Archive for indigenous
On 28 January 2013 Idle No More protesters gathered in no fewer than 30 Canadian cities. They were joined by solidarity protests around the world as the indigenous grassroots movement marked a global day of action.
We contend that: The Treaties are nation to nation agreements between The Crown and First Nations who are sovereign nations. The Treaties are agreements that cannot be altered or broken by one side of the two Nations. The spirit and intent of the Treaty agreements meant that First Nations peoples would share the land, but retain their inherent rights to lands and resources. Instead, First Nations have experienced a history of colonization which has resulted in outstanding land claims, lack of resources and unequal funding for services such as education and housing.
We contend that: The state of Canada has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world by using the land and resources. Canadian mining, logging, oil and fishing companies are the most powerful in the world due to land and resources. Some of the poorest First Nations communities have mines or other developments on their land but do not get a share of the profit. The taking of resources has left many lands and waters poisoned – the animals and plants are dying in many areas in Canada. We cannot live without the land and water. We have laws older than this colonial government about how to live with the land.
We contend that: Currently, this government is trying to pass many laws so that reserve lands can also be bought and sold by big companies to get profit from resources. They are promising to share this time…Why would these promises be different from past promises? We will be left with nothing but poisoned water, land and air. This is an attempt to take away sovereignty and the inherent right to land and resources from First Nations peoples.
We contend that: There are many examples of other countries moving towards sustainability, and we must demand sustainable development as well. We believe in healthy, just, equitable and sustainable communities and have a vision and plan of how to build them. Please join us in creating this vision.
A rather malicious reaction to the Idle No More Movement concerns the widely held belief that “it is about time these people moved out of the past and into the 21st century”. Just assimilate and get over it! After all, conventional “wisdom” suggests that white Europeans “conquered” the “Indians.” This is, of course, propaganda.
Contrary to popular belief, indigenous peoples did not surrender their land or sovereignty to the Europeans. Treaties were a scheme devised by the white man to circumvent costly Indian Wars, like those ensuing in the American West (see also here). Moreover, it was believed that once whites “killed the Indian and saved the man,” the treaties would prove unnecessary because supposedly all indigenous peoples would become “civilized” and assimilate into white society.
The white man believed indigenous peoples were just that docile! The white man was wrong!
Aaron Paquette, one of Canada’s premiere First Nations artists, recently captured just how erroneous this thinking was when discussing the Idle No More Movement. He asks: “why are Canada’s Indigenous Peoples the only ones who are standing up? Why are they now the World’s Protectors?”
This is much greater than angry protesting natives, this is about becoming aware. First they gutted the sciences, long term studies that would help us understand our ecosystem better so we could develop more responsibly, and no one said a word. Then they cut funding for our shared history and those who work to preserve it, while at the same time dumping tens of millions of dollars into celebrating a British colony war that happened before we were even a country, and still no one said anything. Then the world was made aware of the shameful conditions for small children growing up on underfunded, polluted Reservations. A small murmur and then nothing. And now, because of the apathy they see, this government has taken galling steps to sell out our wilderness, our resources and sovereignty. And not even to the highest bidder. It’s a yard sale with no regard for responsibility or care for anyone who might be negatively affected (in other words, all of us). From millions of protected waterways a couple weeks ago, we now have hundreds. Yes, you read that right.
As Kent McNeil, professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University (Toronto) has argued, the Idle No More Movement deserves the thanks of all Canadians as it has exposed a lack of respect for aboriginal and treaty rights on the part of the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
April Blackbird is a sociology honours students and politics major at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and a First Nations activist. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.
Many want to see the Florida case as an individual going about his “duties” requiring him to challenge possible criminals, refusing to see that the victim had as much claim to the neighborhood as the killer, irrespective of the race differences that resemble historic laws and practices of the Jim-Crow South.
