Reports contradict Stephen Harper’s view on aboriginal women victims

Prime minister said issue of missing, murdered aboriginal women is not “sociological phenomenon”

 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently dismissed renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women such as Maisy Odjick (left) and Shannon Alexander (right). "We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon." said Harper. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently dismissed renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women such as Maisy Odjick (left) and Shannon Alexander (right). “We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon.” said Harper. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

 

By Jennifer Ditchburn, The Canadian Press

 

Dozens of federal, provincial and community studies compiled by the Conservative government appear to contradict the prime minister’s contention that the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women isn’t a “sociological phenomenon.”

But some in the aboriginal community don’t quibble with the government’s other main response to calls for a public inquiry — that there has been more than enough research.

Officials point to a non-exhaustive list of 40 studies conducted on the issue between 1996 and 2013.

A closer look at the research shows that in nearly every case, the authors or participants highlight the “root” or systemic causes of violence against aboriginal women and their marginalization in society.

The legacy of colonization, including the displacement and dispossession linked with residential schools and other policies, are cited frequently in the reports. The impact of poverty and lack of housing are also cited as root causes of violence against aboriginal women.

“There are root causes of violence in the aboriginal communities that include things like poverty and racism and this is why it’s incredibly important for us to work with organizations, aboriginal organizations, across the country…,” Rona Ambrose, then status of women minister, told a parliamentary hearing in 2011.

Harper has offered a different perspective.

“I think we should not view this as sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime,” he said last month.

 

Harper North 20140821Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected renewed calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

 

“It is crime, against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such.”

The government’s related position has been that there have been enough studies — the focus needs to be on action.

“What we don’t need, is yet another study on top of the some 40 studies and reports that have already been done, that made specific recommendations which are being pursued, to delay ongoing action,” Justice Minister Peter MacKay said last week.

Some aboriginal advocates agree there is enough research

Some inside the aboriginal community agree there have been enough studies, but there are varying opinions on whether an inquiry would just go over the same ground.

One 2005 report prepared by three B.C. community groups, entitled “Researched to Death,” pointed to the “striking similarities” in research and recommendations done up to that point.

“The only outstanding element is action,” the authors wrote.

Dawn Harvard, president of the Ontario Native Women’s Association, agrees there has already been substantial research on the sociological causes of violence against aboriginal women.

‘I don’t necessarily agree with just having more research for the sake of research.’– Kate Rexe, Sisters in Spirit

But she says a national inquiry wouldn’t be about the sociology, but rather about determining what specific policies and initiatives are needed to address specific community problems — in-depth research that smaller groups don’t have the resources to do.

“The sociological studies have identified that there is a problem, so your inquiry is going to get into the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of what is this problem all about,” said Harvard.

“And one would hope that therefore we would have a much more effective response when we come out of it.”

For Michelle Audette, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, an inquiry would be an accountability exercise in a non-partisan forum — akin to the Gomery commission on the sponsorship scandal or the current Charbonneau commission into corruption in Quebec’s construction industry.

 

Premiers and aboriginal leaders 20140827Aboriginal leaders agreed to a roundtable discussion to address the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls last month in Charlottetown, PEI. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

“Do we do another research (report)? No,” said Audette. “But this inquiry will bring us together and say, why didn’t we implement those (prior) recommendations? Why are we not putting in place legislation that will force our police forces to automatically exchange data?”

Kate Rexe, who worked on the Sisters in Spirit research and policy initiative on missing and murdered aboriginal women, takes a different perspective.

She says that while an inquiry would provide public recognition for the victims’ families, it won’t necessarily reach the required level of detail.

“If we’re looking at a 30-year time span over a number of different police services, in various communities that have had varying levels of response of police to the families and the communities, you’re not going to get the answers that you would hopefully need,” said Rexe.

“I don’t necessarily agree with just having more research for the sake of research.”

Government takes heartless stand against efforts to help First Nations devastated by Mount Polley tailings pond catastrophe

Government-takes-heartless-stand-against-efforts-to-help-First-Nations-devastated-by-Mount-Polley-tailings-pond-catastrophe

Via newswire

 

Source: West Coast Native News

 

COAST SALISH TRADITIONAL TERRITORY, Aug. 9, 2014 – In a heartless and illogical move, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is refusing to allow Secwepemc First Nations devastated by the worst mining disaster in BC history to apply some of their Section 35 fish for salmon to catches in Musqueam First Nation’s downstream waters.

The Secwepemc First Nations refuse to catch the salmon they rely on at this time of year because of the water contamination fears from the impact of Monday’s massive Mount Polley tailings pond breach, which sent millions of liters of mine sludge flooding into the rivers and tributaries in the Cariboo region at peak spawning season. First Nations are already finding dead fish in the debris field. Yet rather than recognize this and act out of common sense and decency, DFO is insisting any salmon caught in Musqueam waters before they head further up the water system must be counted against Musqueam’s quota.

Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow stated, “This event illustrates the difference between ancient First Nations cultures and the governments. When people are in need the First Nations response is: how can we help? We will invoke our traditional protocols and will respond to the Secwepemc people whose vital salmon resource is impacted. We simply respond to the needs of the Elders and Secwepemc Chiefs rather than apologize for the irresponsible actions of industry.”

On August 8th, the Musqueam held a teleconference with Chief Bev Sellars and Chief Ann Louie and offered to provide them with salmon from the mouth of the Fraser. Chief Wayne Sparrow stated, “it was a moving telephone discussion to hear of their loss and the fears that they have to collect salmon in their territory. We have great respect for the interior First Nations who hold the territories that incubate the eggs for all of our communities’ future use.”

