well, where information is often misconstrued or miscategorized by police databases and legal reports due to gender misrecognition constrained by heteropatriarchal norms. The documentation is not only about lives lost, but honors the lived memories of women who have passed on.

A scene from last year's Strawberry Ceremony outside Toronto Police Headquarters.

A scene from last year’s Strawberry Ceremony outside Toronto Police Headquarters.

Despite awareness and efforts of grassroots work done by networks like No More Silence and from the Annual Memorial Marches of February 14, the violence continues. This is not so surprising as the Canadian imperialist government increasingly pushes for resource extraction and development aggression on stolen lands and on unceded and treaty territories of First Nations peoples.

The degradation of the land often plays out on women’s bodies, as women are the life-bearers of future generations. There exists a direct relationship between rape and gender-based violence, racism, and colonialism, in which, violence against women becomes a tool of domination.  Due to systemic violence inherent in Canadian state policies and practices –  such as the Indian Act and the Residential School System – themes of intergenerational trauma, loss of land, housing issues, loss of family members, family breakdown, loss of a sense of community are part of many of the stories collected by No More Silence.

T8474230635_b085861fc6_bhus, the February 14 Memorial Marches and the database work of Sisters in Spirit are about demonstrating that these lives matter. This year’s February 14 Strawberry Ceremony will be held in front of the Toronto Police Headquarters at 40 College St. West in Toronto. For information about February 14 marches occurring in different communities visit: http://womensmemorialmarch.wordpress.com/national.

I Hope Neil Young Will Remember: Don’t Play Apartheid Israel!

by Jordy Cummings

In May 1970, National Guardsmen in the U.S. were called in to respond to a highly militant anti-war protests taking place at Kent State University in Ohio.  The protests were an immediate, emergency response to then President Richard Nixon “spreading the war” from Vietnam itself into Cambodia.  On May 4, these armed instruments of state power used the same weapons used against the Vietnamese revolution, and opened fire, killing four protesters.

Within a few weeks, Neil Young, with his on again/off again bandmates, Crosby, Stills and Nash, were in the recording studio recording a response which was on the radio within four days.  The song explicitly situated itself as coming from “the movement” at a time when millions of Americans believed they were on the cusp of revolution at home.  The governor of Ohio felt the same way, calling the protesters violent revolutionaries, and proclaiming that “these people just move from one campus to the other and terrorize the community. They’re worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes.”

“Ohio”, the sparse and angry song recorded that day wasn’t your typical protest anthem. It was neither a preachy message song or a simple pacifist chant that reduced the movement to giving “peace a chance”. Instead, it seethed about “tin soldiers” who had caused the four dead. Instead of giving peace a chance, it made the unambiguous plea “gotta get down to it, soldiers are cutting us down..should have been done long ago”. What should have been done, it seems, was revolution.   Moving from the general to particular, it then addresses its listener, “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground, how can you run when you know”?

Just as Neil Young did the right thing about the anti-war movement, he has the opportunity to do so on an issue at least as important.  With that in mind, I’d like to turn the questions that Mr. Young raised in “Ohio” back onto Mr. Young.  Mr. Young , think of the Palestinian people killed by Israeli weapons or the quiet weapon of starvation and open-air prisons.  What if you knew them?  How can you run when you know?  Let us not forget the treatment of Africans by the Israeli state, migrant workers who have been as of late agitating for their rights. Israel’s racist attitudes, far right hate groups and mounting detentions against Africans is not dissimilar to  that of the “Southern Man” that Mr. Young inveighed against not too long after recording “Ohio”.  Would Neil be “Rocking in the Free World” by playing Israel? Is this in the interests of the dispossessed “patch of ground people”, or the interests of “Vampires” that “Sell you twenty barrels worth”.

Neil Young speaking at a press conference for the “Honour the Treaties” tour, a series benefit concerts that were held to raise money for legal fight against the expansion of the Athabasca oilsands in northern Alberta and other similar projects, in Toronto, Sunday January 12, 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch)

Even very recently, Young has proven himself to be on the correct side of the question of the day’s most pressing issues.  Young has been a lifelong supporter of indigenous struggles, not merely in the form of his songs, like Pocahontas, but in his actions, most recently in his “Respect the Treaties” tour and publicity event.  For this sin against Canadian interests, Neil Young was attacked in the corporate media and even by the Prime Minister’s office. This was perhaps one of  the most effective political interventions made by a cultural icon in Canada in recent years, and at least so far as I remember. The Two Row Times praised Young’s integrity, calling him  “a deeply spiritual man with the heart of a prophet, who has pointed the way to the future for nearly three generations of young people.” Neil Young seemed to be the Anti-Bono. As opposed to palling around with George W. Bush and Bill Gates, ostensibly in the service of helping “poor Africans”, Young has taken the lead in what is one of the most important and pressing issues within Canada’s borders.

