Onkwehonwe Week in Review (Apr. 27 – May 4)

Indigenous rights pose a threat to federal government’s agenda

OTTAWA – The Guardian has obtained documents from the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, showing the federal government is afraid the increasing clout of indigenous rights could constrain its aggressive resource development plans.

The ministry runs a risk management program and creates annual reports that evaluate how treaty rights and newly-established legal precedents could pose risks to the government’s agenda.

The documents show the government is not only keeping close tabs on indigenous movements, but that it’s actually afraid that the assertion of indigenous rights will interfere with its plans to attract more than $650 billion in investment over the next ten years. Much of that investment is centred around exploiting the tar sands and other natural resources located on ancestral indigenous lands.

“There is a tension between the rights-based agenda of Aboriginal groups and the non-rights based policy approaches” of the federal government, reads one of the reports quoted by The Guardian, which could “undermine (its) ability…to move forward…(with) its agenda.”

Secwepemc Woman Warriors call for solidarity against Mount Polley project

BRITISH COLUMBIA – Demonstrations were held on April 29 in some cities to protest the possible re-opening of the Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine dam in British Columbia. The public had until May 2 to submit their comments on the controversial project.

The Secwepemc Woman’s Warrior Society used the hashtag #waterislife to call for protests of solidarity across Canada, which were eventually scheduled to take place in Kamloops, Toronto, Portland and in front of the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles.

In August 2014, the tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine burst, causing millions of cubic metres of water contaminated with toxic metals to spill onto Polley Lake, Quesnel Lake, and the Fraser River watershed, reported the Vancouver Observer.

Provincial officials contend that more than 150 water quality tests completed at Quesnel Lake and Mount Polley territory have shown that the water is safe to drink as long as it is filtered. However, the Times Colonist reported that water test results “have continued to show periodic elevated levels of metals….(and that) government guidelines were exceeded for copper for aquatic life on the Quesnel River near the town of Likely.”

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation in state of emergency, cut off from mainland

MANITOBA – The only ferry connecting the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation reserve on the Ontario-Manitoba border to the mainland failed a federal inspection last week and is now out of service. This has left people cut off from essentials like food and health care in a reserve that’s been under a water-boil-advisory for the last 17 years.

The reserve received an emergency shipment of bottled water on the weekend, but by press time there was only enough to last a few more days. Chief Erwin Redsky has therefore declared a state of emergency, and told CBC News that a repair crew would take a look at the vessel to see if it could be fixed in time for the upcoming inspection next week.

However, the vessel is only a temporary solution, added Redsky; people still fall through the ice trying to get to their homes every year, since there is no safe road. There has been some talk between the feds, the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba about a design-study for an all-weather-road, but no concrete steps have been taken, reported the CBC.

Native Americans protest canonization of 18-century missionary

CALIFORNIA – Native Americans in California are protesting the Pope’s decision to canonize an 18th century Franciscan missionary, who they say violently converted natives to Catholicism.

During a seminary in Rome to train future priests from North America, Pope Francis praised Junipero Serra for his “zeal” in not only converting but even protecting the indigenous population against colonizers. Francis will travel to Washington, D.C. this fall to make Serra a saint on September 23.

However, indigenous people say Serra did nothing more than collaborate to the genocide of their ancestors and the theft of their lands. They contend that he enslaved converts and helped spread diseases that wiped out their populations and culture.

Ron Andrade, a member of the La Jolla Indian Reservation and director of the Los Angeles City and County Native American Indian Commission, told Red Power Media that “(Serra knew) by destroying the culture and the lifestyle (of Native Americans), they would die.”

Indigenous groups in the United States have also been lobbying to remove a statue of Serra from the U.S. Capitol, reported Red Power Media.

Lessons learned from South Africa’s apartheid and Canada’s residential schools

TORONTO – The daughter of Reverend Desmond Tutu visited the Chippewas of Georgina Island in Toronto during a diversity symposium last week, where she talked about the dark histories that Canada and South Africa share.

Rev. Mpho Tutu and Chippewa representatives shared tragic stories about the atrocities of apartheid in South Africa and of residential schools in Canada. They also talked about the importance of mutual respect between nations and of Truth and Reconciliation Committees- one of the major themes of this year’s bi-annual symposium.

“In Canada, the policy was based on the belief that aboriginal communities were communities of inferior people, which is exactly as was the case in South Africa,” Tutu told APTN News. “It takes an enormous amount of courage on those who were survivors of the abuse, and an enormous amount of courage on those actually willing to sit and listen, and I hope more Canadians are willing to sit and listen to those stories and experiences.”

Justice Murray Sinclair, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee chair, also told APTN News that they have learned a lot from South Africa’s TRC process, and stressed the importance of education.

“Ultimately, we need to change the way we educate children to change the relationship. We need to look at establishing an objective around reconciliation, which needs to include relationships of mutual respect,” he said.



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