Chief Bev Sellars from the Xatsull First Nation states, “we don’t believe the BC government’s water tests and have reviewed the list of toxic heavy metals that were released from the tailings dam earlier this week. The Provincial and Federal governments seem to be taking the position that the water tests are fine so no harm is done. They are doing their best to stand up for the mining industry and leave us in the background to suffer the consequences. Governments should not be apologists for the reckless acts of industry but should work to reassure and support the Elders need for salmon.”

MacLean’s magazine is calling the fears raised by First Nations as ‘eco-babble’ because now the initial water tests are not as serious as expected. Chief Ann Louie from the Williams Lake Indian Band states, “I challenge anyone to come up to our territory and look at this disaster and say everything is fine. We are talking about the respect for basic human dignity and telling us the water tests are fine and at the same time don’t go in the water confirms our fears that we should not consume the fish in the impacted area as a source of food for the coming winter.”

The Musqueam are asking for others to speak out against the government’s ridiculous position that penalizes any First Nation that attempts to help others in need. Regardless of this decision by governments we are committed to support these communities with healthy fish.

The Tsleil Waututh First Nation, a neighbour to the Musqueam, has also offered to support the Secwepemc people by providing fish.

Wayne Sparrow is the elected Chief of the Musqueam First Nation located at the mouth of the Fraser River. Bev Sellars is the elected Chief of the Xatsull First Nation and Ann Louie is the elected Chief of the Williams Lake Indian Band whose collective communities were directly impacted by the Mount Polley disaster. Their traditional territory is approximately 500 km north of Musqueam.

First Nations Transparency Act may do more harm than good: Hayden King

Aboriginal people may find themselves with even less power to create change

By Hayden King, for CBC News, Canada, Aug 02, 201

 

The First Nations Financial Transparency Act may result in aboriginal people finding themselves with even less power to create change.The First Nations Financial Transparency Act may result in aboriginal people finding themselves with even less power to create change. (CBC News)

 

This week the federal government’s legislation, The First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA), was made law.

Financial statements and salaries of First Nation council’s were posted on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s website earlier this week. And those councils who refuse to participate will face a court order.

According to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, this is an effort to provide First Nations people with transparency and allow them to hold their elected leaders accountable. In other words, to empower them.

Given the early reactions to the publication of this data, I don’t share the assessment. So what can we expect?

First, we can expect the media to find a handful of chief and councils that pay themselves unjustifiable salaries.

This reporting has already begun and at least one B.C. chief has found himself on national news broadcasts and other national media for consecutive days.

AFN National Chief Ghislain Picard says the act calls for disclosure of information above and beyond that of other governments, including potentially sensitive information about business dealings. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

AFN National Chief Ghislain Picard says the act calls for disclosure of information above and beyond that of other governments, including potentially sensitive information about business dealings. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Of course, this information is important to know. But we can also expect the media to do little else. Few will cover the hundreds of chiefs and/or councils that make $10,000 a year. Few will examine the extreme AANDC underfunding this new data reveals.

Few will ask critical questions about the consequences of First Nations (which are often both governments and corporations) disclosing the details of business dealings with current and/or future negotiating partners.

Second, because of the likely superficial media reporting we can expect many to run with the popular “corrupt chief” narrative to shape their desired policy changes.

Many so-called experts on First Nations peoples in the media and politics will generalize to indict all leaders as taxpayer leeches (though the language will be more delicate).

‘With the media identifying the problem of corrupt chiefs and so-called experts proposing assimilatory solutions, there will be confirmation that the Indian problem is the Indian’s own fault’– Hayden King

Certainly we’ll see organizations like The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which spearheaded the legislation in the first place, use the generalization to call for the erosion of treaties, end of “special” Indian status, privatization of reserves, etc. While taxpayer activism is certainly common, it seems to provoke a special kind of fury when involving Indigenous Peoples.

Third, we can probably expect many Canadians to harden their perspectives on First Nations peoples.

With the media likely focusing on the corrupt-chiefs problem and the so-called experts proposing assimilatory solutions, that will be confirmation for many that the Indian problem is the Indian’s own fault.

And since the challenges indigenous people face will be perceived as a self-inflicted suffering, many Canadians will feel absolved of any responsibility to First Nations, and will instead feel permitted to cast judgement and simply wait for civilization to reach the natives.

In short, the transparency act will be an effective tool to solidify apathy and disengagement with indigenous perspectives and ideas.

Fourth, we can probably also expect the federal government to double-down on the unilateral “aboriginal” policy that has been ongoing for some time.

This includes stripping communities of power in areas of social policy, extinguishing rights and title, reducing program resources, andgenerally trying to transform communities into municipalities under provincial jurisdiction.

With the First Nation leadership being stripped of legitimacy, and Canadians oscillating between aloof and angry, much of the opposition to this increasingly transformative trend will be neutralized. The FNFTA may actually grant AANDC greater licence to intervene in the lives of indigenous peoples.

Finally, we can expect First Nations people to use this data to continue to hold their leadership accountable.

The reality is that most communities already have access to this information (and much more) and generally they do not skirt or ignore issues of bad governance.

From the broad Idle No More movement to specific cases like the ongoing Wahta Community Fire in central Ontario (where a Kanien’kehá:ka community shut down its administrative building because the band council wasn’t following transparency rules), the formal and more provocative examples of communities holding leaders accountable and pushing for new (or very old) governance models independent of the Indian Act are numerous.

