Monday, October 13, 2008

Criminalizing Indigenous Rights in Canada


Criminalizing Indigenous Rights in Canada
David Parker
September 8th, 2008.

HALIFAX - In September of 2007, the United Nations adopted the non-binding Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Four high profile countries notably voted against the declaration - namely Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.[1] All four countries are states that were established by white settlers on indigenous lands, and all four are currently in disputes with indigenous peoples over land and sovereignty.

The Canadian state, built on the theft and occupation of indigenous lands, continues to benefit from its unjustly acquired assets. Equipped with an ultra-security state apparatus, Canada's repressive and suppressive anti-terrorist and security measures have historically struck hardest against those that have the most to gain, namely aboriginal nations and their legitimate claims for their rights to land and dignity.

Recent cases of indigenous protest in Ontario have been in opposition to government authorized resource extraction on native lands. Despite legitimate demands for sovereignty and decision-making power over their traditional lands, native protesters have been incarcerated: Robert Lovelace and the KI-6 (6 council members of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation) have received harsh fines and 6 months in jail for peacefully protesting against mineral exploration on the lands of KI and Ardoch Algonquin First Nation (AAFN).

The province of British Columbia was settled and colonized without treaties between the indigenous inhabitants and settlers. Large areas of BC still remain unceded, and the indigenous populations claim sovereignty over these lands.[2] In the BC southern interior, the Secwepemc people have been in a long standing dispute with Sun Peaks mega ski resort Northeast of Kamloops. In August and September of 2004, 200 aboriginals and supporters rallied against the expansion of Sun Peaks. The BC Supreme Court granted Sun Peaks an injunction excluding Aboriginal people from using 846 hectares of their traditional territory, and on September 21st, the RCMP dismantled the camp, arresting three indigenous protesters.[3]

The continued denial of sovereignty for First Nations by the settler state is an injustice and a violation of the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, attempts by First Nations to redress this injustice is met with state, police, and at times military repression.

The situation in the Tyendinaga Mohawk territory has been a sweeping crack down on community members in an effort to stifle resistance to the further development of the Culbertson Tract, a long standing land claim of the Tyendinaga Mohawks. The Federal Government has dumped money into policing, and the RCMP have stated government intentions to "fight contraband in three Mohawk communities (including Tyendinaga), which he [Stockwell Day] said is funding organized crime and possibly even terrorists".[4] Charges of terrorism are used to justify extreme violations of human rights by both Canadian and U.S. governments against racially profiled communities they deem threats to national security. Alleging that Mohawks are harbouring terrorists is a dangerous, racist allegation.

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are seen by many natives as a real threat to indigenous people and lands. Indigenous resistance to Olympic development has been criminalized to assure tourists that they will be safe. This resulted in the punishment of Harriet Nahanee, a Pedachat elder sentenced to provincial jail for contempt of court for her part in the Sea-to-Sky highway expansion protest at Eagleridge bluffs. She died of pneumonia and complications at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver on Feb. 24th, one month after her sentence. It is suspected that Nahanee's condition worsened during her incarceration at the Surrey Pre-Trial centre. Solicitor-General John Les denied any government responsibility and refused requests for an inquiry.[5]

In July of 2008, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in favour of KI and AAFN, upholding their right to be consulted regarding any development on their traditional land. The ruling, relevant to the cases mentioned above where court injunctions were used to quell and criminalize indigenous dissent, made a clear statement that private parties must not seek court injunctions as a first response to prevent protest action of First Nations with legitimate aboriginal rights.[6] Despite this victory in courts for the KI and AAFN, it remains for the colonial governments to interpret the court ruling.

[1] CBC News. "Canada votes 'no' as UN native rights declaration passes". September 13, 2007. Retrieved August 21, 2008 from http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2007/09/13/canada-indigenous.html

[2] Kim Peterson. "I take this as genocide". September 30, 2004. The Dominion Paper. Retrieved August 21, 2008 from http://www.dominionpaper.ca/original_peoples/2004/09/30/i_take_thi.html

[3] Harold Lavendar. "Sun Peaks aboriginal land dispute". New Socialist, September 2004. Retrieved August 20, 2008 from http://newsocialist.org/newsite/index.php?id=166

[4] "Tyendinaga: More charges laid, clampdown intensifies". May 2008. Retrieved August 5, 2008 from
http://wiinimkiikaa.wordpress.com/2008/05/22/tyendinaga-more-charges-lai...

[5] Ange Sterritt. "Honor the dead, fight for the living, Harriet Nahanee and Shawn Brant". November, 2007. Retrieved August 20, 2008 from http://harrietspirit.blogspot.com/2007_11_01_archive.html

[6] Annie Leeks. "Frontenac Ventures Corporation v. Ardoch Algonquin First Nation; Platinex Inc. v. Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation". Blakes Bulletin on Aboriginal Issues, July 2008. Retrieved August 21, 2008 from http://www.blakes.com/english/people/lawyers2.asp?LAS=ALK

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