Onkwehonwe week in review: August 24, 2016

Indigenous leaders from across the country praise Gord Downie’s words at tour finale

The Tragically Hip’s lead singer, Gord Downie, bas been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  Since then, the Canadian band announced the Man Machine Poem tour as a way to say farewell to their fans across the country. The tour ended on Saturday, in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario with over 12 million people tuned in to the finale, which aired on CBC and over 120 000 people streaming internationally online.

Before the end of the final Tragically Hip concert, Downie used the opportunity to address Indigenous issues, specifically in Attawapiskat. “We’ve been trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there, and what’s going on up there ain’t good.  It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been, so it’s not on the improve,” he said to millions of people watching the concert.

Indigenous leaders, like Sheila North-Wilson, Grand Chief of the Manitoba Keewatin Okimakanah (MKO), are expressing their gratitude and are acknowledging Downie’s strategic use of public attention. “The words were very simple but the gesture was huge,” North-Wilson said.  “I hope they don’t fall on deaf ears and hardened hearts.  We need to use his words as a call to action, to respect each other.”

Russ Diabo, a Kahnawake Mohawk, policy analyst, writer and activist agreed with Downie’s comments, pointing out that the colonial relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian government were violently complex. “That’s where poverty comes from.  It comes from the dispossession of land and resources and everybody being put on reserves that are for the most part just big enough for residential purposes, but not economic purposes. They’re too small to have an economic base to develop an economy and that leads to fiscal dependency on Ottawa,” he said.

Gord Downie has also inspired frontline warriors in British Columbia who have shared how the Tragically Hip were the soundtrack through much of their lives and how Downie would always acknowledge the territory he was on and the people who ancestrally lived on the territories he was playing on.

Cecilia Point, a Musqueam nation member who helped to lead her community towards victory in the protection of sacred sites in 2013 said that “Courage” is one that she would listen to before heading to the frontlines of that action. “Gord Downie is a very inspirational man,” she said.  “I am glad he uses his voice to advocate not just for First Nations but for the environment, as well.”


Two Haida Hereditary Chiefs stripped of their titles for supporting Enbridge pipeline

On Saturday, more than 500 clan members attended potlatch ceremony in Old Massett, British Columbia. Hereditary chiefs of the Haida nation were removed from their leadership roles and matriarchs appointed new chiefs in their place.  Ceremony like this hasn’t happened since the 1800s.

“This is an absolutely huge decision and I think it is a wake up call to the hereditary system of governance and leadership,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. “I think First Nations across the province and throughout Indian Country in general are paying attention to these developments.”

Carmen Goertzen of the Yahgu 7laanas Dadens Clan and Francis Ingram of the iits’aaw Yahgu ‘laanaas clan were both removed by family matriarchs for signing a letter which supported the Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. “We have values and morals and we want our chiefs to be prime examples of those values and morals,” said Ernest Swanson, nephew of head chief Darin Swanson.

Their leadership was also revoked because they received per diems for attending meetings with Enbridge.

The Haida nation has long been opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline because of the adverse affects on marine plants, animals, the water and the land.  “It is a very important area to the Haida people,” said Terri-Lynne Williams Davidson, lawyer for the Haida. The pipeline would guarantee an influx of oil tankers which would carry diluted bitumen from the pipeline to offshore refineries.

This conflict happens amidst a strong cultural resurgence in the Haida nation. “It is a clear message that hereditary leaders need to know and understand their stewardship responsibilities to caretake the land in a proper and responsible fashion,” said Chief Stewart Phillip.


Niagara residents protest the destruction of Thundering Waters Forest

A coalition of young and old alike, Indigenous peoples, environmentalists and landowners groups have all come together in opposition to a proposed development that could level over 200 acres of dry forest which is adjacent to 200 acres of wetlands.

The proposed development is led by China based GR Investments Co. Ltd which bought the land in November 2015.  CITIC Group, the real estate arm of the Chinese government announced in Beijing that it will be a shareholder and invest $100 million towards the proposed development.

Thundering Waters Forest is home to 13 acres of provincially significant wetlands and a 500 year old gum tree. The coalition are working to stop the proposed development to protect the land.

Early in July, a rally was organized by Karl Dockstader, Oneida nation from Fort Erie.  “Just to be clear, if they don’t start listening to us, we’re going to say it louder. Whatever it takes to get the message across,” he said.  The message is that enough is enough. The rally called for a moratorium on the project until a transparent public process determines the full social, environmental and economic benefits of the forest remaining intact, said Dockstader.

The rally was also a reminder of the treaty relationships between Indigenous peoples and settler-colonial governments. “As an Indigenous person, I have to remind all levels of government in Niagara, you have a responsibility,” said Celeste Smith, Oneida nation from Six Nations. “And that is to consult my community when embarking on large scale development projects that alter the environment for generations to come. I’m here to tell you, you have not done that.”

City planners have offered the idea of “biodiversity offsetting” which would mean moving the wetlands to another area.  St. Catherine’s resident Ed Smith, spoke to Niagara City Council telling that biodiversity is ecosystems, species and genetics that can’t be reproduced.  He continued on to comment that the science behind the idea that simply moving the wetlands doesn’t exist.

“It can only be created through thousands of years and billions of kilograms of glacial ice scraping,” he said.

John Barnsley, Manager of Policy Planning has since tabled recommendations calling for more public consultation and more information and review before development moves forward, including consultation with Indigenous peoples.  The next meeting happens August 23 at City Hall in Niagara Falls, Ontario.


Elder dies after stroke misdiagnosed as drunkenness

Hugh Papik, 68, suffered a stroke on August 3 at a senior’s home in Aklavik, Northwest Territories. His niece Maggie Papik said she received a call from a support worker at the home telling her that her uncle was drunk and that she needed to come take care of him.

Upon arrival, she found her uncle lying in his own urine screaming, “I’m not drunk.  I’m not drunk.” Knowing he was in medical distress, she told the staff to call an ambulance.  She took him to the Aklavik Health Centre where Papik said that nurses also assumed he was drunk.  The lack of medical ethics and professionalism left Papik untreated for six hours. “We just sat there, they never did a physical,” she said.

Papik was then transported to two different facilities until finally he was moved to Yellowknife for a CT scan. “That’s when they found out his right side of his brain is swelling in three places,” Papik said. “Swelling so bad, it’s pushing on the left side of his brain and they told me he’s not going to make it.”

Since sharing her uncle’s story, people have been contacting Maggie Papik and sharing stories of how elders are mistreated within the Canadian healthcare system. “People are too afraid to speak up against  the medical systems, but I can do it. These elders need somebody to stand up for them. Who is going to do it? There’s lots of scared people,” Papik said.

The Northwest Territories have since promised an independent investigation. “I am deeply troubled by the comments that the care provided by a particular situation was not appropriate,” said Health Minister Glen Abernathy in a release on the death of Hugh Papik. “The serious nature of certain concerns expressed in the media warrant a comprehensive external investigation.”

Papik’s family removed him from life support last week. “He was a happy-go-lucky person, always joking, always laughing.  He never like to see anybody sad and down and out.  He’d probably give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.” Papik is arranging to have her uncle’s body returned home for a funeral.

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