‘In an era where reconciliation actually means confrontation and our public discourse is often shallow, every new policy, law, court decision, protest and blockade is a struggle to shape the narrative’– Hayden King

All of this is not an argument against the legislation itself or an endorsement of the status quo.

Aside from the obvious absurdity of Canada continuing to dictate to and administer First Nation communities, the content of the legislation is relatively benign. But the consequences may be significant.

In an era where reconciliation seems more to mean confrontation and our public discourse is often shallow, every new policy, law, court decision, protest and blockade is a struggle to shape the narrative.

Despite what Bernard Valcourt claims about the FNFTA, First Nations may find themselves with even less power to create change.

Ontario First Nations ready to die defending lands: chiefs

5 chiefs serve notice that they’ll assert treaty rights over their traditional territory

 

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy and Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister speak at a Toronto new conference on Monday. On Tuesday, Ontario chiefs said the provincial and federal governments haven't respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which give First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy and Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister speak at a Toronto new conference on Monday. On Tuesday, Ontario chiefs said the provincial and federal governments haven’t respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which give First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

 

By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press Posted: Jul 30, 2014

Aboriginal people in Ontario are prepared to lay down their lives to protect their traditional lands from any unwanted development, a group of First Nations chiefs said Tuesday.

Five aboriginal chiefs served notice on the Ontario and federal governments, developers and the public that they’ll assert their treaty rights over their traditional territory and ancestral lands.

That includes the rights to natural resources — such as fish, trees, mines and water— deriving benefit from those resources and the conditions under which other groups may access or use them, which must be consistent with their traditional laws, said Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy.

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy says "all those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, enquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent."

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy says “all those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, enquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent.”

 

“All those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, inquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent,” he said.

“We will take appropriate steps to enforce these assertions.”

‘No respect’ for agreements with ancestors

Tuesday’s declaration follows a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in late June which awarded 1,700 square kilometres of territory to British Columbia’s Tsilhqot’in First Nation, providing long-awaited clarification on how to prove aboriginal title.

The ruling also formally acknowledged the legitimacy of indigenous land claims to wider territory beyond individual settlement sites.

But in a separate decision a few weeks later, the court upheld the Ontario government’s power to permit industrial logging on Grassy Narrows First Nation’s traditional lands. Grassy Narrows is different from the Tsilhqot’in decision because it involves treaty land, not aboriginal title.

Grassy Narrows argued that only Ottawa has the power to take up the land because treaty promises were made with the federal Crown.

The high court ruled that the province doesn’t need the federal government’s permission to allow forestry and mining activity under an 1873 treaty that ceded large swaths of Ontario and Manitoba to the federal government.

The Ontario chiefs who spoke out on Tuesday said the provincial and federal governments haven’t respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which gives First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources.

‘Land has become sick’

Aboriginal communities have seen what Canadian and Ontario laws have done to their land over the last 147 years, Beardy said.

“The land has become sick,” he said. “We become sick. We become poor, desperate and dying.”

The people of Grassy Narrows First Nation are still suffering from mercury poisoning decades after the Wabigoon river around their land was contaminated by a local paper mill, Beardy added.

Grand Chief of Treaty 3, Warren White, argued that Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognizes the state of Israel, but not the lands of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.

“He needs to have the same principles that he’s saying about Israeli lands to Treaty 3 territory and native lands in Canada,” White said.

“Clean up your own backyard before you go and spill a lot of money into disasters in other countries.”

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation added that the province’s aboriginal people will draw a line in the sand, put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that’s what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says Ontario's aboriginal people will put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that's what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says Ontario’s aboriginal people will put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that’s what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

“We’re no longer just going to be civilly disobedient. We’re going to defend our lands, and there’s a big difference there,” he said.

“Our young people are dying, our people are dying. So let’s die at least defending our land.”

Aboriginal communities don’t want to harm others, said Beardy. But they’ll do what they must to stop an incursion on their lands, such as forming human blockades to stop the clearcutting of trees, he said.

“Anything that happens on our aboriginal homeland now, they must consult with us,” said Roger Fobister Sr., chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation. “Even if they’re going to cut down one tree, they better ask us.”

How a town in Maine is blocking an Exxon tar-sands pipeline

By Roger Drouin, Grist

 

tar sands protestors in Maine
350.org
 

Citizens trying to stop the piping of tar-sands oil through their community wore blue “Clear Skies” shirts at a city council meeting in South Portland, Maine, this week. But they might as well have been wearing boxing gloves. The small city struck a mighty blow against Canadian tar-sands extraction.

“It’s been a long fight,” said resident Andy Jones after a 6-1 city council vote on Monday to approve the Clear Skies Ordinance, which will block the loading of heavy tar-sands bitumen onto tankers at the city’s port.

The measure is intended to stop ExxonMobil and partner companies from bringing Albertan tar-sands oil east through an aging pipeline network to the city’s waterfront. Currently, the pipeline transports conventional oil west from Portland to Canada; the companies want to reverse its flow.

After an intensely debated, year-and-a-half battle, the South Portland City Council on Monday sided with residents like Jones who don’t want their city to end up as a new “international hub” for the export of tar-sands oil.

South Portland city council meeting
Dan Wood
Proponents of the Clear Skies ordinance, wearing blue, packed a South Portland city council meeting on July 9.
 

“The message to the tar sands industry is: ‘Don’t be counting your chickens yet,’” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “There is a pattern of communities saying ‘no’ to the threat of tar-sands oil.”

