Onkwehon:we week in Review, May 11 2016

First Nations in Alberta are helping Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees

As wildfires ravage the small city of Fort McMurray, mandatory evacuations were issued. This created a mass exodus along a single highway out of the city. First Nations along the route have created space in their hearts and communities for evacuees.

80,000 residents were forced to leave their homes. The wildfire continues to burn after it left a post-apocalyptic scene in its wake with more than 204,000 hectares of scorched earth behind. Many homes in Fort McMurray were destroyed. Most of the city’s infrastructure has been shut down, including gas and electricity.

To make the mass evacuation easier for people, Fort McKay First Nation, a community of 417 people, has organized meals, gathered diapers and ensured people have their medication. Fort McKay is 50 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. Chief Jim Boucher said that this community has taken in around 3,000 people. However, fuel remains in short supply.

Several other First Nations have offered food, water and space to those fleeing the wildfires. Enoch Cree First Nation gave away free gas. Kapawe’no First Nation took a bus load of food to Fort McMurray and left with a busload full of people. The generosity exemplified by indigenous communities during these times are reminiscent of generations past where Settlers were lost on the land without support.

Most of Fort McMurray is left without vital infrastructure, but Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said that they will provide a schedule for evacuee return within two weeks.


Mi’kmaw Warrior Chief sets up road checkpoints to stop drugs from entering his community

John Levi, Warrior Chief in Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick said that he is going to kick drug dealers out of his community.

“I love my community. I’d do anything for my community,” Levi says of his responsibility as War Chief. He also said that he’s “done talking.” After approaching Chief and Council, the RCMP and holding community meetings, he decided to take action on his own.

The main roads into Elsipogtog are now guarded by check points and they are sending a powerful message. Levi is on the lookout for drug dealers that bring ecstasy, coke, crack, heroin and mushrooms into the community. He said that he will clean up Elsipogtog.

“It only takes one to make the move, that would be me,” Levi said.

Elsipogtog Health Centre does provide addiction counselling but more is needed. Community members would like to see more programs to help people get off drugs. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies also need to be kept in check because they are “overprescribing” medication, said community member Katrina Clair.

John Levi said that he’s not going to back down but he wants more people to help.


Canada “endorses” the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

During the United Nations Permanent Forum’s 15th session held in New York on May 9, 2016, an announcement was made that Canada intends to remove its permanent objector status and become a full supporter of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, alongside Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, attended the Forum while social media buzzed about the “announcement” that would follow.  “We want to demonstrate today and in these coming weeks our commitments to ensure that all Canadians have a truly concrete roadmap to reconcile with indigenous peoples,” Bennett said.

This endorsement will shift federal legislation and confirms Canada’s obligation to work with indigenous communities. According to the government, this announcement makes good on Trudeau’s campaign promises to accept UNDRIP and to fully implement all 94 Calls to Action as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The commitment to work with indigenous communities includes natural resource development, land claim disputes and the right to self-determination. The previous Conservative government opposed these same sections because of the vague language, as well as the veto power that could be exercised by indigenous nations exercising their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, which in included in the UNDRIP.

Jody Wilson-Raybould noted that the issue of consent would take a bit of time to address.  “There are many facets to the question, differing perspectives and a number of options,” Raybould said.

The UNDRIP was passed in 2007 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Canada was one of four nation states to oppose the declaration. Australia, New Zealand and the United States also presented opposition to global implementation of the UNDRIP.


MMIW March held on Mother’s Day

Two years ago, Kelly Goforth went missing and was found murdered two days later. Since then, Kelly’s mother, Maxine Goforth has been organizing Mother’s Day marches to raise awareness of all the indigenous mothers who were taken from their communities.

More than 100 people joined in Regina, Saskatchewan. Many indigenous women go missing in Regina. This march commemorates the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women; it also lets people know that indigenous women are valued.

“I’m walking to come and honour my daughter Kelly and all the other ones who are missing and murdered. What a great way to come and honour them, you know, help keep their memory alive. It’s important, really important,” said Maxine Goforth.

The trial for the man accused of killing Kelly hasn’t started yet, but Maxine is already dreading it.  However, she wants to go to find out and to hold the man responsible.

The community takes pride in raising awareness.

“It’s a cause we need to make awareness of. It’s going to ignite something and I hope everyone hears us,” said Pearl Robertson, one of the marchers.


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