Category Archives: First Nations

Guest speaker Ajamu Nangwaya on Apartheid Did Not Die

Video of the Socialist Action Rebel Film night discussion that followed the screening of John Pilger’s documentary ‘Apatheid Did Not Die.’  Guest speaker, Ajamu Nangwaya, educator, and organizer with the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity, spoke about the role of the ANC and Nelson Mandela in the perpetuation of economic apartheid in South Africa, and the need to build an anti-capitalist, working class alternative.

Ajamu Nangwaya on Apartheid Did Not Die

 

Humour – an unlikely weapon for Aboriginal Rights

by Barry Weisleder  

A review of “The Inconvenient Indian – A Curious Account of Native People in North America” by Thomas King, published by Anchor Canada, a division of Random House, 2013, 314 pages.
ThomasKingThomas King, best known as the creator and star of the hilarious CBC Radio One series “The Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour”, is the author of a funny book about the sad tragedy that is the situation of North American indigenous peoples. The book is a best-seller, proving again that a serious message can reach a huge readership through the medium of satire, without debasing the cause.
Born in Sacramento, California, Thomas King is of Cherokee, Greek and German-American descent. As an adult, he migrated to Australia, where he worked for years as a photojournalist. After moving to Canada in 1980, King taught Native Studies at the University of Lethbridge in the early 1980s. He also served as a faculty member of the University of Minnesota’s American Indian Studies Department. King is currently an English professor at the University of Guelph, about an hour west of Toronto. King was the NDP candidate for Guelph in the October 14, 2008 federal election, finishing fourth behind the Liberal, Conservative, and Green Party candidates.
“The Inconvenient Indian” is a short, post-modern version of “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” King recounts the massacres inflicted by the European colonial powers, records many of the lies, broken land treaties, the physical displacement, and the cultural genocide that still masquerades as education. The author postures as the skeptic, and proceeds to eviscerate the skepticism that surrounds corporate media coverage of aboriginal issues.
Why does he use the antiquated word ‘Indian’ when First Nations is the term of choice in Canada, and Native Americans is preferred in the United States? King calls it “the North American default”. Then he amusingly disparages his decision to name the non-native population ‘Whites.’ “Well, I struggled with this one. A Japanese friend of mine likes to call Anglos ‘crazy Caucasoids,’ while another friend told me that if I was going to use the term ‘Indians’ I should call everyone else ‘cowboys.’”
King identifies three kinds of Indian: Dead Indians, Live Indians and Legal Indians. Dead are the ones that “are the stereotypes and cliches that North America has conjured up out of experience and out of its collective imaginings and fears.” Society sees “war bonnets, beaded shirts, fringed deerskin dresses, headbands.” “You can find Dead Indians everywhere. Rodeos, powwows, movies, television commercials.” They pose no threat to power.inconvenient_indian_366x549px2
Live Indians, on the other hand, were an “annoying part of life in the New World.” European diseases killed about 80 per cent of them. The American newspaper mogul Horace Greeley said in 1859, “The Indians are children… the very lowest and rudest of human existence… These people must die out – there is no help for them.” King sarcastically adds: “Problem was, Live Indians didn’t die out.”
The Canadian census of 2006 records the existence of 565,000 Status Indians. The total indigenous population in Canada then, including Indians, Metis and Inuit, was 1.2 million – not counting those living on at least 22 Indian reserves, overlooked according to Statistics Canada. In the United States, federal “recognition” is granted to tribes rather than individuals. In 2009 the U.S. Federal Register recognized 564 tribes, encompassing about 950,000 people. The total number of Indians in the U.S. is around 2.4 million, or a few hundred thousand more or less, given the vagaries of the census.
Legal Indians have certain rights and privileges – because of the treaties both countries signed with Native nations. About 40 per cent of Live Indians in North America are Legal Indians. King caustically observes that “while North America loves the Dead Indian and ignores the Live Indian, North America hates the Legal Indian. Savagely.” He acerbically describes the treaties as an error in judgement that the establishment has been trying to correct for the last 150 years.
Legal Indians are ‘inconvenient’. That’s because their legal rights stand in the way of Private Profit – er, I mean Progress. (Sorry, I’m starting to sound like the author.)
But why can’t indigenous people just melt into the population at large? Sure, they’ve been robbed, kidnapped, displaced, and much worse than decimated. But why can’t they just say let’s ‘let bye-gones be by-gones’, and just ‘get over it?’