A clear signal

The ordinance could have global implications. The Canadian government expects the nation’s oil industry to be producing 4 million to 6 million barrels of tar-sands bitumen a day within a few years, and it’s pinning its hopes on somehow getting all that oil to coastal ports, said Richard Kuprewicz, president of Washington-based pipeline safety consulting firm Accufacts Inc. Indeed, a recent report from the International Energy Agency found that the industry needs export pipelines in order for its boom to continue.

South Portland’s move is just the latest setback for plans to pipe the bitumen out to international markets. Another big hurdle is the long delay over the Keystone XL pipeline. And in Canada, pipeline plans have met with opposition from indigenous peoples (known as First Nations), who are taking the lead to stop projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar-sands pipeline through British Columbia.

Now, there is a clear signal that communities along the U.S. East Coast will fight tar-sands expansion too.

“Do not under estimate the power of a local government,” said Kuprewicz.

“A lot of perseverance”

In early 2013, residents formed Protect South Portland to try to stop the Portland-Montreal Pipeline reversal. They put an initiative on the November 2013 ballot to block the project, but it lost narrowly at the polls.

So the city council took up the cause. In December of last year, the council voted to impose a six-month moratorium on shipping tar-sands oil out through its port. Then a council-appointed committee crafted the Clear Skies Ordinance to permanently block tar-sands shipments, which is what the council officially approved this week. The law also changes zoning rules to block the construction of twin smokestacks that would be needed to burn off bitumen-thinning chemicals before the oil could be shipped out.

Over the past few months, concerned residents met in homes and Protect South Portland grew. Meanwhile, the group Energy Citizens, backed by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s largest trade group, ran ads that said “It’s just oil. From Canada.” The oil companies hired a number of lawyers and brought public relations firms on board.

Protect South Portland spokeswoman MJ Ferrier estimates that the grassroots group was outspent by at least 6 to 1.

So how did residents win over Big Oil? “A lot of perseverance and a lot of community engagement,” Voorhees said.

After the vote, supporters of the ordinance went to a local bar, and “we raised our glasses,” Jones told Grist.

Cautious celebration

But while local activists are celebrating this week’s win, they know “this is not the end,” said Jones.

South Portland Councilor Tom Blake, who’s been a champion of the effort to protect the city from tar sands, said a legal challenge seems imminent, by either Portland Pipe Line Corp., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, or by the Canadian government. Blake had this message for the oil company and Canadian officials Monday evening: “This ordinance is the will of the people,” he said. “Do not spend millions of dollars and force the city of South Portland to do the same.”

But the oil interests are unlikely to heed his warning.

Tom Hardison, vice president of Portland Pipe Line, told reporters that the city had made a rush decision and bowed to environmental “off-oil extremists.” He added that the zoning changes amounted to a “job-killing ordinance” that prevents the city’s port from adapting to meet the energy needs of North America.

Matthew Manahan, attorney for Portland Pipe Line, told the city council before the vote that its ordinance is “illegal” and “would clearly be preempted by federal and state law.”

“The council is ignoring the law” and “ignoring science,” the lawyer added.

Air and water worries

Like the process of extracting tar-sands oil, the process of transporting it takes a huge toll on the environment. Before the heavy, almost-solid bitumen can be sent through pipelines, it has to be thinned with a concoction of liquid natural gas and other hydrocarbons. And then before it can be loaded onto ships, that concoction has to be burned off. ExxonMobil currently holds permits to build two smokestacks on South Portland’s waterfront that would do the burning.

Ferrier, a retired psychologist and a nun, joined Protect South Portland largely out of concern for what the oil companies’ plans would do to air quality in an area that has already received a “C” for ozone pollution from the American Lung Association. The proposed smokestacks would emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “We know there is benzene in it, a known carcinogen,” said Ferrier.

Resident Andrew Parker had similar concerns. “Tonight is about children,” he said at Monday’s city council meeting. “The oil company will put poison in the air, that is a fact.”

For Mayor Gerard Jalbert, who also sits on the city council and voted in support of the ordinance, it came down to concerns about water quality. The risk of water contamination in the case of a spill far outweighed the nebulous claims about job creation.

“When I look at the economic benefit, which no seems to be able to detail, the risk seems to outweigh the benefit,” Jalbert told Grist.

The easternmost 236-mile stretch of pipeline crosses some of the most sensitive ecosystems in Maine, including the Androscoggin River, the pristine Crooked River, and Sebago Lake, which supplies drinking water for 15 percent of the state’s population.

Blake, the council member, is worried that using old pipes to transport heavy bitumen could lead to a spill like the one that happened in Mayflower, Ark., in March 2013, when an ExxonMobil pipeline built in the 1940s ruptured and spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of tar-sands oil.

Saying “no” to tar sands is part of a bigger shift to a greener future in South Portland, Blake added. “Being a community that has been heavily dependent on petroleum, this turns a tide,” the councilor said.

He pointed to a new electric-car charging station at the city’s community center and potential plans to build a solar farm on an old landfill as steps toward a sustainable future. “I think we are starting to walk the talk,” Blake said.

Roger Drouin is a freelance journalist who covers environmental issues. When he’s not reporting or writing, he is out getting almost lost in the woods. He blogs at rogersoutdoorblog.com.

Canadians are eating tar-sands pollution

Caelie Frampton

Caelie Frampton

 

By John Upton, Grist

Tar-sands extraction isn’t just turning swaths of Canadian land into postapocalyptic film sets. New research shows it’s also contaminating the wild animals that members of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations have traditionally relied on for food.