Herein citizens not only protest proposed “unfair” depictions of Zimmerman as “racist” but equate his critics with what they consider de-legitimated resistance groups showing signs reading “Black Panthers = Racism” referring to what scholars see as the new racism wherein dominant whites increasingly see “minorities” as causing racism by claiming racism. Defenders point to Zimmerman’s African-American friend as indicative of why he is not racist, thereby denying the historic link to white militias attacking Black males as threatening. Similarly, status quo defenders point to the U.S. African-American president as indicative of how this country cannot engage in racist social practices, thereby denying this historic link to the institutions that formed the larger system of racial domination.
Both of these icons – threatening Black male that must be challenged as a danger to law-abiding whites; and Islamic (read indigenous) ethnic groups that must be resisted as a danger to European civilization – arise from root ideologies of the “hostile” or savage Indian as a threat to western civilized settlement, extended as a rationalization for genocide of Native Nations and enslavement of Africans, both further connected to militias that regulated borderlands and individuals that identified the dangerous “other” within the colony and subsequently the state.
Within the United States the case is especially pernicious, since the resurrection of these racist icons, rationalizations and practices are further rooted in the Constitution of the United States of America, (See Joe Feagin’s White Party, White Government), with over two hundred years of racial struggles and wars to eliminate the legalized racial orderings but not the de-facto racialized practices. This resurrection is further troubling as clearly racist, ethno-dominating policies are being re-founded in states such as Arizona, Florida and Georgia with popular political initiatives defending the dominant group initiatives, furthering the ideological defense of individuals such as Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin and racist institutions such as Breivik’s killings being labeled as that of a “psychopath” and not those of the supremacist, protectionist ideologies that Breivik invoked in his own defense.
Deep icons of the “dangerous other” existing below the surface of a troubled society only take certain political mixes to become resurrected, with the savage now being an Islamic or Indigenous recalcitrant, “hostiles” becoming “terrorists” or enemy combatants, and historically suppressed groups such as Blacks and Latinos being swept up in racist tides of anti-crime nativism. Seriously anti-racist activists need to attend to the use of deeply embedded racial icons in our society to rationalize race attacks and killings, else we will also resurrect supremacist ideologies that produce racist policies and turn back the meager gains we have made over the past two centuries for a more equitable, less race-based society.
Given the criticisms of and interest in my last post on capitalism and systemic racism (notice, as Seattle points out in a comment to that last post, this is systemic racism I am talking about not just individual racism), let me elaborate a bit by condensing some arguments I make in The White Racial Frame book.
Recall the specifics of Karl Marx’s analysis of the world-shattering significance of this European imperialism:
The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. . . . Capital comes dripping from head to foot from every pore with blood and dirt.
Clearly, the early rise of Western capitalism on the world scene is very rooted in the global seizing of the land, resources, and labor of people of color by violent means. That is, this global oppression was soon systemic and fully racialized in a white racial framing of superior whites and inferior people of color (i.e., in systemic racism). This global theft of Native American and African labor by state-sanctioned capitalistic enterprises did not end after the first century of European wealth generation, but lasted for centuries, to the present.
From the 16th to the 19th centuries the European colonial invaders forced a political-economic and demographic reorganization of a large part of the globe at the expense of many indigenous peoples of color. The Spanish nation state was the first to plunder on a large scale indigenous societies in the Americas for land, mineral, and labor resources, but its growing wealth was soon countered by imperial expansion of English, Dutch, and French nation-states and private companies seeking wealth from overseas exploitation. European nation-states and private companies, such as English firms operating in the Caribbean and North America, discovered huge profits were to be made from overseas agricultural plantations using enslaved African labor on indigenous lands. Researchers have shown (see sources here) that by the end of the 18th century the lion’s share of profits coming into British coffers came from overseas slave plantations producing agricultural products.
In North America, English colonies were often state enterprises created under auspices of the king or state-fostered enterprises developed by entrepreneurs, plantation owners, and merchants. English joint stock companies were formed by merchants under the auspices of James I. Employees of the Southern Company settled Jamestown, the English colony that brought in the first enslaved African laborers. A principal objective of colonization was to secure land and raw materials and develop markets. Once land was taken, the Europeans’ search for labor led to the extensive use of the African slave trade, critical to exploitation of land and other resources of the Americas. The private-sector and state-sector collaborated in global exploitation and enslavement, soon rationalized in a white racial framing. (See the evidence in, for example, Eric Williams Capitalism and Slavery.)
