OTTAWA – Concerned Onkwehon:we people from communities and nations across the part of Turtle Island known as Canada, delivered a powerful message to Prime Minister Steven Harper and his cabinet, that the gauntlet has been officially thrown down and it had better be taken seriously.
Thousands of people converged upon Ottawa last Wednesday to demand that Harper kill two controversial bills and open a public inquiry into the files of an estimated 1,300-1,500 missing and murdered First Nations women over the past 30 years, most of which have never been resolved and many not even investigated.
It was an empowering moment that solidified and joined the hearts of Cree, Anishinabik and Haudenosaunee people against the Harper government’s Bill C-10, on the Native tobacco trade, Bill C-33 on First Nations Education Act, and the missing women.
Four bus loads were sent from Six Nations, including Elected Chief Ava Hill.
“We know how to educate our kids,” Hill said over the microphone about C-33. “The federal government doesn’t need to tell us.”
“We will find justice for our missing and murdered women and the families they left behind. I am sick and tired of this government and we need to get rid of them, and we need to get our friends in mainstream Canada to help us get rid of them.”
On Bill C-10 she said, “To me there is no such thing as contraband tobacco. Tobacco is very important to us and we use it for our ceremonies. We have the inherent right to trade with our brothers and sisters across this land and no government is going to stop us from doing that. They are not going to make criminals of our people. They are not going to tell us that we cannot make our own money and give people jobs.”
The tobacco business at Six Nations and other Haudenosaunee and Anishinabik communities is becoming a very important industry. It is creating an opportunity for self sufficiency to individuals, families, as well as entire communities. Under Bill C-10, these entrepreneurs and employees within the tobacco trade will be criminalized and face immediate jail terms.
“They are not going to make criminals of our people,” she declared. “They are not going to tell us that we can not make our own money and give our own people jobs.
They have not consulted with us on anything. Nothing about us, without us.”
To that, she received a loud round of applause from the gathering.
Hill then turned the mic over to Six Nations Mohawk, Bear Clan tobacco farmer and cigarette manufacturer, Chris Greene, who followed with a moving and powerful speech, on the three main topics of interest.
“When big tobacco was found to have broken the law, they were fined,” said Greene. “They want to put us in jail. Bill C-10 will put more of our people in jail immediately and without a trial.”
Mainstream media has been repeating the federal government’s allegations that the Native tobacco trade is linked with terrorist groups and criminal gangs. But Greene declared that there is no credible link between gangs and terrorism and the Native tobacco industry.
“Jailing Onkwehon:we business people will not make the streets safer,” she said.
In fact she warned that the passing of C-10 in particular has potential to start a Native backlash that will cost the government a lot more than they anticipate gaining from the tax grab.
“We and our customers are not criminals,” she said. “Our people are strong and will defend our livelihoods and we will protect ourselves,” Greene said. “We have frustrated the Canadian government with their inability to collect taxes on all of our trades. While funding to our communities continues to be cut, they talk about how much money they are loosing from our tobacco trade. But it’s money that they never had in the first place.”
The only partisan political statement of the day came from NDP Member of Parliament, Jean Crowder from British Columbia, who acknowledge the Parliament Building itself is on unseeded Algonquin territory.
“On behalf of NDP leader Tom Mulclair, I want to commit that we will stand shoulder to shoulder together with you until First Nations have control of First Nations education,” she pledged.
Chief Isadore Day of Wiindawtegowinini, Serpent River First Nation, said the two bills in question are all about the continued and deepening hold the federal government has and wants to have over First Nations economy and the very future of Onkwehon:we people as a distinct people, apart from mainstream Canada.
Derek Nepinak, outspoken Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, added, “We have got to stop this bill (C-33) and we have gone to extensive measures and have gone to great lengths to raise the issue that there is no consensus on the content of this bill. Let’s kill this Bill!”
He called the reports of consent among the Chiefs nothing more than propaganda.
“The Chiefs sat in assembly and said they would not surrender the birthright of our children,” he said. “We are in the fight of our lives.”
There were several others who were speaking to the issue of missing and murdered women. One speaker, identified as Holly and representing the Sisters in Spirit group, led people in a moment of silence.
“Steven Harper and his cabinet have no respect for our communities and show it every time they ignore a recommendation,” she said. “He (Harper) took our recommendations and threw them on the ground. This is a passive genocide from the Canadian government.”
She spoke of a petition with tens of thousands of names on it calling for a public inquiry into these cases, which was ignored by the Harper government.
“I hope that the general population will wake up and see what he is doing with their tax dollars,” she said.
After gathering at the Centre Block, the demonstrators marched to Ottawa City Hall, and then to the East Block and Steven Harpers office, leaving chalk messages on the sidewalk and buildings. The PM was not in at the time, but everyone involved vowed to keep the pressure on Harper until he revokes both Bills and agrees to an inquiry.