It is for this reason, more than any, that progressives must demand that Mr. Young cancel his concerts in Apartheid Israel this summer . How can Neil maintain this deeply felt and deserved reputation, as a craftsman, a guitar visionary, a wise man, if he were to betray every principle that culminated in his recent interventions?

It is not unlikely that Mr. Young is aware of the calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.  From Gil Scott Heron to Elvis Costello, progressive musicians – and even those not necessarily known for their politics (the Pixies, Annie Lennox, Massive Attack) – have responded to the call by cancelling and/or not booking shows in Israel.  Perhaps Neil Young has been informed – even by the people with whom he just concluded a tour – that there were those calling for him to show his principles, and perhaps his attitude is that it would be hypocritical for him to play Toronto and then not play Tel Aviv.  Yet there has not been a call from indigenous communities in Canada for a cultural boycott of Toronto.  There is, however, a standing call for a cultural boycott of Israel.

Neil Young has sang that he is “proud to be a union man”, a member of the American Federation of Musicians. He should realize, then, that the Palestinian labour movement has explicitly called for a cultural boycott.  Mr. Young – I know that it may be annoying that you are being addressed after the fashion of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s denunciation of you, but if the shoe fits… But please, “how can you run when you know?”

We all hope you do the right thing, Mr. Young.

Comandanta Hortensia reads the EZLN communique in the Oventic Caracol on January 1, 2014

by Pablo Vivanco

'The Originales from San Andrés' livened up the first evening of New Year with their revolutionary 'corridos' (Mexican folk music), tracing the history and struggle of the EZLN and their struggle.  Photo Credit: Marta Molina.

‘The Originales from San Andrés’ livened up the first evening of New Year with their revolutionary ‘corridos’ (Mexican folk music), tracing the history and struggle of the EZLN and their struggle. Photo Credit: Marta Molina.

On January 1st, the governments of Canada, US and Mexico marked the 20th anniversary of the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  In Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, the day was being commemorated for very different but connected reasons.

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), often referred to as the Zapatistas, was celebrating 20 years since the start of their armed uprising.  With the words “Today we say ‘enough is enough’”, the EZLN declared war on the Mexican government on January 1, 1994.

Among the Zapatista’s three basic principles were the defense of collective and individual rights historically denied to Mexico’s Indigenous peoples. NAFTA attacked the rights of working people in all three countries, but especially attacked the traditional communal land rights of Mexico’s Indigenous peoples.

The Zapatistas’ social base is the mostly rural Indigenous people in Chiapas.  Roughly 957,000 out of 3.5 million people in Chiapas speak one of 56 different Indigenous languages.  One third of these people do not speak Spanish at all. Out of 111 municipalities, twenty two have Indigenous populations over 90 percent, and 36 municipalities have native populations exceeding 50 percent.

Chiapas has about 13.5% of all of Mexico’s Indigenous population. Most of Chiapas’ Indigenous groups, including the Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Ch’ol, Zoque, Tojolabal, and Lacandon, are descended from the Mayans.

This past January 1st, the EZLN accused the federal government of maintaining a war strategy against them and wanting to take the land recovered by the Zapatista’s during their uprising, leading to a renewed call to rebellion.

Comandanta Hortensia reads the EZLN communique in the Oventic Caracol on January 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Marta Molina.

Comandanta Hortensia reads the EZLN communique in the Oventic Caracol on January 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Marta Molina.

In front of several thousand guests and hundreds of grassroots members, Comandanta Hortencia, a Tzotzil woman and spokesperson for the EZLN, read a statement that emphasized the struggle to maintain autonomy and self-government. “We are learning to govern ourselves according to our ways of thinking and living. We are trying to move forward, to improve and strengthen together, men, women, youth, children and the elderly. About 20 years ago, we said enough is enough.”