Well, should Jews, gays and Roma people just ‘get over’ the Nazi holocaust? Ought Blacks just ‘get over’ the murderous Middle Passage and nearly three hundred years of slavery? Doesn’t the commitment to the idea of ‘Never again’ require an historical memory?
How about the question of Aboriginal self-reliance?
King writes: “I’ve been told any number of times that we have to learn to stand on our own two feet and develop the skills necessary to manage on our own, without relying on government generosities.
“In the same way that Air Canada, AIG, Bombardier, Halliburton, General Motors, and the good folks out in Alberta’s Tar Sand Project manage on their own, without relying on government handouts.
“I suppose I could have mentioned Enron, World Com, Bre-X, and Bear Stearns as well, but these disasters were more greed than incompetence. Weren’t they? Though I suppose the one does not preclude the other.
“So, if I’ve got it right, while North America is reluctant to support the economic “incompetence” of Native people, it is more than willing to throw money at the incompetence of corporations. And why not? After all, if we’ve learned nothing in the last century, we should have learned that government support of big business is capitalism’s only hope.”
That’s a surprisingly radical analysis for a one-time NDP candidate, even if it is not accompanied by a concrete programme for radical change.
Here’s another way to look at the self-reliance idea, as it’s posed under capitalism. Some workers belong to a union. That gives them strength lacked by workers who don’t. Some indigenous people have treaty rights, which gives them a toe-hold, and a bit of leverage on the capitalist state. In the absence of a cooperative commonwealth for all, does it make sense to give up the little they’ve got, however ‘inconvenient’ they may be to big business?
To be sure, “The issue has always been land” insists King. “It will always be land, until there isn’t a square foot of land left in North America that is controlled by Native people.” It’s a sensitive issue, as discovered by 13-year-old Tenelle Starr from the Star Blanket First Nation, 90 kilometres north-east of Regina, Saskatchewan. She was sent home from school in early January tenelle_starrbecause she was wearing a pink hoodie bearing the slogan ‘Got Land? Thank an Indian’. The good news is that now Tenelle’s friends are sporting the slogan, and the social media is all a-buzz.
In the meantime, indigenous land titles continue to stand in the way of corporate resource extraction, even of military training bases (like the one at Stoney Point Ojibway reserve in Ontario where provincial police shot and killed native protester Dudley George in 1995).
Fortunately, indigenous peoples’ opposition to pipeline construction has helped to forge an alliance of farmers, workers and environmentalists concerned about pollution and climate change. This convergence is reflected in the broad public support for the Idle No More movement that arose in late 2012.
The path that capitalists and their governments have taken to remove the native land obstacle to profit maximization is called ‘termination’. If the policy sounds deadly, it’s no accident.
Neither is it anything new. After centuries of dispossession and genocide, ‘modern’ governments stepped up to the plate. Duncan Campbell Scott, head of Canada’s Department of Indian Affairs from 1913-1932 put it bluntly: “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department…”
In 1953, the U.S. Congress passed the Termination Act and the Relocation Act concurrently. It allowed Congress to terminate all federal relations with tribes unilaterally, while Relocation “encouraged” Native people to quit their reservations and move to the cities.
In 1969, the Canadian government tried to do the same thing with its White Paper. Then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau suggested that there is no such thing as Indian entitlement to land or Native rights, and urged First Nations people to assimilate into Canadian society. The reaction was massively and fiercely negative. What do you suppose would happen if Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau advocated that today?
2013-01-02-idlenomorehuffpoWhile the Conservative government of Stephen Harper drags its feet, Tory ideologue Tom Flanagan openly campaigns for the termination of Native status, and for dispersal and privatization of aboriginal lands.
The interest of the working class lies in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. The reasons are clear. One is the practical need for unity between workers and all oppressed peoples against the bosses and their state. Another is based on recognition that the struggle of Indigenous people to preserve their collective land rights constitutes a powerful obstacle to the agenda of Capital – which is to turn all of nature into a commodity, for sale to the highest bidder, subject to ruthless despoliation.
Thomas King’s “The Inconvenient Indian – A Curious Account of Native People in North America” is remarkably witty, often hilarious, and a truthful companion for the important battles ahead. Read it, and use it well.

