by Steve da Silva
Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have boycotted the Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka last week, but he still managed to reach the summit of hypocrisy.
Harper confirmed in October that it was with “somewhat of a heavy heart” he would be boycotting the meeting due to Sri Lanka’s human rights record, the specifics of which he was vague. Harper cited extra-judicial killings and the ongoing intimidation and incarceration of political opponents and journalists as reasons, but he remained made no direct reference to Tamils, the genocide they experienced in 2009, and the ongoing oppression they face in Sri Lanka.
Of course, media sources (here, and here) in Canada were quick to pick up on the fact that the diplomatic move was a clear gesture to Canada’s Tamil population, the largest Tamil diaspora in the world with nearly 300,000 people. Toronto is now home to the majority of this population, with a very active community in ridings that the Conservatives would like to cultivate a base in.
Toronto-area Tamil activist and BASICS occasional correspondent Pragash Pio, who has long supported Indigenous people’s struggles in Canada and has worked to develop relations of solidarity between the Haudenosaunee nation (of Six Nations) and the Tamil community, told BASICS that “Harper’s criticisms of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record and subsequent ‘boycott’ of the [Commonwealth meeting] in Sri Lanka is electoral opportunism and political hypocrisy. Tamil’s make up a significant voting bloc in key ridings in Toronto and are known to be a well organized community with higher then average voter turn out and Harper’s is courting them with this personal boycott.”
Sri Lanka shot back last week, with government officials reported to be citing Harper’s move as a way to placate Tamil Tiger activists in Canada. A ridiculous charge, to be sure, considering that Canada has prosecuted people with alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and even dismissed that a genocide ever occurred in 2009 (as this would place Canada under obligations to recognize the country’s refugees). However, cultivating a Conservative base of support amongst Tamils – that’s another thing entirely.
In 2009, the Sri Lankan state has launched a war of annihilation on its minority Tamil population that consisted of a 5-month campaign of indiscriminate shelling and bombing of the north coast, which is home to a majority of the Tamils. The campaign included the deliberate targeting of safe zones, hospitals and schools. The outcome was the death of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, even if the main objective was the decimation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which many Tamils recognized as their legitimate national organization. Civilians that survived the government onslaught were forced into detention, and some 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were imprisoned in state-run concentration camps.
For its part, the Canadian government aided Sri Lanka in this war by adding the LTTE to its list of designated terrorist organizations in 2006, and days later raided the offices of the World Tamil Movement, which it also listed as a terrorist organization in 2008. During the course of the genocide, Canada sent aid money to Sri Lanka and demonized Tamils in Canada who were in the streets as “terrorist supporters” for trying to bring attention to the killings in their homeland. Refugees desperately fleeing the genocide were halted, and the claims to be refugees were dismissed as frivolous.
Pio was in Vancouver (Coast Salish territories) this past week speaking alongside Indigenous, Palestinian and other solidarity activists at a series of events called “Criminalizing People’s Liberation Movements: Scrap the So-called Terrorist List.” The events also featured Toghestiy, a hereditary chief of the Wet’suwet’en nation who has been involved in the Unis’tot’en Camp. In an interview with BASICS over the phone, Pio also linked Tamil oppression to Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people: “There is also the hypocrisy of the Canadian state accusing the Sri Lankan state of human rights abuses against the Tamil Nation such as land theft, torture, illegal detention, and systematic sexual violence against women when the Canadian state has similar patterns of abuse against First Nations.”
While some Tamils may have appreciated the little boost that Harper’s boycott may have given to their struggle for the recognition of the 2009 genocide, Pio sees it differently: “There has been no significant change in the Canadian state’s position on Tamil refugees, deportations to Sri Lanka, and illegal detentions. The CBSA is rigorously contesting in hearings the status of many of the Tamil refugees who arrived by the MV Sun Sea and MV Ocean Lady. There are two cases of deported refugees being tortured, and one murdered because of the CBSA’s collusion with the Sri Lankan security in labeling en masse Tamil refugees as terrorists and security threats has already been discovered.