 

“We are sharing our experience with the new generation of children and youth. We are preparing our people to resist and to govern. In our Zapatista areas we no longer have bad government, nor do parties rule and manipulate.”

In fog and constant drizzle, the EZLN celebration lasted all day and well into the night, as it was attended by thousands of young people from almost every state in the country as well as students from other countries attending the two courses at the Zapatista school.

To these visitors, Comandanta Hortencia spoke of the possibility of the Zapatista experience of autonomy and self-governance applying elsewhere.

With notes from proceso.mx.com

‘Anti-terror’ legislation: 21st century political repression

Red Sparks Union in Vancouver launches campaign to scrap Canada’s so-called “terrorist list”

by Aiyanas Ormond and Tom Warren

“The use of words like ‘savage’, ‘brutal’, ‘dangerous’, ‘subversive’ and ‘terrorist is nothing new. It’s always been done by those in power against those who do not have power,” said Charlotte Kates, kicking off a forum on Canada’s terrorist list in Vancouver on November 15, 2013.

“And they’ve always used mechanisms of media and the state to popularise those terminologies in order to glorify settler and imperial violence, while demonizing popular violence in the name of resistance, defense of rights and resisting occupation, oppression, colonization and injustice.  The fact of violence itself is not what is being interrogated when people talk about ‘terrorism.’ It’s not a question of violence and it’s not a question of public safety.  If it were a question of violence we’d be looking at the actions of the RCMP, we’d be looking at actions of the Canadian Armed Forces, we’d be looking at the actions of the US Army around the world, we’d be looking at drone strikes, we’d be looking at F-16s dropping bombs on Gaza. But we’re not looking at those things. Instead there’s creation of moral panic, the negation and labelling of resistance, of guerrilla struggle, of popular liberation movements, of people claiming the right to resist, as immoral, beyond the pale and unacceptable.”

Following up on back-to-back forums in Surrey and Vancouver, B.C. last November, the Red Sparks Union has now launched a public campaign calling for the scrapping of Canada’s terrorist list altogether.

“While this list is framed as being about protecting Canadians from terrorism, many of the listed groups have never engaged in actions that target Canada or Canadians,” said Red Sparks Union spokesperson Martha Roberts. “These are legitimate national liberation and anti-colonial resistance movements that challenge the interests of Canadian corporations and Canada’s right wing foreign policy objectives by defending the interests of the poor and oppressed in their countries. They are listed in order to undermine their international legitimacy and support, and to give cover to the repressive actions of Canada’s allies.”

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Every December 11, tens of thousands turn out in Gaza to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - one of the groups Canada lists as a terrorist organization. By these laws, these tens of thousands of Palestinians are "terrorists".

Every December 11, tens of thousands turn out in Gaza to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – one of the groups Canada lists as a “terrorist” organization. By these laws, these tens of thousands of Palestinians are “terrorists”.

Roberts acknowledges that some of the groups listed are indeed indefensible, but she argues, “One of the functions of the list is to create a false equivalency between groups fighting for national liberation and groups who use violence to oppress women and national minorities or pursue other right-wing agendas.  But it’s really the revolutionary groups that are the target.  For example, in Colombia, where Canadian mining and oil companies have major investments, both leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries are listed.  But in practice the right-wing paramilitaries are really just the extra-legal arm of the Colombian state, which Canada supports both diplomatically and economically.  Or, take the fact that every single organization of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and colonization is on the list, while Israel is offered unconditional support.”

While Stephen Harper spent some time this past January in Israel declaring eternal support for Israel, Red Sparks Union is instead advocating for an end to the so-called terrorist list that criminalizes and isolates virtually all of the Palestinian factions.

Within Canada’s borders, Indigenous groups have not been added to the list, but nonetheless face similar labeling and have been targeted under other provisions of the ‘anti-terror’ legislation.

Image from Gustafsen Lake in 1995, where the the RCMP launched one of the largest police operations in Canadian history, including the deployment of four hundred tactical assault team members, five helicopters, two surveillance planes and nine Armoured Personnel Carriers. By the end of the 31-day standoff, police had fired up to 7,000 rounds of ammunition.

Image from Gustafsen Lake in 1995, where the the RCMP launched one of the largest police operations in Canadian history, including the deployment of four hundred tactical assault team members, five helicopters, two surveillance planes and nine Armoured Personnel Carriers. By the end of the 31-day standoff, police had fired up to 7,000 rounds of ammunition.