Celebrated social scientist Max Weber wrote famously of the “Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism” in assessing the fostering conditions before and around modern capitalism. However, in this European economic expansion one sees what might more accurately be termed the “predatory ethic” of Western capitalism. Central to European colonialism and capitalism was a predatory ethic that asserted the right of Europeans to take the land and labor of others by violence for their own individual and collective gain.
We should underscore a key dimension of this European colonialism, one that critical analysts of capitalism have seldom emphasized: the highly racialized reality of this European colonization and early capitalism. Marxist analysts and numerous other critical analysts have ignored or downplayed the racist architecture of centuries of Western colonialism. Most major groups that were central to both early and later European accumulation of wealth in this global colonizing system were non-European, and each of these groups was soon denigrated (the word literally means “blackened”) in an increasingly developed Eurocentric white framing of colonialism and the colonial societies thereby created.
When we recently learned that 30 percent of immigrants are failing the Canadian citizenship test, we wondered how many Canadian-born citizens know enough about this country to qualify for citizenship.
All five of us were born in Canada. How would we rate as potential citizens?
We effortlessly figured out that “the right to ski anywhere in Canada” is not covered by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We were absolutely confident that “mow your lawn” is not one of the six principal responsibilities of citizenship. For the record, the six principal responsibilities of Canadian citizenship are: Obeying the law; taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family; serving on a jury; voting in elections; helping others in the community; and protecting our heritage and environment. The bit concerning the protection of Canadian heritage especially caught our attention, not to mention “helping others in the community.”
In the spirit of “protecting” Canada’s heritage and “helping others,” here are a few snippets from our country’s legacy we think all citizens should know:
The first federal anti-Chinese bill was passed in 1885. It took the form of a Head tax of $50 imposed, with few exceptions, upon every person of Chinese origin entering the country. No other group was targeted in this way.
In 1928, a government official envisaged Canada would end its “Indian problem” within two generations. Church-run, government-funded residential schools for Native children were supposed to prepare them for life in white society. The aims of assimilation actually meant destruction and desolation for those who were subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Decades later, Aboriginal people began to share their stories and demand acknowledgement of — and compensation for — their stolen childhoods.
Twelve weeks after 7 December 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and later Hong Kong, the federal government, at the instigation of racist British Columbia politicians, used the War Measures Actto order the removal of all Japanese Canadians residing within 160 kilometres of the Pacific coast. The Canadian government claimed that Japanese Canadians were being removed for reasons of “national security,” despite the fact that the removal order was opposed by Canada’s senior military and despite the fact that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officially stated that Japanese Canadians posed no threat to Canada’s security.
Canada likes to think of itself as a sanctuary for the oppressed. However, the Canadian government did everything in its power to bar the door to European Jews trying to flee Nazi persecution.
In 1996, the last federally-operated residential school in Canada closed (Akaitcho Hall in Yellowknife). It is estimated that more than 100,000 Native children aged six and up attended the national network of residential schools from 1930 until 1990.
In Canada, we have “starlight tours,” an euphemism for the “non-sanctioned” police practice of taking Aboriginals to the edge of a town and abandoning them in freezing weather. In 2001, Amnesty International included freezing deaths resulting from these notorious tours in their report of international human rights abuses, marking the first time Canada joined the list. In fact, this list could probably go on forever. If we let it.
Welcome to Canada, the “great” white North (and we don’t mean “white” as in snow).
Tessa M. Blaikie, Kyla E. Doll, Crystal S. Van Den Bussche, and Natalia T. Ilyniak are undergraduates at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.
“Pascua Yaqui Native-American Carlos Gonzales gives a Native American blessing to start a memorial service for the Tucson shooting victims.” So states the text that accompanies a remarkable passing of time and politics in the place we call America.