OCAP Says No to Welfare Merger/Cuts

by John Wilson
On New Year’s day 2014 there’s not much to celebrate for those who are unemployed, low-waged, who rely on welfare, or live on disability benefits in Ontario. To make matters worse, only 35 per cent of the unemployed even qualified for Employment Insurance benefits (which have been reduced), compared to 74 per cent eligible in 1990. Two priority campaigns of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) highlight this reality.
The first is the campaign to “raise the rates”. The rates paid by Ontario Works (welfare) were brutally slashed by nearly 22% bywe're here for our$ the notorious regime of Mike Harris in the mid-90s. Since then, for single claimants, the payments have lost a staggering 56% of their spending power. These rates were frozen since 1995, until the advent of the present Liberal regime, but any increases have been miniscule – only 15% over the last ten years, far less than the rate of inflation.
OCAP demands an immediate 55% increase. It is common knowledge that welfare recipients have little left over after paying rent. They rely on food banks to survive and have almost nothing for other needs. Supplementary benefits have been under continuous attack, despite the laughable “poverty reduction” mantra of the austerity-mongering Wynne government. As OCAP organizer John Clarke wrote in the Bullet (May 2013): “The fundamental nature of the welfare system can be traced all the way back to its roots in the old English Poor Laws. The system has always been there to reluctantly provide enough assistance to stave off unrest and social dislocation, but to do so at levels and in forms that maximize the flow of labour into the lowest paying and most exploitative jobs on offer.” “Ontario Works” says it all.
DSCN1663The same approach to disability benefits leads into a second major campaign to prevent the merger of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). At a November 20 rally in Toronto, attended by over 120 people, speakers outlined their concerns. Historically, disability and welfare rates have been separate. If combined, from where will any increases for disability come? With downloading to municipalities, will ‘reassessment’ of disability claimants follow the notorious British model? Rally participants learned about the savage cuts to disability programs by the reactionary coalition government in Britain, which has handed this process over to ATOS, a private company.
Huge numbers of people there have been disqualified on incredibly specious grounds. A video showed a large field of flowers, each representing a disabled person who died within a short period of being disqualified, often by suicide. It is hardly ‘alarmist’ to think that the same could happen here, since the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has already privatized reassessment with a stupefying increase in disqualifications. The austerity agenda, which has particularly targeted disabled people, is international, as is the capitalist system, which promotes it in the interest of ever cheaper labour platforms.
These two campaigns by OCAP clearly merit the unqualified support of labour, the left and social movements. Attacks on welfare and disability benefits will not only further impoverish poor people, but everyone. The greater the number of people desperate enough to accept the most wretched jobs, the more downward pressure there will be on wage levels, and the more intense will be the attacks on unions.nov 5th cap is broken 2 PS

NDP Leader Attacks First Nations, Activists

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In a shameful move, the labour-based New Democratic Party in New Brunswick republished an aggressively titled op-ed article on its website, “Don’t Negotiate Till Threats End!”. The article was taken down and replaced by similarly problematic editorial, “Reality Check: The Law is the Law” written by the party leader in the province, Dominic Cardy.