According to Kerry Coast, author of the recently published book The Colonial Present, terrorist labeling of Indigenous people is nothing new.  Speaking at the forum on November 15, 2013, she recalled how terrorist labeling was used to justify the massive RCMP paramilitary operation targeting Indigenous Sundancers in the ‘Gufstafsen Lake Standoff’ in 1995:

“They called them terrorists. ‘Militants.Thugs. Rebels. Insurgents. Rebellion. Terrorists!’ One of the headlines [during the 1995 standoff] was ‘ [Attorney General] gives greenlight to shoot to kill terrorists’. So no longer were these people Sundancers, conducting a sacred ceremony. No longer were they Secwepemc sovereigntists with a very legitimate, some would say true, legal argument.  They can’t respond to the legal argument. They can’t create amnesty or shelter or refuge for the people having a sacred ceremony. No, they try to kill them! So the use of the word ‘terrorist’ is incredibly important in that formula because the cops needed to convince the public that the only solution was to kill these people.”

Members of the West Coast Warriors Society, a militant Indigenous sovereignty organization were the first people targeted under the post-911 terrorist legislation in Canada.  More recently the terrorist tag is being applied to Indigenous land-defenders resisting oil and gas development.

Hereditary Chief Toghestiy, part of the Unis’tot’en Camp resisting pipeline development on their lands in B.C., also spoke at the event.  He turned the tables on the terrorist labelling:

The Unis'tot'en, a clan of the Wet'suet'en Nation, have built a camp to block construction of the Pacific Trails Pipeline.

The Unis’tot’en, a clan of the Wet’suet’en Nation, have built a camp to block construction of the Pacific Trails Pipeline.

“Keep in mind there are indigenous people here who’re struggling, there’s a whole history of terror that we’ve experienced. A lot of indigenous people who’re still experiencing that terror, don’t know how to deal with it, they’re sitting there going ‘Damn it, I want to stand up but this is going to happen to me, you know, my children, what am I going to do. I’ll end up in jail or they’ll end up in the welfare, in the Ministry’s care.’ You know, these threats are there. These threats and the real results of those threats are terrorizing our people today. The terrorists are out there and we need to defeat them as grassroots people. And we’re not going to do it by ourselves. We need people like you and all of your friends to come and join us.”

RSU spokesperson Roberts acknowledged that shifting the parameters of the debate is going to be difficult after more than a decade of the war on terror and given the strong interest of Canadian corporations (especially in mining, oil and gas) in suppressing groups that assert a popular and collective right to their national territory and resources, whether inside or outside Canadian borders. But she views this as a critical and timely task for the left:

“As a left we have an important history of internationalism and solidarity.  Movements in solidarity with Spanish resistance to fascism (see BASICS article from March 2008, “Mackenzie-Papineau Brigades of the 1930s: Yesterday’s Heroes Would be Today’s ‘Terrorists’), with the Chinese revolution, against the Vietnam war, against intervention and counter-revolution in Latin America and in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle have at various times been at the core of what it means to be progressive, or ‘left’. We need to reclaim this terrain of struggle.  If we can’t as a ‘left’ defend the right of oppressed and colonized people – including Indigenous people resisting the genocidal colonial policy of the Canadian State – to wage struggles for national and social liberation by whatever means they decide is necessary, then what are we standing for?”

For a full series of videos of speakers from the November 2013 forums in Vancouver and Surrey, visit the Red Sparks Union Youtube Channel here

 

Legal Ruling Will Allow Rain Forest Indigenous Peoples to Pursue Chevron in Canada

Ontario Court of Appeal says communities of Ecuador affected by Chevron can enforce Ecuadorian rulings in Canada

by Santiago Escobar

As the Unist’ot’en continue their protracted battle against Chevron and other companies in resistance to the Pacific Trails Pipeline in northern B.C. over unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, Indigenous peoples of the Amazon Rain Forest in Ecuador are pursuing Chevron in Canada for damages in one of the largest oil-related catastrophes in history.

This past December 2013, after twenty years of legal battles with America’s third largest corporation – ranking 11th in the world – the 30,000+ Indigenous plaintiffs of Ecuador made a small step forward when an Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that they could pursue Chevonr for damages they were awarded in the Ecuadorian courts.  But the battle is far from over.

Read more…