Canada’s boycott of the Commonwealth summit is especially hypocritical in the face of Canada’s dismissal of some of the findings and recommendations of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Ayana, who toured First Nations communities and met with Indigenous nations in early October. Anaya issued strong criticisms of Canada’s “adversarial approach” to land claims, the ongoing issue of missing and murdered native women, and Canada’s rushing ahead with the First Nations Education Act. Canada has also continued to resist calls for an Inquiry into missing and murdered, which was among Anaya’s recommendations.
by Laura Lepper for the Two Row Times
On October 29th, 2013, Darlene Necan, elected spokesperson of the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen no. 258, was issued issued a stop work order by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for building a house on land where her family grew up, on off-reserve Saugeen territory (unorganized Indian settlement land).
In August 2013, Necan and community members had begun building a plywood house in Savant Lake, Saugeen territory in order for her to have a home for the winter and an office/gathering place to help her lead a struggle for housing and equal rights for off-reserve members of her community.
This building was supported by the Indigenous Commission of the International League of People’s Struggles, many grassroots activists, and several locals of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Read more…
by Giibwanisi – Early Autumn 2013
Summer has come and gone, and the crisp autumn air of September is finally here. Soon the skies will adorn the flighted ones making their long voyage home. And not just the flighted ones, but the hoofed ones, the swimmed ones, and everything in between.
Anishinabek people are migratory too. According to oral herstory (history) we migrated from the East Coast of Turtle Island (now called North America) and travelled inland, and continued to do so all the way until the Rocky Mountains. Our migratory patterns did not end there, as we continued to be a “moving” people. We always moved with the changing seasons, from our summer camps, to our winter camps, year in and year out.
With the implementation of the Indian Act in 1876, the creation of Indian reservations, and residential schools, our migratory patterns were essentially outlawed, thus drastically altering our way of life forever. We were prohibited from any of our cultural practices, ceremonies, languages and from ever leaving the reservation.
As time wore on, and as we became more “Christianized, “civilized” and “assimilated”, some of those rules and laws within the Indian Act became less necessary to enforce. Eventually we were no longer required permission to leave the reservations, and are now free to come and go as we please.
Now, Anishinabek people have taken on new forms of migration. We no longer migrate in search of abundant fishing waters, or in search of big game. In many cases reserve lands are too small to support this lifestyle, but the harsh reality is that resource industry like mining, forestry, and tar sands have poisoned the land and waters making this more difficult and less viable. We still migrate in search of sustenance. For starters there is Pow-Wow season. Each and every year, thousand of dancers, drummers, singers, vendors travel long distances in search of “cash prizes” and “honorariums”. For some people it’s not about the money, but it’s merely their only exposure to anything “Native”. Whatever peoples reasons, financial, cultural or otherwise, it’s about sustenance.
The most common form of migration known to Anishinabek peoples is the migration away from reserves and into urban centres. On many reserves (including my own, Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island) the traditional way of life is non-existent, and economic opportunity is based on how many family members sit on Chief and Council. People are forced to either fight amongst each other over the few positions at the Band Office, collect welfare cheques, or to leave the reservation entirely. With reservations located in remote desolate areas, and with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AADNC) firmly clutching the purse strings on any/all economic developments on reserves, its hard to imagine this as anything but intentional.
Growing up in a foster home, my sister and I had limited access to our biological father who lived a kilometer down the road. Each and every single year he would make one of these “seasonal migrations” looking for work, and we’d be left wondering if we’d ever see him again. For many years as a youth, I would cry myself to sleep, alone in my bed wondering if we would ever feel the warmth of his hugs again. When the fall came, he left whatever farm he was working on, and would return home, and if we were lucky the visitations would continue.
When I was 15, my father made one of these “migrations” to Toronto and never returned. My dream of the 3 of us being a family once again died, when he died. I was only 19.
After the death of my father, I made my own migration away from the reserve and into the metropolis of Toronto. I have been migrating to and emigrating from city to city, all across Turtle Island (Canada) ever since. For the most part I have been running. I’ve been running away from myself. Unable to cope with drug and alcohol addictions and past unresolved issues. For many years I had been on the run. Running away from everything. That was until I decided that I wasn’t going to run anymore, and that I was going to sober up. It was a miracle, that the legendary Elder Vern scooped me up, and under his tutelage I began the process of what we call in Ojibway, biiskaabiiyaang – which means, decolonization. I’m sure that I am only one of the thousands he must have helped over the years.
One time I found myself seeking the wisdom and guidance of an Elder in British Colombia. I had told him of many profound visions that I had been having. After much discussions and interpretations, he told me, that “I must return home, and return to my people.” So I made the migration back to the east side of the continent.