When some colleagues told me that controversy and criticism had arisen about the introductory blessing at the service where President Obama spoke so well, I looked at it more deeply, recognizing a focus on the “Four Doors” and on Balance and Harmony (the Navajo literally say “Walk in Beauty” and as when I returned from S.E. Asia for medical treatment where traditional healers kept a focus on “balance”) after the personal introduction of “who I am” and being “given the right to speak” – and ending the blessing “All My Relations” (an interpretation of “Mitakuye Oyasin”), itself indicative of an Indigenous way of Healing and Restoring Harmony.
Here is the site you can link to for the youtube replay.
But then, what could cause controversy from FOX News Brit Hume, or the deep criticism of Glen Beck and others calling the Blessing both political and partisan? Could it be when Doctor Gonzales described his relatives as being survivors of “genocide” (which the Yaqui like so many other Native peoples assuredly are), and/or when Professor Gonzales described himself as descendant of Mexican peoples and coming from the “barrio” of Tucson (where many native and Latino peoples have shared families over the centuries, in his case fifth generation)? Why do “Sacred Words in Tucson” seem to enrage right-wing commentators?
Yet these are quite typical ways of introducing oneself in Native circles. Perhaps it is because, as I have respectfully noted, Carlos Gonzales not only had been given the right to speak by traditional elders, but had earned a medical degree and received tenure as an Associate Professor in a respected medical school at a Research I University, hardly the stereotypical minister or medicine man that one could dismiss with such simple mockery as “peculiar” (as Fox commentators did). Perhaps it is because so many pundits want to believe the memorial service only existed within the individual acts of a mentally ill person, not within the highly diverse society that Arizona has, represented so well by Carlos Gonzales in his many personae.
Herein lies the rub, of course. Arizona had just passed what amounts to racist legislation against immigrant populations (using the dehumanizing term “illegals” with reference to “hostiles” used to justify genocide against Native peoples who were not citizens or even accepted by a historical America), and further had just passed racist, hegemonic censure and attacks against ethnic studies curriculum which simply tells the stories of these many diverse peoples. These last set of attacks could only be focused on the K-12 educational systems, but the conflict has definitively moved to the universities who train the teachers and future leaders, potentially affecting the next generation in Arizona, and of America.
And Arizona has become ground zero for the hyperbole and suggested violence by Right Wing commentators and their closeted racist discourse, evidenced by the now infamous cross-hairs on Congresswoman Giffords district, the use of “target” along with “M-16 training” and “elimination” language in political ads, nearly all of it with historical antecedents in the repression of Native Nations, potential slave uprisings, and later the Mexican claims to treaty-rights in the great southwest taken from them under invasion and violent conquest. This confluence of events and attitudes assuredly is representative of what many scholars have called the “new racism” which, even as it actively denies a racist underpinning, attacks and censures those who historically racism has destroyed, exploited, and suppressed.
Perfect evidence of this is found in Sarah Palin’s response, attempting to paint herself as the victim of “blood libel” which refers to how the Jewish peoples have had their histories distorted and denied, leading to the ultimate decimation of the Holocaust, and a perfect reference to how Arizona wants to eliminate its history of destruction against Mexican immigrants, descendents, and the genocide of its Native peoples.
Rather than have a simple discussion of possible gun control or a civil discourse, perhaps what we need is what Professor / Doctor / Traditionalist Carlos Gonzalez has asked us to do, to pray and prepare ourselves for the Balance and Harmony necessary for healing and movement into a future. Here I can speak to what Lakota have done after one hundred years remembering the slaughter at Wounded Knee, instituting the Big Foot riders memorializing the “Wiping Away the Tears” ceremony which allows us to move forward as a people without forgetting the past. In this, I think an indigenous voice was a perfect blessing and philosophy for understanding what happened in Tucson, in Arizona, and in the United States of America.
