Onkwehonwe Week in Review: September 28th 2016
Indigenous nations across Turtle Island sign mutual defence treaty to protect against tarsands expansion
Chiefs lined up to add their names and their nations to an international alliance that will stop tarsands expansion projects in their traditional territories. The alliance will block all proposed pipeline, tanker, and rail projects affecting indigenous territory, including: TransCanada Energy East project, Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain expansion, Enbridge’s Line 3 and Northern Gateway projects.
Grand Chief of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Stewart Phillip was also there to endorse the treaty alliance. “In this time of great challenge, we know that other First Nations will sign on,” he said, extending the invitation to Indigenous nations across the continent. “Based on our sovereign, inherent right to self determination, we have collectively decided that we will pick up our sacred responsibilities to the land, waters and people. We will come together in unity and solidarity to protect our territory from the predations of big oil interests, industry and everything that represents.”
Pointing to Standing Rock, Chief Phillip noted that this is a movement that’s already started and continues with great momentum. The Treaty Alliance Against Tarsands Expansion commits to signatories to assist in the battle against tarsands development projects and to work on partnerships to move society towards more sustainable lifestyles.
The Alliance is strategically designed in that dangerous projects will be unable to escape using alternate routes. “We have the right and the responsibility to stop these major threats our lands, our waters, and our peoples,” said Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon. “For example, from Quebec, we will work with our First Nation allies in British Columbia to make sure that the Kinder Morgan pipeline does not pass and we know they’ll help us do the same against Energy East.” Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, is more geared towards cooperating with the Canadian government. “We want to work with the Prime Minister and the government to develop a sustainable economy that does not marginalize our people. This is a time of great spiritual awakening for our peoples, as we reinvigorate our Nations and ensure a better tomorrow for all.”
However, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby group said that the Treaty Alliance will not change the way it’s members “do business” with Indigenous communities. “Our member communities work with First Nations and Metis communities all the time, regularly, and have a long history of doing that,” said Brian McGuigan, CAPP’s manager of aboriginal policy. “We’ll continue to work with them everyday and have very positive relationships … it’s not always easy conversations, but they continue the dialogue.” This new alliance builds on victories already won by Indigenous nations including a Federal Court of Appeal decision in June that overturned the Harper government’s approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, as well as actions that led to US President Barack Obama’s decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline.
American signatories include the Standing Rock Sioux who are currently fighting the TransMountain expansion project, the Lummi Nation in Washington, White Earth Nation in Minnesota, which has launched legal proceedings against the Enbridge Line 3 project.
Canadian signatories include British Columbia’s Katzie First Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, Wet’su’wet’en First Nation and the Heiltsuk First Nation, amongst many others. “What we are witnessing today was indicated in ancient prophecies that said that all peoples would come together and that convergence was to protect Mother Earth,” said Chief Stewart Phillip.
Organizers realize that their position is forcing the Trudeau government to reanalyze their own position in response to this expression of Indigenous sovereignty. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make them realize it’s going to be business as usual, and that we’re going to stick together and protect each other, right across the country. This treaty is going to be very significant in the coming years,” said Grand Chief Serge Simon.
Third Party Manager misappropriates $1.2 million from Kasechewan First Nation
On Tuesday, the RCMP announced that they have arrested Giuseppe (Joe) Crupi, 50, of Thunder Bay, Ontario, on several counts related to the diversion of $1.2 million from a breakfast program on Kasechewan First Nation towards his own pockets. Crupi is co-manager of a consulting firm that was hired by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to be a “third party manager” after they declared the First Nation unable to handle their own funds.
According to the RCMP, Mr. Crupi kept $700,000 but did not explain what happened to the additional $500,000. “The co-manager, Crupi Consulting, made annual applications and reported on, 400 children benefiting from a breakfast program at St. Andrew’s school on reserve between 2005 and 2011.,” said Seargent Penny Hermann. “The RCMP investigation concluded that the service was not provided to the children as reported and the co-manager, Crupi Consulting, personally profited from the contribution funds.”
Auditors alerted the RCMP of the misappropriation of funds in 2012. They told the RCMP that several Band Councillors had questionable invoices from the Crupi firm, that had been paid by Kasechewan but for which there was no supporting documentation. The RCMP’s serious and organized crime section in Thunder Bay, Ontario, charged Crupi with three counts of uttering forged documents, laundering the proceeds of a crime and possession of property obtained by crime.
Kasechewan is a consistently resilient community that actively survives flooding, inaccess to clean drinking water, improper housing infrastructure, unemployment and a suicide epidemic. Advocates for the First Nation community in Northern Ontario say that any fraudulent diversion of funds from a community that lives with such problems is a despicable act. “That is a significant amount of money for any community to lose,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of Nishnawbe Aski Nation. “It is unconscionable for anyone to do this under any circumstances, and especially for a community like Kasechewan where resources for kids are so desperately needed.”
“Crisis of Confidence” in Thunder Bay after police department begins investigation into institutionalized racism
In an unprecedented move, the Thunder Bay police department will be reviewed by the province’s civilian police oversight body because of the ways that they treat the lives and deaths of Indigenous peoples.
“In terms of the action of this relatively new police oversight body, this is precedent setting in the province of Ontario,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempeh, an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, who specializes in race, crime and policing. “It is the first time they have investigated an entire police service for institutionalized racism.”
The investigation by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director comes nearly a year after the drowning death of Stacey DeBungee, which was quickly deemed “accidental” by the Thunder Bay Police Department.
The family hired a private investigator shortly after the Thunder Bay police department closed his file. He found several suspicious circumstances, including the use of DeBungee’s bank card days after his death.
“There’s a justice for non-Natives and there’s a justice for Natives — that’s what needs to be addressed,” said DeBungee’s cousin Sonny McGinnis. “There has to be inclusion of us as worthy citizens. First Nations lives matter.”
The review will also look into “the approach taken to such or similar cases”, indicating that the Office of the Independent Police Review Director has already identified reasons for an intervention. However, following the letter written to the lawyer for Rainy River First Nation, a spokeswoman for the OPIRD said that several steps would have to be undertaken before a formal review can begin.
The police in Ontario have been under the spotlight for bad behaviour since the G20 in Toronto, where arrests and fines were arbitrarily given out, and several lawsuits have followed, and been won by victims of police brutality. This extends to last years shooting of Sammy Yatim in Toronto, Ontario. Closer to home, last month, Thunder Bay police officers were undergoing cultural sensitivity training and the facilitator felt so violated that she had to leave the training session early.
She said that officers were laughing during the presentation, as well as “twirling in their chairs.” The spokesperson for the Thunder Bay police department said that it was a “misunderstanding”.
Nonetheless, there are countless Indigenous peoples who do not trust police services because of the ways that people are treated while living, much less in the way that they are dying and the ways in which they are treated after they have died. The OPIRD will not be reviewing the Thunder Bay police department in the near future, however it has been identified as needing support for race relations.