Onkwehonwe Week In Review: August 31, 2016

Health Canada closes nursing stations on remote Northern reserves with 2 days notice

On August 23, federal officials shocked Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) with a memo saying that an “alternative delivery plan would go into effect on Thursday.” Although there is federal policy that states First Nations must be staffed with two nurses at all times, Health Canada spokesperson Eric Morrissette said that “an insufficient number of nurses caused the temporary closure in the communities of Keewaywin and Summer Beaver.”

Keewaywin and Summer Beaver are both fly in communities that are only accessibly by road in the winter time when water ways are frozen over. Both First Nations are represented by the umbrella political organization called Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Forty-nine communities are part of NAN covering more than 338,000 square kilometres of territory and representing more than 45,000 members.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said that the continued challenges in staffing these nursing stations is intolerable. “This has caused unnecessary chaos and confusion leaving our leaders scrambling to ensure the health and safety of their community members,” he said. According to a Health Canada memo, community members would still have access to telemedicine nursing services but must be accessed through alternate nursing stations.

However, NAN Deputy Grand Chief Jason Smallboy called the decision one that “exacerabates” an ongoing health crisis that is gripping Indigenous communities. The alternate nursing stations are only accessible by plane. “I strongly disagree with Health Canada’s reliance on alternate sites for health care access and telemedicine as temporary solutions,” said Smallboy.

“Residents of remote fly in communities cannot simply drive to neighboring communities,” he said.

In the 2015 Federal Auditor General’s report, Michael Ferguson confirmed repeated criticisms made by Indigenous leaders that the quality of health care in remote First Nation communities is “sorely inadequate.”

Charlie Angus, Ontario NDP MP has urged Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott to address the inadequate attempts by the federal government to care for Indigenous health. “She’s aware of the crisis, she knows the magnitude of the crisis, she knows that lives are at stake.” Angus said that the federal level of systemic ignorance flies in the face of the Liberal’s promise for a “new relationship” with Indigenous peoples. “It’s simply more of the old, same old disinterest that we saw with the last government.”


RCMP arrest Indigenous land defenders protecting wild salmon from fish farm industry

On August 23 four members of the Yaaskwiis Warriors were arrested and charged on unceded and unsurrendered Ahousaht territory after a non-violent interaction with CERMAQ fish farm employees. These arrests come only days after CERMAQ’s eviction from Musgamagw Dzawadq’enuxw (Kingcome Inlet) on August 18, 2016.

According to a statement released by Ancestral Pride, the Yaaskwiis Warriors have continued to monitor CERMAQ’s activities and have made it clear that CERMAQ is not welcome and is operating illegally in Ahousaht waters.

CERMAQ is “one of the largest players in the global salmon farming industry,” according to their website. Further, they say that their industry was created in response to the global demand for fish. However, the conditions for growth of fish farmed salmon has created hazards for the wild sockeye salmon that originally occupy the waters.

CERMAQ was shut down in 2012 with more than half a million fish being culled as a result of an IHNin virus outbreak. “Fish farms are actively disrupting and destroying wild salmon populations through the spread of disease, lice and dissemination of antibiotics, feed and other chemicals into the waters they operate in,” said the release by Ancestral Pride. Despite these facts, many officials support CERMAQ.  There are currently 17 fish farms in their territory.

The Warriors reference this year’s sockeye salmon run, which was the lowest recorded in history. They also assert their responsibility to protect the wild salmon from corporations like CERMAQ and the Canadian government. The four warriors were arrested and released with a promise to appear on November 7, 2016 in Tofino, British Columbia.


Tuscarora food sovereignty through seed saving and gardening

Skaroreh Katenuaka is a seed saving project located in a Tuscarora community in North Carolina. The project seeks to exemplify the importance of decolonizing indigenous diets with indigenous foods as a way of practicing sovereignty.

Fix Cain is a community member who initiated the project several years ago. “I came up with the idea as a way to maintain a living history.” he said. “It is also a way to reconnect with my childhood at a time when I would tend to the white corn with my aunts.”

“As I started to ask more questions, I discovered a great number of varieties and couldn’t resist the urge to recover as much as I possibly could.  It evolved from there.”

