Emotionally Present / Personal Is Political / Race/Ethnicity / Time-specific

Indigenous Genocide Across Turtle Island

An Aboriginal artist who is local to my geographic location is raising money to put together a one-minute video that will be shown across Canada on LCD screens in public spaces. Awesome. You can help her for the next week (September 7, 2012 is the last day you can help) by donating to her cause at this website. The one-minute video(s) will feature a circulation of paintings she created to raise awareness of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and all proceeds raised from donations will go directly to the person helping her create the animated video(s). This is an opportunity to help participate in a critical social dialogue about marginalized women who are simply not treated as particularly important by media (or police, in many cases). Their heart-wrenching disappearances continue to emerge, in large part due to a pervasive sense of apathy on the part of non-Aboriginal communities. But no one is disposable, and the time has come to help spread the message national media simply refuses to distribute. I hope you’ll donate.

It’s between this and the Missing Women’s Inquiry, which has revealed enormous apathy on the part of law enforcement working on missing persons cases involving Aboriginal women. How many more have to go missing before the rest of us start paying attention? My heart aches for these women and their families.

The entire world continues learned about apathy on the part of police and RCMP during an investigation into a serial murderer who explicitly targeted Aboriginal women. One witness has also vocalized that police and RCMP simply terminated contact with him when he offered to wear a wire, and the killer (who is widely held to have help from people who have yet to be caught and brought to justice) went on for an additional three years, claiming multiple women’s lives in that time. Among those women who disappeared after enough evidence and witnesses were compiled to bring a serial murderer to justice, the half-sister of a man who has shared my home. Her blood is on their hands. Her face appears in my dreams. And while the entire world has learned about the first serial murderer, a second is suspected of having perpetrated a completely distinct serial murder spree, claiming the lives of 70 women (most of whom were also Aboriginal), over the identical timeline as the first spree in the adjacent province. This second serial murderer was also tried and convicted (in relation to just two murders, which he denies having a part in), during the trial of the first. But there is clearly still another serial murderer at work, targeting Aboriginal women hitch-hiking along the Highway of Tears. When will the authorities even begin a serious and legitimate investigation into the communities these women came from, and possible witnesses of the last moments they had, walking along that highway? Just how many more need to go missing before more resources are invested into investigating their disappearances more seriously? Too many Aboriginal women are missing. This is where I’ve published the story of my spiritual connection to all of them.

Aboriginal Burial Rights & Land Title

Another major issue that has surfaced in my own back yard is the conflict between the Musqueam and BC’s Premier (who approved a permit for a large condo development company to build on top of a national historic site — a former Musqueam village where at least 4 graves are located). This is especially significant because the Musqueam’s former villages and current reserves are all on unceded Coast Salish territory. I’ve already written fairly extensively about the Musqueam and their conflict with BC’s current Premier, Christy Clark, for the entire first half of this entry.

Update (mid-December, 2012): After more than 200 days of 24-hour occupation of the site, the Musqueam have at last buried their ancestors. They are still waiting for justice on the matter of the land itself, which they are being forced to buy with money still owed to them from a previous land deal.

Since taking their righteously disruptive actions on their 100th day of 24-hour protest, to gain attention to the issue in national media and from government officials, promises have at last been made to allow the Musqueam to bury their ancestors in congruence with their cultural traditions and to complete the land swap offered by the Musqueam to protect the site of their former village. However, dig permits were once again extended for the site anyway, and as a result, the Musqueam continue to occupy the site 24 hours a day out of necessity — every time the permits have been extended, someone has tried to act on them. And it took completely shutting down a major bridge in the middle of rush hour traffic at least twice for the Musqueam to be heard at all! Because apparently we, as a country, didn’t learn anything the time this happened in 1990 on Mohawk territory, at Oka.

Of course, I can’t help but acknowledge that these disputes are inextricably linked to colonial policy in the form of the Indian Act, which is still in effect across Canada, and which treats Aboriginal people as though they have neither capacity nor right to self-determination or autonomy (that is, unless they culturally assimilate into the Settler population). And once again, this is linked to the reserve system, which is designed to keep Aboriginal communities poor, in ill health, out of sight of the (Settler-populated) public and thus unable to gain meaningful visibility or exercise a powerful influence over colonial politics (which frequently diminishes their quality of life and voice even further), and deprive Aboriginal communities of a direct connection to the land that defines their spirituality. And that is linked to the treaties system, which is still presently written with the explicit purpose of stripping land title away from First Nations — which itself set the precedent for pressure to assimilate, characterized by the Indian Act.

The potlatch (redistribution of excess wealth to community members who are lacking) was forbidden by the Indian Act for more than fifty years: “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized.”
-William Duncan, Anglican Missionary in BC, 1875

Enbridge & Pipelines

Presently, in Western Canada, a pipeline project has been proposed that will steer construction right through at least 50 First Nations communities across Alberta and BC. Aboriginal communities across the country unanimously oppose the pipelines, while the company responsible for this proposal (Enbridge) continues to push misinformation (not to mention outright lies) at non-Aboriginals, expecting our silent compliance. Many predominantly white communities in the pathway of this project are completely unaware that it has even been proposed. This is all beside the fact that once a pipeline is built, it’s only a matter of time before we see an oil spill. That’s a guarantee. And not only does that oil spill threaten the immediate safety of every community within a generous vicinity, but it threatens everyone’s future over the long term. The cost to this generation’s health is certainly a valid reason in and of itself to oppose this work, but it is the future generations who will pay the highest price — and that is the crux of why First Nations (and many allied non-native protest communities) are unanimously opposed to this project. In the words of one First Nations man, our mother Earth is being raped and she cannot say no. We are her voice.

