Category Archives: First Nations

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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Demand the Truth about Experiments on Aboriginal children

RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLS-large570by Carrie Lester
In July, old news became new again. The commercial media published stories about medical and nutrition experiments conducted in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools during the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Why call it ‘old’ news? Because an article on this topic appeared in the Vancouver Sun in 2000 (http://canadiangenocide.nativeweb.org/keynewsnativekidsusedforexperiments.html). In fact, along with the research that Dr. Peter Bryce, Chief Medical Officer of Canada, conducted in the early 1900’s about the condition of children in the ‘schools’, as directed by Duncan Campbell Scott, Canada’s Superintendant of Indian and Affairs, these results were printed in The Ottawa Citizen in November 1907, (http://canadiangenocide.nativeweb.org/keynewsschoolsandwhiteplague.html) only to be promptly buried and forgotten, causing hardly a ripple. It seems that the only person who took much notice of Dr. Bryce’s research, that the death rates in the Western ‘schools’ ran between 30 and 60 per cent, was D.C. Scott himself, and he was not pleased. By 1913, Dr. Bryce’s services were no longer required.
Information about these experiments was also reported in a 2006 documentary on Canada’s Indian Residential Schools titled “Unrepentant: Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide”. The United Church de-frocked minister Annett when he blew the whistle on Church abuses of survivors and victims of British Columbia’s Indian Residential Schools on Vancouver Island, and illegal land sales conducted by that church to a logging company.
This ‘old-new’ story was contained in the report published by one Ian Mosby, a post-doctorate fellow of Guelph University in Ontario, written in his capacity as a food historian. It provided information about the treatment of the health of Native populations, and of Indigenous children in Residential Schools across the country. Mosby found it in an article he came across in May 2000, in the Anglican Journal — the same piece found by the Vancouver Sun, and by Kevin Annett, back in 2000.
Digging deeper, Mosby found government documents that revealed an experiment conducted on some 1,300 indigenous people, most of whom were children, beginning in northern Manitoba in 1942, and eventually spanning the country through the early 1950’s. The experiments targetted First Nations people, it seems, because rampant malnourishment prevailed in most of their isolated and poverty ravaged communities. Indigenous peoples were forced to live on ‘Reserve land’ and be ‘assimilated’, ‘civilized’ and ‘educated’ within the confines of church and state policy. After the collapse of the fur trade, they proved to be ‘ideal’ test subjects for different diet regimens. Some children were given vitamin enriched diets. Others were denied vitamins. Still others were limited in their intake of milk rations. In terms of milk consumption, doctors knew that tuberculosis could be contracted through non-pasteurized milk, but many schools still served it to children.
The medical experimentation consisted of depriving children of dental care, since the health of one’s gums is a health indicator, and the treatment of gum disease could have skewed experiment results. Ironically, an “Indian person” could not refuse medical treatment, according to Canada’s Indian Act.
The response of some prominent Canadians and Native people to this ‘news’ is shock and surprise. The Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo expressed awareness of the situation: his father had gone to the school in Port Alberni, B.C. But he said he did not realize that a government experiment had taken place. The Aboriginal Affairs critic for the Official Opposition New Democratic Party, Jean Crowder, spoke about the life of poverty that still dominates First Nations’ communities, and how poor nutrition remains an issue.
I was dismayed, but not surprised by Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) into Indian Residential Schools. On his Facebook page, Sinclair expressed shock and surprise. However, subsequent media coverage reported that he was not surprised by the news of the experiments because of revelations at the TRC Hearings, now in the final year of its five year mandate to collect data and listen to survivors.
Murray Sinclair has disappointed me on other occasions, including when, during an interview with CBC’s news anchor Peter Mansbridge, Sinclair stated he was most surprised that children actually died in these ‘schools’.
On another occasion, Sinclair had the audacity to apologize publicly to the Catholic Church on behalf of the TRC, and on behalf of his head researcher, John Milloy, (who was also a researcher on the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples), for pushing the Catholic Church too hard to fully open ALL of their archived documents … which they refused to do … and still refuse to do. John Milloy also apologized to the church. He subsequently resigned from the TRC. By the way, the Canadian Government is also withholding archival materials, and has acknowledged that it destroyed documents on at least three occasions, allegedly to make space for more important stuff.
Canada’s current Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister, Bernard Valcourt wonders aloud whether this story is true — but if it is, it is “abhorrent and completely unacceptable”.
In a July 17, 2013 article in The Globe and Mail, Shawn Atleo states: “We’re going to call on the Prime Minister to give effect to the words that he spoke when he said: ‘The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. The burden is properly ours as a government.’” This refers to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 official apology for residential schools.
On July 25, after a call-out for action went viral, protests took place across the country on the theme “Honour the Apology”. We’ll see where this ‘old – new’ story takes us. Harper’s Conservative government pledges to follow a court order to hand over ‘relevant’ documents to the TRC. But who knows when that will happen?
Carrie Lester is a Native rights, environmental activist of mixed Mohawk / Bearfoot Onondaga / UK-Canadian-settler heritage, and is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, based in Toronto.