Onkwehonwe week in review: May 11-18

Indigenous communities vow to continue opposing energy projects harmful to environment

B.C. — First Nations in British Columbia will continue to oppose and reject any energy projects that fail to lead proper consultations with First Nations and which could therefore threaten the environment, according to the president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip praised the Lax Kw’alaam First Nation’s decision to reject a $1.15-billion pipeline deal that would have created a suspension bridge on the nearby Flora Bank, affecting the local salmon habitat. Phillip said their decision was “principled” and “courageous,” citing the irreparable damage to the delicate salmon habitat and the Skeena River used by indigenous peoples for millennia, a CTV News article reported.

Phillip added that the combination of companies’ disregard for safe environmental practices coupled with the federal government’s gutting of environmental regulatory bodies is resulting in stronger indigenous opposition to the energy projects being proposed by TransCanada, Enbridge and Keystone, to name a few.

Members of the Lax Kw’alaams band said they are still open to development, including the proposed LNG pipeline, but not near the Flora Bank, according to CTV News.


Mohawk activist shut down CN Railway

TORONTO – Mohawks from Tyendinaga and Akwesanse territories successfully shutdown the CN railway’s tracks between Toronto and Ottawa on May 16 as a way to pressure the federal government to call a national public inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.

The standoff, which lasted about three hours, ended with four activists being arrested, including John Fox, whose daughter Cheyenne Fox was killed in a Toronto hotel last April. However, the situation dissolved after police agreed to the activists’ demands to release Fox.

Fox’s daughter’s death was ruled a suicide by police. However, Cheyenne, who was a sex worker, was found dead after she had fallen from the hotel’s balcony while working.

The shutdown was called after Friday’s Parliamentary committee failed once again to make mention of violence against indigenous women, according to Dan Doreen, one of the spokespersons for the Mohawks.

The three other activists still in custody are facing charges of mischief, assault and “weapons dangerous,” according to an OPP spokesperson.

Fox promised that the fight was far from being over, and made a call for all indigenous people to stand together on the issue.


RCMP rule Teresa Casandra Robinson’s death a homicide

WINNIPEG – Manitoba RCMP have ruled the death of Teresa Casandra Robinson, the 11-year-old girl from the Garden Hill First Nation, a homicide – not something caused by wild animals, as had originally been suggested by community members.

Robinson was reported missing on May 11, a week after she had first disappeared and the same day the RCMP found her body, which they admitted appeared to have been mauled by animals after her death. The Island Lake RCMP detachment released a statement on May 15 saying that although a “positive identification” of the body was not possible at the time, both police and community members felt confident it was indeed Robinson.

According to a CBC article, First Nation leaders said Robinson had last been seen on May 5, after leaving a birthday party in Garden Hill, after which a local search began.

No arrests have yet been made. The investigation is ongoing.


Nunavut’s correctional system in need of major reforms

NUNAVUT – Despite a $900,000 renovation plan for Nunavut’s notorious Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit, the federal auditor general’s report released on March blasted the the corrections system there. It cited specific issues like overcrowding and mould, among others, as major civil liabilities towards inmates, staff and even members of the pubic.

Indeed, in 2013 a federal investigator found that the prison was vastly overcrowded and unsafe for inmates and staff. At any one point, the building made to house 68 inmates has held as many as 115, with an average of six inmates (from all security levels) per nine square metres of cell, reported the Canadian Press.

This overcrowding has led to the deterioration of the building itself as well as of the inmates, who engaged in more violence when lumped together, the report found. Rehabilitation and education programs were also virtually nonexistent.

A new $16-million facility offering an extra 48 beds (called Makigiarvik) was built on March beside the prison to offset some of the overcrowding.

Still, the auditor general predicted that Nunavut will still be approximately 70 beds short within the next decade, according to the Canadian Press.


Indigenous man refuses to sell ‘sacred’ land

MIAMI – A 65-year-old man of indigenous ancestry living in Miami has turned down a developing company’s $1.8 million offer to buy his land because he believes the property stands on sacred ground.

Ishmael Bermudez’ home is close to a major avenue and a metro train stop, but it remains pristine. He even discovered a spring there when he was 19 years old, which has been providing him with water ever since. He therefore refuses to sell the land unless he can be assured that the buyer will not touch the garden, reported The Independent.

Bermudez’ told the Miami Herald that throughout his life, he has discovered many ancient artifacts which he believes were used in rituals by the Tequesta, one of the first Native American tribes to have contact with Europeans.

Bermudez, originally from Colombia, said he would also be willing to sell the land if it were to be turned into a Museum or archeological landmark for the city.

Bermudez was born to a Colombian woman and a man descendant of the Pueblo and Navajo tribes.

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