Never mind the fact that half the project is on unceded First Nations territory — without the permission of First Nations — or that the land continues to move beneath us whether or not we put a giant pipe full of oil into it. And never mind the problem of how exactly an tanker with a full load of oil is expected to safely travel through hundreds of miles of rocky shores without getting so much as a scratch on it. Whether the spill happens on entirely on land or into the water too, the damage will last for many generations. This proposal signifies a love affair with money right now at the cost of our future for many, many years to come. It is a lust for cash now and a total disregard for the planet after the fact. What good can possibly come from a fat stack of cash when we’ve destroyed the only planet in the galaxy where it’s worth anything? This is all beside the point that directly acting in such a careless manner, to guarantee the destruction of the future livelihood of so many First Nations communities, is an act of genocide. That the pipelines represent a genocidal act against the very communities the colonial government of Canada has already sanctioned a cultural genocide for over 100 years, which continues in the present day, is not lost on anyone who understands the seriousness of this issue.

Nunavut Food Crisis & Cree Nation Reserve Crises

In Nunavut, it will cost you $38 for a 1.5L bottle of cranberry juice. Or $105 for a 24-pack of bottled water. It recently led to a movement by local families to start protesting by posting images to Facebook and Twitter, of their community members (of all ages) holding up signs and of the price tags on the scarcely stocked shelves of local grocery stores. The Inuit language doesn’t even have a word for protest, and that alone should speak volumes to how radical a cultural shift the Inuit are being driven to by the destruction of their environment, by fairly rapid climate change in recent decades, and by the lasting effects of colonialism (including residential schools) on their culture and way of life (such as loss of culture resulting from widespread deaths during forced re-locations and the spread of disease). I also distinctly recall seeing a program in which an Inuk woman was describing harassment in the form of government agents or police frequently and arbitrarily confiscating hunting gear (all of which costs money), leaving some Inuit entirely reliant upon buying whatever is left in community-run markets (which are often picked over and barely enough to fulfill the need). Unfortunately I am unable to provide a direct confirmation to that story — one of the barriers of only hearing about these stories through Aboriginal community-organized television programs (we all know this story doesn’t get aired in mainstream media). All of this finally gained critical momentum a year and a half ago, and the problem has yet to be addressed in any productive manner at all.

This of course reflects upon the evolving Attawapiskat crisis that gained national (and possibly even international) attention, when the colonial government deprived the Cree of much-needed support and assistance (as it so often does) even after they declared a state of emergency, then blamed them for it. That state of emergency in the Attawapiskat reserve was still in effect as of last month, and further insights into how inappropriately it was handled by the colonial government were finally revealed earlier this month (nearly a full year after the initial declaration). But more Cree are suffering, as other reserves declared states emergency after Attawapiskat, or declared that their drinking water is dangerously contaminated and immediately hazardous to their community members. This is hardly the first time the entire country has heard about a housing crisis or water contamination or deprivation of vital assistance and support in an Aboriginal community living on a reserve, and collectively rolled their eyes instead of pressuring the government to act — such as when First Nations communities at risk of exposure to H1N1, but were deprived of hand sanitizer because its base is alcohol and it was expected they might try to drink it. So. You know. The rational thing is apparently to let them die horrifically by the hundreds to convince them to use it to protect their own health.

Belo Monte & The Yanomani Massacre

Absolutely heart-wrenching images have been circulating for months in relation to the Belo Monte dam project in the Amazon (although this blogger just found out that it is merely one of dozens). Indigenous peoples whose lands and way of live would forever be wiped out by the flood waters (just like the Cree who were flooded out by the Great Whale River project in the 1970s). And a lot of people rejoiced when 300 people successfully dug a trench right through a dam construction site, to spare their homelands. However, it has only recently become known that a village of 80 tribespeople was allegedly fire-bombed at approximately the same time. 3 members of the tribe were far enough away at the time to survive it, but also helpless to stop it or protect any of their community. They walked for 6 days before they reached the first people they could inform of what happened, and it took a full month before anyone outside of the Amazon would hear about it.

Doubts have since been raised about whether or not this even happened, though the village was never located when a search was conducted for evidence to either confirm or rule out this event. Though the blame for the alleged massacre of this village is being attributed to illegal gold-miners, the fact remains that this is yet another facet of ongoing genocide against indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. I became so overwhelmed with grief yesterday when I finally had a moment alone to begin processing the emotions this brought up in me, that I literally began to burst into tears before I was even in a safe space. Adding insult to injury, of course, is the very narrow definition of violence cited in that second article. Uprooting an entire community and forcing them to live in a reserve with a contaminated water supply is an act of violence. And whether 80 people disappear all at once, or over a period of ten years (as in the number of separate DNA profiles found on the serial murderer’s farm near me — let alone the untold number of women who have disappeared on the Highway of Tears), what we are reading about is genocide. And yet, it’s referred to as a massacre or a missing person’s case. No. It is the cost of our presence here as Settlers on stolen land.

The least we can do is nothing. But we can and need to do more than that — we can and need to take a stand in the name of justice and respect for indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. Please refer to the first paragraph of this blog post for one way you can do that, if you are reading on or before September 7, 2012. Join efforts to oppose and stop pipelines projects. Visit the Musqueam and show your support for their rights to bury their dead in accordance with their traditions. Follow the hash-tag #idlenomore on Twitter or begin reading about it here. Acknowledge every day that the land you stand on belongs to indigenous peoples. Seek out ways to become an ally. The list could go on indefinitely.

4 thoughts on “Indigenous Genocide Across Turtle Island

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