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From Ski Hills to the Summit

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Issue: 68 Section: Original Peoples Geography: Canada Topics: Indigenous Rights, G8, G20, sovereignty

June 19, 2010

From Ski Hills to the Summit

Indigenous activists challenge Canada’s claims to traditional lands

by Dawn Paley

A demonstration in solidarity with Grassy Narrows in Toronto. Defenders of the Land, a network of communities that includes Grassy Narrows, is calling for a nationwide day of action to “Tell the world the truth about Canada’s record on Indigenous rights” on June 24. Photo: Allan Cedillo Lissner

VANCOUVER—“Recovery and New Beginnings” is the slogan Canada will be pushing at the G20 summit in Toronto, but for many Indigenous people, what’s going on inside the meeting represents more of the same.

Activists like Arthur Manuel of the Secwepemc Nation think the impacts of a Canada-hosted summit are clear.

“The G8/G20 impacts Indigenous people because Canada, who’s hosting the session, is actually claiming they have 100 per cent exclusive power, jurisdiction, authority over Aboriginal and treaty territories, and that’s totally wrong,” he said.

Manuel and others will be working to ensure that the illegitimacy of the G20, and the Canadian government’s ongoing denial of Indigenous sovereignty, take centre stage during the meetings.

What is Defenders of the Land?

In a declaration entitled, “Tell the world the truth about Canada’s record on Indigenous rights!”, the Defenders of the Land, a network of Indigenous communities and activists, is appealing for a “cross-Canada day of non-violent action” on June 24, timed to coincide with the opening of the G20 summit in Toronto.

According to the declaration, actions could include “blockades, occupations, rallies, or economic disruptions, in addition to spiritual ceremonies and community gatherings, all of which maximize respect for life and our rights as Indigenous Peoples.”

First Nations signed on include the Algonquins of Barriere Lake in Quebec, the Ardoch Algonquin and Big Trout Lake in Ontario, and the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, which represents eight communities in the central interior of British Columbia.

They aim to draw attention to what they say is the Canadian government’s “continued policy...to terminate Indian Peoples by removing our land and resource base and denying us the right to self-determination.”

Canada, alongside New Zealand, Australia and the United States, were the only countries to vote against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. Australia reversed its position last year and was recently followed by New Zealand, which declared its support at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York on April 19. The next day, Washington’s UN Ambassador Susan Rice announced the United States would review its opposition.

In his Speech from the Throne in March, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated the Conservative Government might give “qualified recognition” to the UN Declaration, which critics argue would drastically limit its full implementation.

During the national day of action, Defenders of the Land will demand the Canadian government adopt and implement the UN Declaration, recognize Indigenous land rights, stop criminalizing Indigenous human rights activists, and investigate and take action to end the murder and disappearance of hundreds of Indigenous women (582 since 1974, by the latest count of the Native Women’s Association of Canada).

—Martin Lukacs

From climate change to Indigenous rights, the government of Canada lags far behind.

The G8 is a power play by participating countries, said Ben Powless, a Mohawk from Six Nations who works with the Indigenous Environmental Network. “It’s an effort to try and get out of their international obligations in terms of the [United Nations] and in terms of their own actual moral and legal responsibilities to the people most impacted by their decisions.”

Manuel and Powless are part of a push to bring Indigenous resistance to the international, macroeconomic level. Both are involved with Defenders of the Land, a national-level organization that attempts to bring together a national response to Indigenous struggles that are often isolated and fragmented.

“The AFN [Assembly of First Nations] has already tried to deal with all these issues, and so have all the provincial, territorial and tribal organizations,” said Manuel. “They’ve all written their letters, they’ve all had their resolutions, but the government doesn’t respond to it. The Defenders is just another added level of reaction that is coming from a body that isn’t really controlled through any sort of government-type funding,” he said.

The AFN and the territorial and tribal organizations receive yearly core and project funding from the federal government.

“But I don’t think Defenders in itself is adequate. I think the real answer is the local people have to get involved, local people have to take action on the ground and force the federal government and the provincial government to change basic fundamental policy,” said Manuel.

This push for bottom-up action is a concerted, purposeful response to the top-down, undemocratic powers exercised by the G20.

“Right now all of the major economic decisions are top-down; that’s what the G8/G20 is all about,” said Manuel. “All the top dogs get together, and they make decisions in private meetings. And the decisions float down—which is wrong. One of the things about Aboriginal treaty rights is that it’s a very bottom-up kind of approach, especially vis-a-vis the G20.”

Manuel emphasized that non-Native support for Indigenous struggle is not only possible, but also an effective way to push back against corporate power.

“The real thing for Canadian people to realize is that Indigenous people are really the only ones who have a legitimate interest in pushing back government and pushing back industry, and you can tell that just by the court decisions that Indian people have won,” he said. “If Canadians can understand that, that’s how they can counterbalance big companies: by supporting Indigenous people, and the recognition of Aboriginal treaty rights—as opposed to just leaving it up to the government. If you leave it up to the government then you’re endorsing the top-down approach.”

While 2010 is the second time Canada has hosted the Winter Olympics and the G8 in a single year, it is the first time anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements will converge on both events.

For those who were part of the anti-Olympics convergence in Vancouver, the G8/G20 protests in Ontario mark the next step forward.

“The step forward I want to take from anti-Olympics organizing is from here to Toronto,” said Lyn Highway, a community organizer in Vancouver. “Convergences are places where Indigenous resistance can connect with other anti-capitalist resistance.”

For Highway, being able to work on an autonomous action and also plug into legal and media infrastructure set up as part of the convergence, was one of the key successes of the anti-Olympics convergence.

“The anti-globalization movement never really mobilized Native people in North America, although there were large numbers involved in Mexico and South America,” said Gord Hill, an artist from the Kwakwaka’wakw nation involved in anti-Olympics organizing. But he thinks many Native people were encouraged by the expressions of resistance during the Games in Vancouver.

“No movement has ever succeeded without using a diversity of tactics, which arises from the involvement of diverse social movements, and this is a strength that should be promoted,” said Hill. “Expressions of resistance in non-Native movements shows a fighting spirit, a warrior spirit,” he said.

A day of action on Indigenous rights, called by the Defenders of the Land, will take place June 24 in Toronto.

An Indigenous counter-summit planned for Toronto evolved out of an Indigenous summit in Hokkaido, Japan, which took place during the G8 summit there in 2008.

The decision to focus on the G8 in 2008 was a telling moment in the international Indigenous movement, said Powless, because it brought together those people living in G8 countries who are directly impacted by economic and colonial policies.

The four-day gathering at Toyako, Hokkaido, in Ainu territory, included Ainu performances and cultural events, as well as open- and closed-door meetings, all of which took place alongside public events surrounding the G8 summit. “It did a good job of opening up the spotlight in terms of Indigenous issues there, and gave a fairly prominent voice to a lot of the Indigenous representatives who were able to attend,” said Powless.

In addition to the actions of June 24, Indigenous people will be active around the G20 in labour unions, anarchist collectives, and national and youth organizations.

Dawn Paley is a journalist based in Vancouver. She is a member of the editorial collective of the Vancouver Media Co-op.

This story was published in The Dominion's special issue on the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario. We will continue to publish independent, investigative news about the G8 and G20 throughout the month of June.

For up-to-the-minute G8/G20 news from the streets of Toronto, visit the Toronto Media Co-op.

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