We already knew that the tar-sands operations have been dousing northern Alberta with mercury and other forms of pollution. Now university scientists have collaborated with the First Nations to test the pollution levels in hunted animals found downstream from the tar-sands sites. Here are some lowlights from their findings, which were included in a report published on Monday:

 

Arsenic levels were high enough in in muskrat and moose muscle; duck, moose, and muskrat livers; and moose and duck kidneys to be of concern for young children. Cadmium levels were again elevated in moose kidney and liver samples but also those of beaver and ducks … Mercury levels were also high for duck muscle, kidneys, and livers as well as moose and muskrat kidneys, especially for children. …

Total levels of PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] and levels of carcinogenic and alkylated PAHs were very high relative to other food studies conducted around the world.

The First Nations members aren’t shocked to hear this. Some have already started avoiding their traditional foods because of worries about contamination, they told researchers. More from the report:

Participants were concerned about declines in the quality of [traditional] foods, in the greatest part because of environmental pollutants originating from the Oil Sands. It was notable how many participants no longer consumed locally caught fish, because of government-issued consumption advisories and associated human health concerns. Muskrat consumption had also declined precipitously, along with muskrat populations, a decline that was attributed to changes in hydrology and contaminant levels associated with the WAC Bennett Dam and the Oil Sands. The only effective alternatives to traditional foods are store-bought foods. …

All participants were worried about ongoing declines in the health and wellbeing of their community. They generally viewed themselves as less healthy than their parents, who rarely got sick. Neurological illnesses (e.g. sleeping disorders, migraines, and stress) were most common followed, in descending order of frequency, by respiratory illnesses (e.g. allergies, asthma) as well as circulatory (e.g. hypertension, coronary) and gastrointestinal (e.g. gallbladder, ulcers) illnesses. Yet, everyone was most concerned about the current and escalating cancer crisis.

A documentary about the research — One River, Many Relations — will be released in October. Here’s a trailer:

Can Canada’s indigenous communities stop Prime Minister Stephen Harper from turning the country into a petrostate?

foreignpolicy.com

VANCOUVER, Canada — On Canada’s western coast, where rain-forested mountains dip into gray-blue seas, the political anger is ready to explode. The indigenous people, whose ancestors have fished, hunted, and thrived here since the last ice age, are furious about an energy policy dreamed up in Ottawa that they fear could permanently damage their land and destroy their way of life.”Opponents can mock our love of our home as sentimental, but it won’t change what we feel,” the award-winning indigenous novelist Eden Robinson wrote recently in the Globe and Mail. “[T]he mood in our base is simmering fury.”

Robinson lives in Kitamaat Village, a small community some 400 miles north of Vancouver, near where the Kitimat River meets salt water. Its 700 indigenous inhabitants belong to the Haisla nation, one of 630 such recognized “First Nations” across Canada, which has called this coastal region home for thousands of years, going back to long before European settlers first arrived in the 18th century.

Lately the Haisla have had to reckon with a new unwelcome visitor: Calgary-based Enbridge, one of the world’s largest fossil fuel transporters. If the Northern Gateway project the company has been proposing for the past decade goes forward, a pipeline pumping 525,000 barrels per day of heavy crude from Alberta’s oil sands would end within walking distance of Robinson’s home. Tensions in her community are so high, she wrote, that “people will spit at you if they think you support Enbridge.”

It’s likely they will also spit at someone they think supports Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In June, his Conservative government approved the $7.3 billion Gateway project, which would ship oil across the Rocky Mountains to the Port of Kitimat, load it onto supertankers, and sell it for a premium to Asian markets. To reach the Pacific, supertankers must first navigate the winding Douglas Channel. In 2006, a provincial ferry crashed and sank in the channel, and people living in the nearby Gitga’at Nation village of Hartley Bay fear that history will repeat itself — but on a scale of environmental and cultural damage hard to fathom. They recently stretched a 2.8-mile crocheted rope in protest of Gateway across the Douglas Channel.

“Each stitch is shaped like a teardrop,” said blockade organizer Lynne Hill, “because this is a very emotional thing for us.”

“Each stitch is shaped like a teardrop,” said blockade organizer Lynne Hill, “because this is a very emotional thing for us.”

For Harper, Gateway promises a $300 billion GDP boost and the prestige of achieving his most important foreign-policy goal, to remake Canada into a global “energy superpower.” But to many First Nations living along the pipeline’s 731-mile-long route, Gateway symbolizes “everything that people don’t want,” Robinson said.

They intend to fight the pipeline in court by arguing for legal authority over land they’ve lived on for millennia and never surrendered to the federal government. A landmark decision from Canada’s Supreme Court on June 26 may have brought groups like the Haisla one step closer to achieving that authority.

Tension between indigenous people and the pipeline project are nothing new. In 2006, Enbridge sent surveyors, chain saws in hand, into the ancient forest near Kitamaat Village to scout sites for an oil terminal. They felled 14 trees that bore living evidence of First Nations history: deep notches made by the Haisla hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of years earlier. “We compared it to a thief breaking into your house and destroying one of your prized possessions,” Haisla Councilor Russell Ross Jr. told me in 2012.

The relationship between the Haisla First Nation and Enbridge only got worse. Five years after the tree-cutting incident, the company offered a $100,000 settlement, which was “almost an insult” in the opinion of Chief Councilor Ellis Ross, as he stated in a letter to Enbridge’s president. Even worse was Enbridge’s additional offer to make amends with a “cleansing feast.” If such a ceremony was practiced widely in Haisla culture, Ross wasn’t aware of it.