“Mitakuye Oyasin” (respect to all my relatives, all my relations in the world)
James Fenelon, Professor, Poet, Native Philosopher (given right to speak by elders)
(See also: Indian Country media )
Recently, I was in an academic setting with several people and the “holidays” came up, a particularly sensitive race scholar noted that I do not celebrate “Thanksgiving.” The observation itself was noteworthy for its rarity. There is absolutely no reason for a Native American to celebrate Thanksgiving. It is an event which celebrates the survival of a people who would go on to perpetrate possibly the most far reaching genocide in human history. This post began as a historical retelling, and if you are looking for corrections to the historic record Jessie has excellent ones hereand here and Joe does a wonderful job here. An interesting note on Thanksgiving is that the turkey is known as the giveaway bird because he is willing to sacrifice everything to help the people live. Whereas, many outsiders see the turkey as a silly bird, he embodies a fundamental concept about sacrifice and survival in Indian country
Thanksgiving creates interesting reactions in Indian Country and in my household. On the one hand, it is very Native. All special times and ceremonies are celebrated with the inclusion of a feast and a giveaway. So, any ceremonial occasion could be Thanksgiving. Every Thanksgiving, we take time to remember that if we were a less trusting or less honorable culture, we would not have Thanksgiving. We would also not have stone carvings of genocidal men carved in the Sacred Black Hills and drilling set to commence at the foot of Bear Butte. We fill a pipe and make prayers, with small hope, that Leonard Peltier will see the Black Hills again before he dies. We sing songs in languages that are barely surviving and teach our children to sing it as well so that it may survive one more generation. We are grateful to have our children since for so many generations they were stolen away to missionary boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their language and sexually assaulted with regularity while being indoctrinated with “Christian” principles those Pilgrims brought over.
We make prayers for the elderly and the children on reservations with no heat and inadequate housing. We hope that we will not be attending the celebrations of their life as they succumb to death by exposure as so many do each winter. In my household, we bring out choke cherries saved from the summer picking up North and a bit of buffalo to keep us connected to home. We set out the gifts received from others in the many ceremonies through the year and make prayers for them and smile in appreciation of them. We do all of these things before we put on the turkey and dressing and get ourselves ready to join in the dominant pastimes of food excess and football. Because we too have become a part of that colonizing culture in so many ways. Some years we duck those traditions and spend the entire day remembering our ancestors and relatives in ceremonies more in keeping with our culture and take a moment to be thankful because we are still here against all odds.
Dinesh D’Souza is so enamored with his fantastical analysis of Barack Obama as a haunted puppet of his Kenyan father that the story enjoys two printings in Forbes magazine. The first on Sept. 9 entitled “How Obama Thinks”and a second story essentially the same, though a bit shorter on Sept. 18 entitled “Obama’s Problem with Business”. D’Souza’s major attack on Obama is that his ideas are based in “tribal anti-colonialism.”
D’Souza spends a great deal of copy discussing the concepts of anti-colonialism. By the way, his credentials as an expert on the subject are that he was born in Mumbai, India. He accurately defines anti-colonialism as “the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America.” For virtually any high school history student this stands as more of a fact than a doctrine. The actual heart of anti- colonialist doctrine is that this was an immoral and shameful endeavor. This stands in contrast to the doctrines of manifest destiny, free markets, doctrines of the superiority of western culture, and various exceptionalist doctrines in America, Britain, France and other western nations. It is virtually impossible to deny that the West got rich by looting other countries, so the denial is generally couched in grand theories such as Manifest Destiny wherein Western profiteers are portrayed as helping the poor savages of these primitive countries by providing industry, religion and culture.
In National Review Online , Newt Gingrich says D’Souza has made a “stunning insight” into Obama’s behavior — the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.” Gingrich, hawking his new movie and his revived political power goes even farther. ““I think Obama gets up every morning with a worldview that is fundamentally wrong about reality,” Gingrich says. “If you look at the continuous denial of reality, there has got to be a point where someone stands up and says that this is just factually insane.” I spent most of the 80s shaking my head in disbelief at Newt Gingrich and his ability as Speaker to categorically deny reality. But this reaches new head shaking heights. Newt ascribes profound meaning to a purely fantastical theory based on nothing more than Barack Obama sharing genetic material with his Kenyan father. Then, only a few sentences later, he accuses others of denying reality.