When I got back to Toronto, I soon discovered that my “people” were in the process of “surrendering” over 10,000 acres of lands within the Coldwater Narrows Land Claim Settlement for $307 million dollars. When I conceptualized the thought of “surrendering all lands forever” and what that means to Anishinabek people, I made a conscious decision to migrate back to the land in question.
The result: Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp was born. Oshkimaadziig in the Anishinabek language refers to the New People who will emerge in the time of our current era, what we Anishinabek view as the time of the 7th Fire Prophecy. It will be the task of the Oshkimaaziig to retrace the steps back to the original teachings of their ancestors.
Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp maybe just a cabin in the bush, beside a big rock with some “controversial” inscriptions on it, but the camp itself serves as an entry point to begin this “migration” back to the land. At least for me it does.
With the onset of Fall already here, I am often reminded of the nostalgia of my father when he would return to the rez. There won’t be any return of my father this year or any other year. But perhaps someday, there will be a great migration of Anishinabek people back to our lands, like our people once lived. Perhaps it might not be this year, or it might not be next year. Perhaps it may never happen. But Oshkimaadziig must exist, and continue to prepare like our people will return.
I hope. I pray. It is what sustains me.
Giibwanisi (Red Tailed-Hawk)
Mkwa Dodem (Bear Clan)
Oshkimaadziig Anishinabek (I am of the New People of the 7th Fire Prophecy)
by Steve da Silva
After decades of under-funding to First Nations schools – with high dropout rates and an epidemic of youth suicide that can’t be disassociated with the situation in schools – last Tuesday, October 22, the Federal government tabled their First Nations Education Act that will give it more direct control over about 515 reserve schools under its control.
Under the draft legislation, band councils would be allowed to operate schools directly – as many already do – or purchase services from regional or provincial school boards or the private sector. First Nations could also form education authorities that would oversee one or more schools in a region.
However, under the new legislation it would be the federal government that would set and enforce standards for schools on reserves (with the exception of Onkwehon:we nations that have established self-government agreements that cover education). The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development will retain the power to take over a school or if an inspector finds problems.
What the draft legislation is not clear about are the funding levels that fall far below funding provided to provincial schools. Funding short-falls have been a principal factor in keeping the standards in First Nations schools far below provincially-funded schools.
A piece of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Federal Conservative government claims their aim to be “improving graduation rates for First Nations students,” but First Nations (Indian Act) leaders are already decrying it as a renewal of the colonial legacy, by giving the Feds more control with no guarantee of the desperately needed funding increases.
In an October 25 press release, Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Union of Ontario Indians said that “The proposed First Nations Education Act (FNEA) is about control and false accountability,” says Madahbee. ”It is a colonial document and makes no attempt to close the gap on inequality in education.”
“Firstly, it gives our citizens, parents and students no say in their own education… This is the same mentality as the government-run residential school disaster that had a history littered with genocide and acts of inhumanity.
“Secondly, it ignores curriculum needs that experts agree are essential to the academic success of First Nations learners – curriculum that talks about our culture and beliefs, and an accurate account of our historical contributions.
“And thirdly, this government starts their so-called educational reform with a threat to First Nations that if they don’t meet Canadian standards they will be put under third-party management, despite the fact that First Nation schools are largely underfunded and are unlikely to meet standards set by other, better funded schools, for example, the school in Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek (Rocky Bay First Nation) receives $4781 less per student than nearby provincially-funded Upsala School in the Keewatin Patricia District School Board.”
Final legislation is anticipated before the year’s end after “consultation” with First Nations (Indian Act) authorities.
by Kitchener-Waterloo BASICS
In an attempt to reverse the flow of highly-corrosive tar sands bitumen through the Haldimand Tract (Six Nations land), the Calgary-based oil company Enbridge is using the ageing Line 9 pipeline. The company is moving forward without the consent from the indigenous peoples whose way of life is directly threatened by the pipeline which has been built on the land where they live.
The danger with pumping is that bitumen is an unprocessed tar sands oil that is mixed with a highly-corrosive natural-gas liquid, and needs to be pumped at a higher temperature and pressure due to its viscosity. As a result, this puts a heavy strain on the aging 38-year-old pipeline. Pumping this oil also comes with a lot of waste that is pumped back into the Athabasca River system, which has an extremely negative effect on the surrounding environment.