“I have never witnessed Haisla Nation Council initiate a cleansing feast and I doubt I ever will,” he wrote to the firm. “I would appreciate it if your company’s shallow understanding of our culture is kept out of our discussions.”

All along the Gateway route, Enbridge was making similar cultural flubs. These gaffes, along with a negotiating style Robinson described as heavy on “talking points” and light on listening, had by 2011 caused 130 First Nations across British Columbia and Alberta to oppose the project, many of them not even directly impacted by it. “If Enbridge has poked the hornet’s nest of aboriginal unrest,” Robinson wrote, “then the federal Conservatives, Stephen Harper’s government, has spent the last few years whacking it like a pinata.”

The whacks began coming after Harper’s Conservatives won their first-ever majority rule in 2011. Since then, his Conservative Party has made it easier to get oil and gas projects approved, has cut environmental protections, and has proposed contentious changes to indigenous education. “It’s felt like the Conservatives have just been hammering us with legislation,” Robinson said. Tension with the Conservatives are so widely felt among First Nations that in late 2012 there emerged a protest movement called Idle No More, whose sit-ins, rallies, and hunger strikes brought national attention to the cause of indigenous sovereignty.

This May, a United Nations envoy deemed native distrust of Harper a “continuing crisis.” On Gateway, Harper has done little to ease the problem. After the U.S. rejection in early 2012 of TransCanada’s Keystone XL, a pipeline that was supposed to link Alberta’s oil sands to Texas, the prime minister “expressed his profound disappointment” to U.S. President Barack Obama, Harper’s office said in a statement. A week later, at the World Economic Forum, Harper vowed to export oil to Asia instead. Projects like Gateway were now a “national priority,” he declared.

For Harper, the economics of the project provide good reason for its priority status. Enbridge estimates that, once completed, Gateway would boost Canada’s GDP by $300 billion over the next three decades. Ottawa alone stands to gain $36 billion in taxes and royalties. And there is the issue of Canada’s role in the world. One month after the World Economic Forum, in February 2012, Harper traveled to China, where an influential crowd of Chinese business executives that Canada is “an emerging energy superpower” eager to “sell our energy to people who want to buy our energy.”

While Harper delivered that pitch in Europe and Asia, his then-natural resources minister, Joe Oliver (now finance minister), was declaring war on Gateway opponents back at home. In an open letter, Oliver lashed out at the “environmental and other radical groups” that in their protests against the pipeline project “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”

It was a tactical stumble, wrote George Hoberg, a University of British Columbia professor who studies the Gateway standoff, that pushed “many moderates who were offended by the style of the attacks into strong opponents of the pipeline.” Oliver’s letter was mentioned again and again during two years of federal hearings on Gateway, for which 4,000 Canadians registered to speak.

By the time those hearings finished last December, Gateway had become one of the top political issues in Canada. Much credit for that is due to a sustained media campaign coordinated by British Columbia’s major green groups, which deliberately evoked memories of Exxon’s 1989 Valdez disaster. On the spill’s 20th anniversary in 2009, they declared a “No Tankers Day.”

“There will be a sacrifice we’re asked to make at some point, and the [ecological] damage will be permanent,” said Kai Nagata from the Dogwood Initiative, one of the leading groups in that campaign. “Nobody’s come up with a compelling argument about why we should accept those risks.”

The continual focus on Gateway’s risks — to one of North America’s vastest wildernesses and to the indigenous people living within it — allowed green groups to broker alliances with First Nations all along the pipeline route. They appeared together at joint press conferences and waged a two-front opposition to Gateway so effective that, by this June, nearly 70 percent of people in British Columbia opposed immediate federal approval of the project, according to a Bloomberg-Nanos poll.

“The reason why Gateway has become such a political albatross for Stephen Harper,” Nagata explained, “is he’s managed to find a way to align the majority of British Columbians with the majority of First Nations.” Not to mention Vancouver’s mayor, British Columbia’s premier, and Harper’s political opponents in Ottawa, all of whom have spoken out against the project.

None of that opposition has deterred the federal Conservatives, though. In mid-June Harper’s government officially approved Gateway, deeming it “in the public interest.” Within hours of the announcement, a coalition of almost 30 First Nations and tribal councils in British Columbia were vowing to “immediately go to court to vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project,” and promising that “we will defend our territories whatever the costs may be.”

Unlike in the United States, where indigenous peoples were conquered and then settled on reservations, few along Gateway’s proposed route have ever surrendered territory. What power they actually wield over that territory is legally disputed. Yet a Supreme Court decision on June 26 granting land title to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation gives greater legal standing to native groups with unresolved land claims.

The consequences of that decision, as well as the autonomy it ultimately provides to indigenous people, will be decided if groups like the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, which represents eight First Nations across central British Columbia, challenge Gateway in court as unconstitutional. “What we’ll really be doing is testing our authority and our jurisdiction over the land,” said Terry Teegee, the council’s tribal chief. “It’s really hard to imagine this project going ahead.”

Enbridge is still confident. “We are prepared” for legal challenges, the company’s CEO, Al Monaco, said during a recent conference call, in which he contested the notion that people like Teegee speak on behalf of all First Nations. Monaco argued that 60 percent of indigenous people living along Gateway’s route in fact want to see it built (a claim called “ridiculous” by the Coastal First Nations group). Those court battles that First Nations do bring, in Monaco’s opinion, are likely to be resolved in Enbridge’s favor over the next 12 to 15 months. Gateway’s construction could begin shortly after. “This is not necessarily an endless process,” he said.