Let me be the someone who stands up and says this is just factually insane. But first let me point out that Gingrich and D’Souza have used the term “tribal” as a code word for inferior, primitive, undesirable. That is a grand tradition in America. White people, driven by glorious Manifest Destiny, committed colonial atrocities of genocide and theft of resources on a continental scale against “tribal anti-colonialists.” It is the great legacy of America. We then spread this successful business model around the world. The second interesting point to note here is that America, theoretically and rhetorically, stands against colonialism. America was the original anti-colonial hot-bed, fighting Britain for independence. We spent decades valiantly fighting the Soviet Union’s colonial transgressions in Eastern Europe. We are always on vigilant and well financed guard against the imperialist colonial motives and actions of Islamic nations. Aren’t we just a democratic nation only interested in spreading democracy and the good life to all nations against the encroachments of imperial powers? Well, truthfully, not. At least not unless it furthers the cause of our gathering riches and resources.
As a member of a tribe who still suffers from American colonialism, I can certainly set the minds of D’Souza and Gingrich at rest. Barack Obama does not exhibit tribal tendencies. If he did, we would definitely have a public option in our health care legislation. The standard prayer/wish in a tribal society is health, help and happiness for all. Health is the first listed. If Obama were a tribal thinker, we would not have off shore drilling, strip mining, clear cutting of forests, mining of uranium, nuclear production of energy, and a host of other policies and activities that destroy the earth and our fellow inhabitants of the earth. Because tribal thinking rests upon the basic premise that everything is related. The Earth is alive and must be respected and cared for carefully. Indigenous tribes represent around 6% of the world’s population and have not only a zero environmental footprint, they actually have a positive footprint.
White imperialistic thinkers like Newt Gingrich have no concept whatever of tribal thinking and have no desire to. His accusation against Barack Obama is part of a centuries old smear campaign to relegate anyone who disagrees with imperialist American policies to an undesirable category. A category synonymous with bestiality, violence, ignorance, and history. Most important is to relegate them to history. D’Souza spends a great deal of time discussing how outdated these tribal anti-colonialist ideas are, and Gingrich is clear that Obama is living in a long dead past out of touch with current affairs. Merely being tribal relegates one to history, with no voice in the modern world. The 300 million indigenous peoples from 5,000 tribal groups inhabiting 72 countries are familiar with these attempts to discredit their voices and relegate them to history. It is a centuries old tactic. Finally, like the Tea Party, he has hitched his current political star to, Newt has truly followed in the spirit of the founding fathers using racism and invented privilege to justify the unjust imperial actions of the wealthy and privileged at the expense of the whole. It’s not even a new “contract with America”; it is the same racist drivel that arrived with first white people to this land of tribal ant colonialists.
I’ll bet Arizona’s mostly white nativists, including right-wing Republicans, did not see this one coming. Native American groups in Arizona have made it clear they will not enforce the new Arizona anti-immigrants law. An Arizona Capitol Times report by Evan Wyloge states:
Native American tribes are charging that the law was written without considering their unique circumstance and that it will violate their sovereignty and their members’ civil rights. Despite a request by Gov. Jan Brewer’s office to comply with the new law, Native American tribes will continue to oppose it and seek ways to avoid its implementation, said John Lewis, executive director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, which represents 20 tribes in the state. [and a fifth of the lands]
One reason is that the new law will
lead to disproportionate stops and detentions for tribal members, violate their sovereignty and negatively impact the tribal economy.
Police officers, especially white officers, are likely to target Native Americans, because they often look Latino. I wonder why that is? Could it be because a majority of Mexicans and Mexican Americans have substantial Native American (indigenous) ancestry?