Over the years, Enbridge has been dangerously careless when pumping tar sands oil through their pipelines. Between 1999 and 2010, Enbridge has reportedly been responsible for at least 800 spills (approximately 7 million gallons of heavy crude oil). One of the most devastating examples is the 2010 Line 6B spill in the Kalamazoo River in Marshall, Michigan. The effects of that spill were massive, and three years and almost one billion dollars later, the spill is still not completely cleaned up. Both Line 9 and 6B were built to transport conventional crude oil, not bitumen.
KW is showing resistance through a coalition of broad-based community organizations who oppose the proposal of the reversal of tar sands oil. Malcolm of Kitchener Ontario Animal Liberation Alliance said, “there was an occupation of the Enbridge Westover pumping station on Beverly Swamp, resulting in delaying the reversal through the area. This inspired people to take action in their own communities. This dirty tar sands oil not only puts people at risk, but also wildlife in the environment as well”.
“Here in Kitchener we have put forward a declaration and used it as a tool to get support from the community. By having info nights, lobbying, and organizing around this declaration, we hope to pressure the council to oppose this attack on our communities,” says Joe Campbell, community organizer.
KW organizers believe that we as a community need to work in solidarity with the indigenous peoples of this land to stop the reversal of the tar sands oil through this land before it’s too late and we have our own Kalamazoo on our hands. For more information, you can visit http://noline9wr.ca/.
by Steve da Silva & Laura Lepper – Co-produced with Two Row Times
TORONTO – On the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, on October 7, the Idle No More movement took to the streets in over 50 places across Turtle Island and beyond to show the world that the movement for Indigenous rights has not faded. “We haven’t gathered here to celebrate that document which has led to the loss of so much of our land,” said one INM speaker.
In Toronto, over a hundred people gathered for a Unity in Action event under the specific theme “We Have the Right To Say NO”. Many denounced the Harper government for advancing policies of colonization that trace back to 1763 and before. Aaron Detlor of the Haudenosaunee Development Institute reminded the Toronto rally that we were gathered in the traditional treaty territory of the Beaver Hunting Grounds. “As a Haudenosaunee person,” Detlor proclaimed, “I am tired of asking. The time for asking is over.”
Canadian colonialism was hit from an international angle as well. Suraia Sahar, a young Afghani activist, brought it to people’s attention that it was twelve years ago to the day that Canada and other NATO-member countries invaded and occupied Afghanistan: “The Canadian military is still an occupying force in my native land of Afghanistan.” Sahar was flanked by fellow anti-war activist, Jules Tingangan, a Filipino-Canadian who is a veteran of the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Tingangan denounced Canada’s role in Afghanistan, in which he was a direct participant, and announced his support for all peoples under occupation: “They sent me to another country to kill brown people just like me.”
The gathering also served to educate participants on the Two Row Wampum. Speaker Davyn Calfchild stated, “Everyone needs to learn about the Two Row and the nation-to-nation relationships it represents. It’s not just for Native people, it’s for non-Native people too.”
Through speakers and music, cold rain poured down. But when the final words were being spoken, sunshine broke through the clouds and a full rainbow framed the gathering. Under the newly pink sky, dozens of people lifted a 100-foot Two Row Wampum to begin a march from the westside residential neighbourhood near Trinity Bellwoods Park into the downtown core.
by Steve da Silva – Co-produced with Two Row Times
After months of arrests and mounting resistance against shale gas exploration in New Brunswick on Mi’kmaq territory, the anti-fracking movement upped the ante this past week with a fresh blockade and a proclamation of a massive land reclamation, which has forced conservative New Brunswick Premier David Alward to a negotiation table with representatives of the anti-fracking movement.
A day after the September 30 blockade was established on Route 134 that blocked the entrance to an equipment storage site of SWN Resources Canada, Chief Aaron Sock, speaking for Chief and Council of the Elsipogtog First Nation, announced a sweeping Mi’kmaq land reclamation effective immediately.
“Harper and the Conservative government have lifted restrictions to environmental protections of our lands and water” and “the provincial government is turning over all lands… to a corporation for their own benefit… we have lost confidence in governments for the safekeeping of our lands.”
Sock added that “our notice of eviction has been completely ignored by the Provincial government and Southwest Energy, and… we have been compelled to act to save our water, land and animals from ruin.”