For indigenous people like Robinson, as well as the Unist’ot’en husband and wife now living in a wood cabin built intentionally along the pipeline’s path, the fight against Enbridge stands in for a larger cultural struggle. So long as companies and governments continue to view the rights of First Nations “as an impediment to getting what they want,” Robinson said, the struggle will surely continue.

Jennifer Castro/Flickr Creative Commons

First Nations ceremonial shaming rite targeted at federal government

An ancient First Nations ritual steeped in symbolism is going to take place in the nation’s capital this summer.

 

 by Carlito Pablo on Jun 25, 2014, Straight.com, Vancouver BC

 

First Nations carver Beau Dick says a copper shield, like the one he holds, will be shattered in Ottawa in a symbolic gesture of anguish.Carlito Pablo

First Nations carver Beau Dick says a copper shield, like the one he holds, will be shattered in Ottawa in a symbolic gesture of anguish.
Carlito Pablo

A copper shield will be smashed on Parliament Hill, an act believed never to have been done before in Ottawa. Called copper cutting, the ceremonial shaming practice will evoke what many consider to be a broken relationship between the federal government and Canada’s aboriginal people.

“Our coppers are a symbol of justice, a symbol of truth, a symbol of balance,” according to Beau Dick, a renowned carver from Vancouver Island’s Namgis First Nation.

At his UBC studio, the resident artist in the department of art history, visual art, and theory explained that breaking copper constituted an insult in old times.

“It is banishment. It is an expression of extreme disappointment and anguish,” Dick explained to the Georgia Straight.

The ritual, indigenous to Natives of the Pacific Northwest, had not been practised for decades until the 59-year-old artist revived it last year.

After marching for a week from the northern tip of Vancouver Island with relatives and supporters, Dick shattered a copper shield in front of the B.C. legislature in Victoria on February 10, 2013.

During a gathering at UBC later last year to celebrate his artist residency, the idea was born to perform the ceremony in Ottawa. One of those present at that social event was Giindajin Haawasti Guujaaw. Also a famous carver, Guujaaw is a former president of the Council of the Haida Nation.

When aboriginal representatives meet on Parliament Hill on July 27 for the shaming ceremony, it will be Haida copper that will be split.

“We’re facing a federal government here that has shown total disregard for the environment, for the wildlife, for the people of the coast, and we want to express that in the best way that we can and that’s in the breaking of the copper,” Guujaaw told the Straight in a phone interview.

Foremost among the grievances is Ottawa’s recent approval of Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway oil pipeline, a $7.9-billion project that has divided First Nations in B.C.

“It’s a one-show pony over there. They’re only interested in oil,” Guujaaw noted.

The Haida artist also mentioned cutbacks to Fisheries and Oceans Canada undermining the conservation of marine resources that many Native groups rely upon for food and cultural purposes. Guujaaw said he doesn’t expect anything to change on the part of the government anytime soon.

As to what aboriginal people want to put across to Ottawa, Guujaaw said: “The message will be the ceremony.”

In the past, copper was a marker of Native wealth and status, according to Eldon Yellowhorn, chair of SFU’s department of First Nations studies. When chiefs held a potlatch, the metal was given as a gift, said Yellowhorn, who hails from Alberta’s Piikani First Nation.

Although the planned breaking of copper may be symbolic, he noted that it’s indicative of Native sentiment about processes around projects such as oil pipelines. “Many of them feel that they haven’t been consulted,” Yellowhorn told the Straight by phone, “so I’m sure this is a way of illustrating to the government that they’re not pleased.”

Like broken metal, frayed relationships can be restored, but there should be amends, according to Dick. “There has to be atonement,” he said.

On Wednesday (July 2), Dick and Guujaaw will meet at the UBC First Nations House of Learning for ceremonies to kick-start a cross-country journey to Ottawa. Dick’s five-year-old grandson and an almost 90-year-old aunt are coming along.

“We as a First Nation group want to move forward together in unity with our fellow men to create a better world,” Dick said. “I think that this is where we start this notion of reconciliation and unity.”

Tsilhqot’in Nation welcomes recognition of full aboriginal title for the first time in Canadian history

Photo from http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/brent-patterson/2013/11/council-canadians-supports-tsilhqotin-nation-supreme-court

Photo from http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/brent-patterson/2013/11/council-canadians-supports-tsilhqotin-nation-supreme-court

 

By Tsilhqot’in Nation, June 26, 2014. Source: Intercontinental Cry

The Tsilhqot’in Nation welcomes the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision overruling the BC Court of Appeal’s judgment on Aboriginal title. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the 2007 ruling of the BC Supreme Court and declared Aboriginal title to approximately 2000 km2 in the heart of the Tsilhqot’in homeland, in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of British Columbia.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling ends a long history of denial and sets the stage of recognition of Aboriginal title in its full form. Rejecting the BC Court of Appeal’s impoverished view of title as specific, intensely used sites is a step towards true and lasting reconciliation for all First Nations. The Tsilhqot’in Nation has worked tirelessly with many organizations to make this a reality.

“We take this time to join hands and celebrate a new relationship with Canada. We are reminded of our elders who are no longer with us. First and foremost we need to say sechanalyagh (thank you) to our Tsilhqot’in Elders, many of whom testified courageously in the courts. We are completing this journey for them and our youth. Our strength comes from those who surround us, those who celebrate with us, those who drum with us” said Plaintiff, Chief Roger William of Xeni Gwet’in.

