Onkwehonwe Week in Review: September 21, 2016
Winnipeg MP breaks ranks with Liberal caucus over controversial Site C project
The Justice for the Peace Caravan has recently traveled from British Columbia to Ottawa to focus attention on the importance of an appeal currently underway regarding the Site C project. The proposed B.C. Hydro project seeks to dam the Peace River and flood much indigenous territory that has been, and continues to be, used to support livelihoods through hunting, fishing and trapping practices.
On the Winnipeg stop, the Caravan had a chance to talk with Robert Falcon-Ouellette, an indigenous Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre. “I’m not convinced that, after having spoken with some of the people who were traveling across the country, that they have been consulted and talked to and I’m not even sure that we meet the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
On Tuesday, the Treaty 8 Caravan traveled to Montreal to attend an appeal, which ultimately affects all treaty nations, and to pressure the Canadian government to uphold the promises that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made during his election campaign. The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are appealing a federal judge’s decision to approve the construction of Site C despite the projects violation of the constitutionally protected rights to hunt, fish and trap. They will also head to Ottawa to deliver more than 20,000 petition signatures.
The group traveled by bus to Ottawa, stopping along the way to let people know about their opposition to the project that would create an 83 kilometre-long reservoir and flood land that has been traditionally used by indigenous peoples since time immemorial.
The Fisheries Department maintains that a permit granted in July followed “extensive First Nations consultations.”
“I recognize that there are those opposed to the B.C. Hydro clean energy project at Site C, but I also know that the regulatory process leading to the recent authorization to proceed was thorough and included comprehensive consultations with indigenous groups and other stakeholders,” said Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
However, West Moberly First Nation Chief Roland Wilson said on Tuesday that he strongly disagrees with the suggestion that his community was appropriately consulted prior to the approval. “It was well within their power to push the pause button on this until the court cases were done — they chose to ignore that,” Wilson said. “The one-hour meeting that we had — how does that constitute consultation?”
The federal government has also failed to explain it’s reasoning for approving the permit or respond to additional questions, he said. “We offered an olive branch and they took it and stabbed us in the face,” Wilson said.
The Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde has spoken out on the issue, as well. “There’s Indigenous people buried throughout the valley so you’re disrespecting inherent rights, you’re disrespecting treaty rights.”
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was previously outspoken in her opposition to Site C in her role as the B.C. Regional Chief for the AFN. Since her new role as Justice Minister for the federal Liberal government, she has declined to comment. “She paddled with us on the Peace River,” Chief Wilson said. “I don’t believe she’s choosing not to speak. I believe she’s been told, ‘you gave to tow the Liberal line.’”
Alexander First Nation Chief charged with sexual assault refuses to step down
A group calling themselves the Alexander Women Warriors have held a rally to voice their outrage that Kurt Burnstick, current chief of Alexander First Nation, is still in a position of leadership within their community following charges of violence against Indigenous women.
“This is the second occurrence in which Burnstick has been charged with sexual assault of two Alexander women over the past six months,” the group said in a statement.
Alexander Women Warriors have said that Burnstick has publicly spoken at the National Forum for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and that they are deeply offended that he continues to represent their community at public forums.
“It was tough sitting back and watching him represent our community when we knew what was happening in our own community when he was victimizing our own women,” said Janet Campbell, organizer of the Alexander Women Warriors.
“We can no longer tolerate this hypocrisy,” the group said. “He makes a mockery of the issues that continue to harm Indigenous women.”
In March, Alexander First Nation issued a “complete and total media blackout” less than a week after media started reporting Burnstick’s sexual assault charge. On September 6, the Band Council voted to approve a motion repealing the “media blackout”.
In March, Morinville RCMP announced that Burnstick had been charged with one count of sexual assault as a result of an investigation that began in December 2015. They said that the victim was known to Burnstick.
On Tuesday, it was confirmed that he is also charged with a second count of sexual assault, as well as one count of break and enter with intent in connection with that investigation.
Burnstick refuses to step down, even temporarily. The Alexander Women Warriors marched on the Band Office chanting, ‘Hey Hey Ho Ho Chief Burnstick has to go!’ and “No means No!’ with more than 50 people.
The Chief refused to meet with the Women Warriors but three Council members came out and told the group that they were seeking legal advice on how to remove the Chief and hold a re-election.
A memo was sent out by Burnstick supporters in which they said, “We do not condone you attending the Woman Warrior march tomorrow.” It goes on to say, “There will be repercussions in regards to being disciplined, up to and including termination for just cause.” However, community members encouraged bravery in standing up to Kurt Burnstick and his supporters.
Campbell told the band council members that they want a report in a week or they will march again. Burnstick continues to deny the charges. His first trial starts in January 2017.
Oneida language immersion program gets funding
Oneida Nation of the Thames, southeast of London, Ontario, is a place where language revitalization has become a reality. As part of its aboriginal languages program, Heritage Canada will fund the first Oneida language program which aims to create fluent speakers from scratch.
“This makes the difference. This helps to set the basis for where we are going with this,” said Luke Nicholas who leads the Twatati Oneida Language Committee.
The program aims to create speakers in a community impacted by colonialism and the resulting disconnections between parent and child.
“If we create one speaker who wasn’t born into the language, we will have done the impossible because that’s never happened before,” said Nicholas. “Oneida relies heavily on the language in so many instances. Our ceremony, our Thanksgiving, are all done in the language. Medicine ceremony, rituals, name giving, burials and ten day feasts — these are all done in the language.”
“It’s our history. It’s where we come from.”
The $85,000 grant will be used to hire an instructor and several sub-instructors and will be offering honorariums to community members who speak the language.
Now organizers want support from the Oneida Band Council to ensure students get there. “Basically, it’s a hard sell to get students to participate (full time) because some students are the head of a single-parent unit,” Nicholas said. “We are looking for people who have an advanced learning in the Oneida language so they can spend the next six months talking everyday.”
Nicholas asked the Oneida Band Council to match the Heritage Canada grant and is waiting to hear back.
Twatati is modeled after immersion programs in Six Nations. Plans are in the works to start the program in September and to have it run until March. “We know you’re not going to get an absolute fluent speaker at the end of eight months. Our expectation is that after the first year, they’ll have a level of competency to give them a really strong foundation,” said Nicholas. “They’ll be able to create sentences, to read and write but the emphasis will be on speaking. They’ll be talking baby talk.”