Onkwehonwe Week in Review: May 25, 2016

Prospect of development on disputed land prompts concern from Mohawks in Kanesatake

A municipal bylaw, which allows for the development of 400 homes between Oka Provincial Park and the town of Oka, has sparked concern from Kanesatake. According to Ellen Gabriel, activist and artist, the disputed land is Mohawk territory and in order to protect the land from further development, she is encouraging Canada to invoke the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the International Declaration that the country endorsed last week.

“We need time and we need the government to intervene and stop the craziness of the municipality of Oka, which is the same situation as that of land development and dispossession from 1990,” said Gabriel. The community doesn’t want another “Oka Crisis”, rather they would like to work together.  “International laws apply to the municipality of Oka. I think people are fed up with the theft of the land.”

Grand Chief of Kanesatake Serge Simon said that people should not “jump the gun” about the municipal bylaw that was recently passed. “The mayor assured me that he has no plans of development in the near future,” he said.  Oka mayor, Pascal Quevillon and Chief Simon has agreed to consult with each other on future land developments. “They just had to update their municipal regulations,” Simon continued.

Mayor Quevillon said that Ottawa can forbid Oka from developing the land, but would have to compensate the town for lost revenue. He said that Oka needs a bigger taxbase. New housing is needed for people who have nowhere to live.  Community members remain adamant that Oka needs to ask first before they build any new houses.


Homeless Indigenous actor, poet and writer found dead on the streets of Toronto

Forty-two-year-old, Ramsey Whitefish is having his creative gifts celebrated and highlighted following his death. Whitefish was found after midnight last Wednesday on Gloucester Street in Toronto, Ontario. Following his death, a YouTube video of Whitefish offering his interpretation of Hamlet’s soliloquy surfaced. The soliloquy was reinterpreted through Whitefish’s lens as an Indigenous homeless man in Toronto.

The “astonishing monologue” was captured through an outreach program by Sanctuary, a Christian organization that provides services for the city’s homeless. In 2012, Sanctuary Art Director, Lyf Stolte was approached by Whitefish and his street brothers to ask about acting, referring to it as “to be or not to be.” Over six months, Lyf met with Whitefish and the video came out of that experience.

Twenty-four-year-old Trevor Severin is facing second degree murder charges for the death of Ramsey Whitefish.


Resilient 98-year-old grandmother returns to the hunting camp she was raised in

Mary Katapatuk and her family have hunted geese at Jack River for nearly a century.  Jack River is 75 kilometres north of Waskaganish, the town where Katapatuk currently lives, and lies along the eastern shorelines of James Bay. It is here that Mary was raised. Her father, Tommy Jacob, taught his family how to live on the land, how to hunt and how to harvest traditional food.

“I remember the past, what my father used to do,” Katapatuk said. It is the reconnection with tradition that has made it possible for her great grandsons to also experience life at the camp. In Cree communities, everything closes down for a few weeks while families head out to their camps to hunt the returning geese.

After Mary was old enough, she married and had children of her own. She continued to practise her traditional way of life. “We would haul our own stuff.  I would pull the toboggan.  We didn’t use any dogs. We would pull our toboggans from our bush camp to Waskaganish. We would do so leaving and returning to the community,” recalled Katapatuk.

This spring, Mary returned by helicopter to harvest geese with her children and great grandsons. “It was very special because that’s where I killed my first goose when I was six years old,” said Mary’s grandson, Norman Katapatuk. This year, two of her great grandson’s celebrated their first kill. “It has always been the way to hunt geese, snow geese.  It was always our way of life,” said Katapatuk.


INAC occupation in Regina celebrates one month of solidarity

In April, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) offices across the country were shut down in solidarity with the State of Emergencies that were being declared in response to the astronomical suicide rates in Attawapiskat and First Nations in Saskatchewan. All of the Occupy INAC actions have wrapped up and the activists have gone home, except for the one in Regina.

The action in Regina is now called “Colonialism No More” and they are camping outside of the office in a fight for systemic change. This past week, Colonialism No More celebrated one month of solidarity.  After calls for help weren’t being answered, the group decided to stay until these voices were heard. “We wanted the community to be heard.  We wanted to be an amplifier for the communities,” said Robyn Pitwanakwat, who camps out every night with her three small children.

“I see Canada getting rich and being successful but right alongside them are all the people who originally lived here and we live in poverty, we’re sick, we’re dying, we’re committing suicide,” said Darren Maxie, one of the activists on site. INAC’s relationship with the group has evolved over the past few weeks after answering the activist’s demands, which included reopening the office so that it can serve the people and to continue dialogue.

Despite the co-operation from the INAC office in Regina, the systemic issues related to the ongoing crises in Indigenous communities continue to rage on. Children are still living in third world living conditions, being subjected to living in homes with mold or with water that needs to be treated before drinking.

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