Xeni Gwet’in Chief William states, “First Nations across this country have taken legal action, entered into treaty, practiced their language and demonstrated use of the land and through this they have supported us – we thank you. Non-First Nation organizations and First Nation organizations are adamant in helping us and we are grateful. We are especially grateful for the support we received from our neighbors, the non-Aboriginal residents and businesses in the title area, who intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada to say that they welcomed a declaration of Aboriginal title. These organizations have been interveners and in general support – sechanalyagh.”

“Under our own laws and teachings there is no question that these are our lands. This is the end of denying rights and title. We met the legal test in 2007 and that should have been the end of it. This decision will bring much needed certainty for First Nations, government and industry. This case is about us regaining our independence – to be able to govern our own Nation and rely on the natural resources of our land. We are ready to move forward in this new relationship with government and industry. That work starts today” said Chief Joe Alphonse, Tl’etinqox Government, Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chairman.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs stated “amazing, absolutely amazing! Thank you Tsilhqot’in for your courageous leadership, temerity and relentless tenacity! The Supreme Court of Canada completely repudiated the greatly impoverished and highly prejudicial positions of the BC and Federal governments which formed the basis of the BC Court of Appeal decision. As parties supporting the Tsilhqot’in in this case, we worked collectively to ensure the Supreme Court of Canada would understand that recognizing Indigenous Title and Rights do not diminish Canadian society, it enriches it. Let us celebrate this momentous and historical victory!”

BCAFN Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould stated, “This decision is a game changer. The court has clearly sent a message that the Crown must take Aboriginal title seriously and reconcile with First Nations honourably.” She continued, “The decision is an opportunity to truly settle, once and for all, the land question in BC – where our Nations are not simply making claims to the Crown under an outdated federal policy but where there must be true reconciliation based on recognition and where the outcome of negotiations is certain. On behalf of the First Nations in British Columbia, heartfelt congratulations to the Tsilhqot’in people.”

This decision needs to be acknowledged as a positive step forward in reconciliation between the government and First Nations. Resolving Aboriginal title reduces conflict, creates the opportunity for respectful relations and ends an era of denial. We stand in solidarity with all other First Nations and Indigenous people globally in the necessity of resolving land claims and moving forward.

First Nations leaders urge natives and non-natives to unite against Northern Gateway

A Protest sign hangs from a building in the town of Kitimat, British Columbia, April 12, 2014. Residents of the town voted against the Northern Gateway pipeline project in a blow to Enbridge Inc’s efforts to expedite the flow of crude from Canada’s landlocked oil sands to high-paying markets in Asia. Photo taken April 12, 2014.

A Protest sign hangs from a building in the town of Kitimat, British Columbia, April 12, 2014. Residents of the town voted against the Northern Gateway pipeline project in a blow to Enbridge Inc’s efforts to expedite the flow of crude from Canada’s landlocked oil sands to high-paying markets in Asia. Photo taken April 12, 2014.

 

Globe and Mail Jun. 17 2014

The federal government’s decision to go ahead with the Northern Gateway pipeline brought chiefs and elders to tears when news reached them at a scientific conference on ocean health in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Shaking with anger, their voices trembling with emotion, native leaders brought the conference to a standstill Tuesday as they spoke of their dismay over the decision – and of their commitment to fight to stop the project from ever getting built.

“Pretty shocking … it’s a tough, tough piece of news,” said Wigvilhba Wakas, a hereditary chief of the Heiltsuk Nation.

“We see this all over the world, where corporate interests are overriding the interests of the people,” said Guujaaw, past president of the Council of Haida Nation and one of the top political leaders among native people in B.C.

“It’s way out of control and it’s probably going to take decisions like this for people to stand up [together]. I think this is a test of humanity now to stand up and fight back,” he said.

Wickaninish, former president of the Nuu-Chah-nulth Tribal Coucil, said the federal government had made “an ominous decision” that he hoped would unite native and non-native people in a common cause, as the battle over Clayoquot Sound did in his traditional territory on Vancouver Island, where mass arrests stopped logging near Tofino.

“This is not just an Indian fight … it’s all the people,” he said.

Wahmeesh, vice-President of the Nuu-Chah-nulth, said he felt an emotional blow when he heard the decision, which spread around the conference as participants read the news bulletins on their smartphones.

“My heart kind of sank, like I’d lost somebody. Like a death in the family,” he said.

Wahmeesh said he was going to return to the Nuu-Chah-nulth, a large collection of 14 tribes on the west coast of Vancouver Island, for an urgent meeting on the pipeline project. And he promised that the chiefs would be united in pledging support to those tribes along the pipeline route across Northern B.C.

“This is probably the biggest decision this government will ever make in my lifetime [affecting First Nations],” he said, struggling to find a way to describe the magnitude of the decision.

Wahmeesh echoed those who urged a coalition between native and non-native people to fight the pipeline.

“We’ll stand together as Canadians,” he said.

Margaret Edgars, an elder from the Haida Nation, was in tears as she spoke to the gathering of scientists and native leaders from Alaska, B.C., Washington, Oregon and California who had gathered for a conference to discuss the resurgence of sea otters on the West Coast.

“I was hurt a bit when I heard it,” she said of the news of Ottawa’s support for the project. “But with everyone speaking out about it here I’m feeling a little stronger. … I think we’ve had enough of what they’re doing. It’s time to stand together united. … We have to continue with the fight.”

After Alaskan delegates had reminded the gathering of the long, enduring impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Ms. Edgars said tankers pose too great a risk to coastal B.C.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/first-nations-leaders-urge-natives-and-non-natives-to-unite-against-northern-gateway/article19214189/?cmpid=rss1