And that raises another point. Aren’t most European Americans in Arizona and elsewhere the descendants of undocumented immigrants who came into a country without the permission (and often against the opposition) of the existing indigenous inhabitants? (We had no general exclusionary immigration laws until 1920-1924, so requiring immigration documents for all is fairly new in this country’s history.)
Hmmm. Does that also mean that a majority of current Mexican immigrants have deeper historical and ancestral roots in North America, and in what used to be northern Mexico (e.g., Arizona), than European Americans?
Navajo Nation Councilmember Delegate Kee Allen Begay Jr. has commented on the implications of the law:
“What if we had a law that said whenever a white person is traveling through the Navajo Reservation, we have reasonable suspicion that they’re carrying drugs? Where would the outcry on that be? ….We were here before anyone else, before any white people, and now we’re going to be questioned about being here legally?”
What if, indeed!
On 24 June 2010, encircled by a substantial police presence, 1,500 indigenous activists and their allies marched through downtown Toronto under the slogan “Canada can’t hide genocide,” openly contesting Canada’s authority in negotiating on the global stage. Shouting “No G20 on stolen native land!” the marchers carried placards, banners, Mohawk Nation flags, and an inverted Canadian flag. The group altered the Canadian national anthem’s opening lines “O Canada! Our home and native land!”, singing instead “O Canada! Our home on native land!” They hoped to bring international awareness to aboriginal issues via media coverage of the G8 and G20 summits. The demonstrators urged the Canadian government to investigate the disappearance of some 500 aboriginal women , demanded self-determination, complete political recognition of past treaties, and nation-to-nation negotiations with Canada on equal terms.
On 25 June 2010 ‘Shout Out for Global Justice,’ sponsored by the Council of Canadians, organized an incredible line-up of speakers to challenge the G20 and demand trade, water, and climate justice. The event was sold out. 2,700 people attended, as well as many others who watched the forum by web-cast in communities across Canada and at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. The line-up of speakers included Clayton Thomas-Müller of the Mathais Colomb Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba and tar sands campaigner with the U.S.-based organization Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN).
The five First Nations in the region of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, rely on traditional food sources, like moose, fish, beaver, and muskrat, all of which have become contaminated by mining pollution. A community of only 1,200 has seen more than 100 deaths in the last decade from rare cancers and autoimmune diseases. The tar sands leases also breach aboriginal treaty rights; they were sold by the provincial government without the prior informed consent of local communities.
There is no scarcity of examples of native resistance in recent Canadian history. In 1990, an historic armed standoff between Mohawks and the Canadian army near Oka, Québec lasted more than two months when the provincial government tried to convert a native burial ground into a golf course. Five years later, the Canadian government employed helicopters, armoured personnel carriers, improvised explosives, and more than 77,000 rounds of ammunition during a three-month standoff over land title at Gustafsen Lake in British Columbia. In 2007, the Mohawk community at Tyendinaga, 200 kilometres east of Toronto, blocked the trans-continental rail line, and Canada’s largest highway, in protest at the government’s failure to address land rights and basic issues of survival within First Nations – including safe drinking water, which the community lacked. Despite the exposure of such injustices, a foremost concern in 2007 appeared to be how to circumvent a roadblock. (See here and here.)
Aboriginal peoples living in Canada have lower life expectancy, less access to education, a much lower average income, and a much higher suicide rate than the rest of the country. The UN has stated that if Canada were “judged solely on the economic and social well-being of its First Nations” peoples, the country’s human development ranking would drop from 7th to 48th out of 174 countries. Organizations like Amnesty International have sharply criticized Canada’s treatment of aboriginals, calling the country’s reserves a third world problem in one of the world’s richest countries.
One final thought. Press coverage of issues related to aboriginals clears the way for government actions that “reproduce material and social inequality between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people” (including subtle sanitized ethno-genocide). This is a major cause of concern because it promotes an environment in which social injustice is tolerated and Canadians are less likely to be sympathetic to aboriginal resistance movements.
Tessa M. Blaikie, Nicole R. Gordon, and Natalia T. Ilyniak are sociology honours students at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.