Onkwehonwe Week in Review: Week of November 4, 2015

Canadian judge trumps Mohawk sovereignty with recent ruling

Two Akwesasne women have been charged in separate incidents after they dropped people off in Cornwall Island without checking in first with Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).   Dubbed a “constitutional test case”, the women attempted to assert an “aboriginal right to mobility to travel freely” within their territory for family or community purposes.  Having to check in at Cornwall port of entry violates their Charter rights, but Judge Peter Griffiths claims that upholding this right would put the integrity of the border “severely at risk.”

Akwesasne sits in the middle of the St. Lawrence river with the US-Canada border crossing Mohawk territory.  According to the judge, Cornwall border has a “proven history of smuggling of arms, people and contraband.”  The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne said the criminal charges were “absurd” and shows the, “hardship community members endure to simply travel within their own community and attend community events.”  Both women were released with a 6 month conditional discharge.


Controversial statues project protested by Laurier Professors

A project funded by a private citizens group which would have 22 former prime ministers immortalized in bronze statue on land occupied by Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario has been temporarily halted.  Indigenous historian, Kim Anderson, along with her Metis son who is also a fiddler and a friend engaged in some performance art in front of Sir John A. MacDonald’s statue to highlight the erasure of diversity on Laurier’s campus.  MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister, was also responsible for the residential school policy, the incarceration of Cree leaders Poundmaker and Big Bear, as well as the hanging death of Metis leader, Louis Riel.

Anderson says that the statues represent a “violent legacy of displacing Indigenous men from land, language and family.”  Considering that 25% of all incarcerated males are Indigenous, Anderson asserts that Native students that walk by the statues on campus every day, will feel “the slap” associated with the violence of continuing colonialism.  Professor Jonathan Finn delivered a petition with over 1000 signatures to Laurier’s senate.  Finn said that, “a pointed reading on the statues could imply that the university celebrates white, male leaders and not inclusivity.”  WLU Senate would like the university to cancel the project.


First Nations Students write hit song with N’we Jinan

A group of students from Lac Seul First Nation, by Sioux Lookout have produced and performed a song called, “Echo My Soul” and it has been viewed over 95, 000 times on Facebook.  David Hodges, a music educator from Montreal who has a traveling music studio, worked with students to create an environment where kids can feel safe, to foster a sense of belonging and ultimately create some music.  Jennifer Manitowabi, Education Director and Principal for schools in Lac Seul, organized the collaboration because she noticed her students had a real love for music.

Cassie Capay, 16, one of the producers and singers of the song has said that she, “really likes music.”  The song’s lyrics speak of the student’s love for their community and is full of positive messaging.  Manitowabi wanted to show her students that they have the ability to do anything they put their mind to.  Capay said, “Its working!  We’re rising.”  Hodges came back to the community to create a music video with the students.  They have been invited to perform at an upcoming leadership event in Toronto.


Ontario court will decide on possible destruction of residential school evidence.

In a complex case, involving multiple parties like the Canadian government, Catholic and Anglican churches and Indigenous peoples across the country, 3 judges will decide if evidence related to residential school experiences should be destroyed.  The records include the testimonies of over 38, 000 survivors and serve to evidence a painful chapter of Canadian history.  Chief adjudicator of the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), Dan Shapiro argues that the complete destruction of all records is the only way to protect privacy.  Ottawa also argues that IAP records are government records and can only be released 20 years after those identified in it have died.

Justice Murray Sinclair, who headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is concerned that these stories will be lost forever.  “In a few generations, that will allow people to be able to deny the validity of the stories we have heard,” he said.  “Right now, there are deniers of these facts.”  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission would like to see the records in a permanent archive at the National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg. This appeal is based on a 2014 decision by a lower court to have the records destroyed after a 15 year holding period.


Ethan Hawke adds star power to battle over drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Academy Award winning actor, Ethan Hawke joined Mi’kmaq fishers on the east coast who are raising their voices in opposition to oil exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Corridor Resources hopes to start seismic testing in the ecologically sensitive waterway where over 2000 species spawn and migrate every year.  The corporation has applied to explore for oil in the Mi’kmaq traditional fishing grounds.  A coalition has formed between the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Ilnu nations on the east coast to call for a moratorium.  Hawke, who owns property on the north shore of Nova Scotia says that he “feels honoured to help raise awareness to help the water.”

The Mi’kmaq nation is reminding their treaty partners of the sacred obligation.  The Conservative government did not respond to these demands.  The coalition has never been consulted and wants an independent assessment because of the track record of corporations only caring for the dollar and not the environment or people.  Hawke states that he is grateful for First Nation leadership and identifies Indigenous nations as, “trustworthy stewards of the land.”  Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner attended the press conference held by the coalition but did not make any promises or comment on the current situation.

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