The articles chastised activists who joined a highway blockade with members of Elsipogtog First Nations, trying to stop exploratory drilling on their lands. To Cardy’s credit, he recognizes the problem with relying on the government to safeguard the environment asking “why should we expect them to have the courage to use the law [against the shale gas industry]” (though it’s more likely a question of will rather than courage.)

But in the next paragraph, he puts on his policeman’s hat and gives the reader a stern tautological legal lesson, “Any blockade… must end… because the law is the law. [Activists] have an equal responsibility to stand up against law breaking and vandalism”. He didn’t mention whether he had a plan to crack down on the menace of littering or jay-walking.

Cardy attempts to resolve the cognitive dissonance of respecting the ‘rule of law that can’t be trusted’ by revealing his actual plan to stop shale gas: an NDP government led by him.  The environment is to be saved by electing him as premier, or not at all. Aside from opposing shale gas though, it is difficult to see how the party under his leadership would substantially differ from the current regime. Cardy is a proponent of the right wing “Third Way” movement within the Socialist International. He took the lead in pushing for a lesser role for labour in the federal party, and looks up to imperialist war criminal Tony Blair.

This ahistorical diatribe is especially disappointing, coming from an NDP leader because it betrays the party’s own history. Participants in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, which brought the city to a grinding halt, likely wouldn’t have cared much for Cardy’s “the law is the law” attitude when they were savagely attacked by the police and thrown in prison. One of those participants, J.S. Woodsworth, later went on to become the first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, predecessor of the modern day NDP.

This identity crisis is not new for the party, but it is accelerating at an alarming rate. As capitalism descends deeper into crisis, it’s contradictions, which are fundamental features of it’s political reality, are highlighted by statements such as this. At a time when workers and the growing underclass are losing more and more at the expense of big business, the platform and actions of the labour bureaucrats and ruling class politicians who purport to represent the workers’ interests are getting more and more watered down and lacklustre.

Ultimately, it is not solely the fault of these social democrats that the party agenda is more and more accommodating to the status quo. The demands of workers can be advanced only when workers themselves raise them. In building unions, activists have created institutions capable of fighting for their interests, but the task of leading that fight can not be successfully delegated.  Left to its own devices, the labour bureaucracy develops petty interests of its own, putting their jobs and privileges above all else.

The NDP can be a vehicle for change and a voice for radical populist movements like Idle No More and the campaign against environmental degradation — but not by trusting politicians to take care of business. The task of achieving basic change can be fulfilled only by applying continuous pressure from the bottom up — by the people whose lives are directly affected by the plunder of global capital. We need a radical labour movement driven by, and for workers! To move forward, are obliged to struggle against the alienating effects of bureaucracy, especially in the NDP and the labour movement.

Tar Sands Toxic Deeds Go Unpunished

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Less than 1 per cent of the environmental violations arising out of Alberta’s tar sands have been penalized. So says a survey by Kevin Timoney, a biologist and environmental consultant, and Peter Lee of Global Forest Watch.
The authors of the 677-page report found the same problems recurring again and again, suggesting that the province’s claims to having strict control over the industry’s environmental impact are false.
“What we’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg”, said Timoney, who filed a massive number of Freedom of Information applications, starting in 2008, in order to see details of breaches of environmental regulations and conditions that were kept under wraps in Alberta Environment’s data library in Edmonton.
Timoney and Lee eventually compiled a list of 9,262 infractions since 1996 – ranging from spills into the Athabasca River, to excessive smokestack emissions, to the discovery of random waste dumps in the bush.
Nearly two-thirds of the violations were of air quality, usually involving emissions of gases like suphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide in excess of the hourly limits on the tar sands facilities.
Of the total number of incidents, about 4,000 were reported as “alleged contraventions” – a breach in a facility’s license conditions. Since 1996, the Alberta government took action in 37 of those cases for an enforcement rate of 0.9 per cent.
The median fine was $4,500. Call it a minor cost of doing this dirty, but highly profitable business.
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