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TORONTO—"I'm here on a personal matter," Jasmine Thomas of the Carrier Nation tells a crowd of several hundred. "I live in Saik'uz, right in the heart of BC, a community of about 600. It's along the proposed Enbridge pipeline route... The proposed pipeline is threatening the traditional medicines that my great-grandmother has preserved for me."
"Not only that," she continues, "I have family at ground zero, at the tar sands. So where my father used to hunt and fish and gather, there are now open pit mines that you can see from space.
"The world's largest energy project is destroying my peoples."
As the tear gas clears over Toronto and the corporate media's frenzy over broken windows subsides, little has changed for First Nations people.
Canada still has not signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People; 584 Aboriginal women are still missing and murdered; and many of us still live on unceded First Nations territory—and are exploiting it. The list could go on.
On the other hand, Indigenous resistance is growing in Canada; so too are solidarity movements.
For the second time in 2010 (the first being the Vancouver Olympics), First Nations rights were at the forefront of a major convergence of social justice activists.
"No G20 on stolen Native land," chanted demonstrators throughout the week of protests leading up to G8/G20 meetings, and warrior flags were flying at all the marches—whether led by environmental justice advocates or anti-poverty organizers.
And on June 24, more than 1,000 people flooded the streets of downtown Toronto for the "Canada Can't Hide Genocide" march and rally.
The crowd did not gather on June 24 to protest the G20 so much as to reject it entirely.
"Fundamentally, we reject the G8 and G20 as decision-making bodies over our peoples," Ben Powless, a Mohawk from Six Nations, told a cheering crowd. "These are the illegitimate organizations of the colonial states that seek the further exploitation of our peoples."
Marilyn Poucachiche, an Algonquin from Barriere Lake First Nation, drove nine hours from her community to attend the rally and knows that story well.
"The government has been trying to assimilate or has been assimilating [our] people for a long time," she says.
Barriere Lake First Nation has a traditional governing system, a system that the Indian Act does not recognize. "The Canadian government have been trying to impose Section 74 in our community from the Indian Act," says Poucachiche. Section 74 would require the community to hold band elections. "It favours the Canadian policy on how we should govern and select our leaders."
"That will extinguish our Aboriginal title and treaty rights," she says. "They're trying to select their Chief according to their law. But we're saying it's our way, not your way."
Lionel Lepine, an Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, says the Canadian "way" looks a lot like cultural genocide. Lapine lives at what he calls "ground zero," or Fort Chipewyan, upstream of the Alberta tar sands.
"We are on top of the second largest deposit of oil in the world and they want every single drop at the cost of our lives," he says.
“We're seeing environmental impacts, cultural impacts, human impacts; we're seeing death,” says Lapine. “We're seeing the death of the delta, water, animals, plants, air. It's just a matter of time before everything's going to be completely wiped out."
Considering the devastation of his community and the planet, Lapine laughs at the police lining the march on all sides. "We are not the threat," he says. "The threat to this country are the people in power."
But the growing Indigenous resistance is a threat to something, says Thomas: It's a threat to the pocketbooks of big business.
"Canada, the US and Australia are avoiding signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people," she says. "One of the main points in that declaration is free, prior and informed consent. That means they have to respect our ability to say yes or no to development in our territories. So it's threatening their prosperity."
The prosperity of a few is coming at a serious cost, says Thomas. "We are facing food security issues, basic human rights issues; we have the highest rates of cancer, HIV aids—all these socio-economic issues that are associated with these large projects [such as the tar sands]."
Their connection to the land and also the fact that Indigenous people are literally fighting for their lives make their resistance powerful. "There's always been Indigenous people leading the struggle in terms of defending the land against these large corporations," says Arthur Manuel from the group Defenders of the Land, a network of Indigenous communities united in defense of their lands, Indigenous rights, and Mother Earth.
"Through supporting Indigenous People you're putting in place a new system of order that's based upon a more circular basis of economy, instead of the vertical economy that the system is working on...where the land isn't looked on as Mother Earth but everything is looked at as a resource base," says Manuel. "Indigenous People do not look at it from that perspective. [We] look at the Earth as part of the decision making process. We know that what we do to the planet will sooner or later impact on us."
Whether or not Canadians choose to support Indigenous struggles, the state, as Powless points out, has certain obligations.
"Fundamentally," says Powless, "Canada must live up to its international and domestic treaty obligations and respect self-determination, the right for free, prior and informed consent and the sovereignty of our peoples."
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.