Seed banks, like Skaroreh Katenuaka, are blazing pathways towards preserving parts of Indigenous cultures that might be otherwise forgotten; our food. These pathways demonstrate sovereignty and they showcase methods of how to live freely without government interference. According to Cain, state and federal recognition of Haudenosaunee sovereignty was never removed but rather “intentionally neglected.” As such, Skaroreh Katenuaka will not seek state and federal recognition, which Cain calls a “degrading and humiliating” process.

“There are elements of life that should never be surrendered to any one person, group or foreign nation,” said Cain. “These things are clean water, clean soil, clean air, clean medicine and clean food.  Our agriculture ties into all of that. Our gardens need clean water, soil, air. In return, they will take care of us.”

The impact of traditional diets have positive impacts on the health of Indigenous community members, especially in regards to the diabetes epidemic that plagues many First Nation communities. “Decolonized diets – what people are calling it now – have helped people reduce their symptoms, if not entirely of diabetes.”

The seed bank has many varieties of corn that are used for many purposes, including a good diet as well as medicine for internal ailments. The group’s garden is also used to teach community members about traditional Tuscarora agriculture. “In the future, we hope to be able to provide more fresh produce to our community and share the seeds,” said Kim Sierra, member of Skaroreh Katenuaka.  “This helps ensure our future generations have what they need to survive and the knowledge to grow it.”


Sixties Scoop rally sees hundreds on Toronto streets before “landmark court ruling”

The Sixties Scoop is the name given to a time between December 1965 and December 1984 in which Indigenous children were removed from their homes and adopted into non-indigenous homes. The Sixties Scoop was legislatively reliant upon a provincial-federal agreement. However, Canada failed to uphold one of the key provisions which said that First Nations must be consulted – and provide their consent – before provincial child welfare services were extended onto reserves.

Last Tuesday, more than 200 people from across Ontario rallied ahead of a court hearing that would seek justice for those children who had their identities stolen. The $1.3 billion class action lawsuit argues that Canada failed to protect the cultural heritage of the Indigenous children resulting in lived consequences to the survivors of the Sixties Scoop. Canada, however, has attempted to have the case thrown out several times since the case was first launched in 2009. They argue that they were “acting in the best interest of the children and within the social norms of the day.”

Speakers at the rally defined the Sixties Scoop as cultural genocide, one in which 16,000 children were adopted out into communities that were not their own. “I just want to say to Canada, we will not allow the harm of our children. We need to bring our children home, the ones that were lost, the ones that were stolen,” said lead plaintiff Marcia Brown Martel, from Temagami First Nation near Kirkland Lake, Ontario. The rally then marched behind drummers towards the court house that seen elders and Brown Martel sitting in the jury box because of how packed the court room was.

The lawsuit seeks $85,000 for each affected person and alleges that Indigenous children affected by this policy suffer(ed) emotional, psychological and spiritual harm due to the disconnection rooted in the loss of their cultural identity. Jeffery Wilson, the lawyer representing the case, asserted in court that the Sixties Scoop may have been part of the government hidden agenda to “remove the savage Indian from the child” although Wilson was unable to identify any motivation for such an act. “The case is precedent setting because it is the first in the Western world testing the state’s obligation to protect and preserve the cultural identity of children, in this instance, First Nations children.”

Ontario NDP MP, Charlie Angus questioned why the hearing was taking place in light of the federal government’s talks of reconciliation. “The government talks very positively but they still have the thugs in the justice department … fighting these court actions on a daily basis. This is a day of justice, a day of reckoning.” On Tuesday, the plaintiffs made a motion for a summary judgment, essentially calling on Court Justice Edward Belobaba to decide the case based on the evidence already in front of the court without the need for a trial. However, the hearing was adjourned to December 1, 2016 so that the federal government could have time to make their case.

Martel, however, believes that it will take more than a lawsuit to help First Nations people heal this cultural genocide. “For the people who are here that they would be able to speak their language, as they should – that they would be able to understand and have a knowledge of their culture and tradition, not only as a knowledge but as a lifestyle, that these are integral parts of being a human being on this planet.”

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