“Let it be known to all the we as the chief and council of Elsipogtog are reclaiming all unoccupied reserve lands… We have been instructed by our people that they are ready, willing, and able to go out and stake their own claims on all unoccupied lands for their own use and benefit.”
The October 1 announcement, which came on their Treaty Day, was read at the blockade site to an exuberant crowd of hundreds who gathered from across Kent County and beyond.
The New Brunswick government has been allowing SWN Resources to explore some 2.5 million acres of lands for the purpose of shale gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. Fracking involves drilling deep wells that fracture shale rock beds and requires the pumping of millions of gallons of pressurized fresh water and toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins, into a well to force the gas out. However, the provincial government’s case for hydraulic fracturing took a huge blow this past September when Louis LaPierre, the researcher at the New Brunswick Energy Institute who wrote the report encouraging the government to proceed with gas exploitation, was discovered to have lied for decades about having a PhD in Ecology.
On Wednesday, October 2, a new Brunswick court issued an injunction against the blockade at the request of SWN, which is enforceable until October 12, 2013. But the papers have yet to be served by the RCMP, and Miles Howe of the Halifax Media Co-op has reported that the RCMP would not enforce an injunction until dialogue with the Premiere had ceased.
On Sunday, October 5 Premier Alward and three members of his cabinet met with and the Elsipogtog chief and 15 representatives of the protesters for three hours in a Moncton hotel, with negotiations continuing in Fredericton as of Monday. The delegation reportedly excluded the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society, who Alward would not meet with, and who have reportedly been the main and most visible force at the blockade. The Warriors are independent of the Chief and Council.
Two Row Times asked Elsipogtog counsellor Robert Levi whether the negotiations that had opened up related to the blockade or the larger land reclamation, and Levi told us that “I think the [reclamation] is a larger issue that will take on a life of its own. But since we have an injunction hanging over our heads, this is what needs to be resolved right now, since we want a peaceful resolution to the blockade and for no one to get hurt.”
On October 7, the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society took their own initiative and hand-delivered a letter (via a Houston-based environmentalist group) to SWN Resources reading, “all projects, leases, and permits issued to SWN Resources by the Government [of New Brunswick] come to a halt until all Mi’kmaq-L’nu, and Wabanaki communities, as sovereign individuals are Meaningfully Consulted, and that we are able to come to an informed decision as individuals.”
All the while, the Acadian presence in the anti-fracking movement and at the most recent blockade has also been quite strong, which many see as a welcome development between the two communities. Fourteen years ago, the crisis of Burnt Church unfolded 100 km to the north, where non-native fishers destroyed thousands of Mi’kmaq lobster traps to protest native fishing rights, which was followed by violent confrontations. However, Acadians and Mi’kmaq have also had strong of unity against a common oppressor in the region’s history. After the mass expulsion of the French-speaking Acadian people by the British in 1755, the remaining Acadians and the Mi’kmaq made a treaty that saw the two peoples unite in a guerilla war against the British that led to the 1757 defeat of a British detachment in 1757 in the Battle of Bloody Creek.
by Steve da Silva – Produced for TwoRowTimes.com & BASICS Community News Service
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is now taking drastic measure of emptying out two-thirds of Cold Lake in Alberta to contain the spilling of bitumen at no less than four sites at its Cold Lake project for over a month now. More than 1.5 million liters of bitumen (a mixture of oil sands, heavy crude and water) is said to have leaked. The bitumen leaked would fill 9600 barrels.
by Steve da Silva – Produced for TwoRowTimes.com & BASICS Community News Service
Last Wednesday, September 25, a Canadian National Rail train with 17 cars carrying hazardous materials, including flammable petroleum, ethanol, and other chemicals, derailed near Landis, Saskatchewan, on Treaty 6 Territory.
No people were injured, and the leaked oil was reportedly minimal and contained, unlike the Lac Megantic disaster in June 2013, which killed 47 and destroyed much of the town’s center.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall used the derailment as an opportunity to hail the benefits of building more oil pipelines: “We are going to be railing more oil out of this province, that’s just the fact of the matter. We’re doing it now and frankly doing it efficiently and safely for the most part, again from a statistical standpoint. But we need pipelines. We need them and we need to be unequivocal that pipelines are still certainly the best way.”