The Upper Nicola Band recently celebrated the release of critically endangered burrowing owls in their territory. On Sunday, April 10, 2016 six tiny, chubby, brown and white, yellow-eyed yearlings were released into burrows on the First Nation’s reserve near Merritt, BC. The burrows were built by First Nations technicians with the assistance of local biologist Chris Gill.
“It was a great opportunity to practice the stewardship of the land that is deeply ingrained in our people,” said Bernadette Manual, cultural heritage project manager for the First Nation. Manual said the community worked with Gill for nearly three years, surveying their eight reserves to find suitable grasslands for the project with the assistance of the Kamloops-based Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC. The society raised the six owls in captivity at a site in Kamloops in preparation for their release.
Upper Nicola Band celebrated the release of critically endangered burrowing owls in their territory on April 10, 2016.
The charismatic burrowing owl is a culturally and ecologically important species for the Sylix (Okanagan) people. The owls were traditionally considered guardian spirits to the Sylix hunters and warriors and were sometimes considered spirit carriers to other worlds. These small birds of prey make their home in the grasslands of North America.
Unlike most owls, burrowing owls are social and inquisitive. They live and breed on the ground in underground burrows, usually the abandoned homes of marmots or badgers. The tiny birds of prey hunt small mammals and insects, but are vulnerable to larger predators such as coyotes or hawks. Gill said the loss and degradation of grassland habitat due to pesticide use in agriculture has led to a dramatic decrease in burrowing owl numbers across Canada.
Mike Macintosh, director of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC, explains, “These small birds are part of the rich weaving of life in BC’s grasslands. They’re predators and prey, and they’re disappearing from Canada as a result of habitat loss and environmental threats. We’ve been learning what it takes to bring them back. It starts with conserving grassland habitats and with the work of people like members of the Upper Nicola Band and volunteers with the Conservation Society.”
Bernadette Manual holds a Burrowing Owl before its release back into the wild.
The Burrowing Owl Conservation Society began a captive breeding program about 26 years ago. Mackintosh said the hope is that the owls will breed this spring before migrating south to Washington, Oregon, and California in the fall. Each spring, they return to mate and reproduce. The goal of the program is to boost the owl’s numbers high enough so they can breed and replenish their population naturally without human help. Last year, 65 burrowing owls were released and had offspring, totaling around 200 birds that were successfully raised in the wild.
Members of the Upper Nicola Band will monitor the mesh-covered burrow regularly to protect the young owls from predators and provide supplemental food until they are mature enough to fly and hunt on their own in the grasslands.
The Pimicikamak Cree Nation in remote northern Manitoba declared a state of emergency on March 9th after six suicides in two months since December 12, 2015 and an additional 140 suicide attempts in the last two weeks alone. The community of 8,300, also known as the Cross Lake, is located 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Pimicikamak Acting Chief Shirley Robinson declared the state of emergency as the suicide crisis spread. An additional 100 children are on suicide watch. Robinson said she hopes the declaration will prompt the federal government to send more qualified short-term health workers to address the suicides and attempts at self harm. “We’ve been utilizing all our frontline workers: nurses, doctors, school teachers, and local clergy, but we don’t have enough manpower to reach out to everyone,” she said in a Reuters interview. The latest suicide in Cross Lake was that of a 34-year-old mother of three and a cousin of Robinson.
The Pimicikamak First Nation is the province’s third largest Aboriginal community. They are asking for at least six mental health workers with counsellors available 24 hours a day. The Pimicikamak are also asking for increased job opportunities, a hospital, and youth recreation facilities. The acting chief said her community has an unemployment rate of 80% and housing is “neither safe nor healthy.” In one case, as many as 27 people are living in one house. Robinson said she is working with the Canadian government to try and resolve the housing and employment issues. She said only one health worker has been sent to address the crisis.
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde called for a national strategy to fight what he called a devastating suicide epidemic faced by Aboriginal communities across the country. Following a speech in Winnipeg the next day, Bellegarde said the issue is much greater than the Cross Lake experience. Aboriginal youth are up to seven times more likely to commit suicide than the national average, he said. “It’s a bigger issue than just Cross Lake,” said Bellegarde. “There’s got to be a huge intervention there, but also in a lot of communities across Canada. There’s got to be a national strategy on mental health to deal with the youth suicide that is rampant amongst our communities.” That strategy has to include adequate mental health supports, proper education, and the restoration of cultural pride among young people, he said.
In December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to improve relationships with Canada’s First Nations and to tackle issues of poverty, crime, and health, as well as launch an inquiry into the cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Canada’s 1.4 million Aboriginals have higher levels of poverty and a shorter life expectancy than other Canadians and are more often victims of violent crime, addiction, and incarceration. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada said officials have reached out to offer assistance “and will work with the community to help address their mental health needs in this difficult time” according to an emailed statement.
“We need support workers and a crisis team on the ground now,” said AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart. “The community and leadership know what needs to happen, and governments should be working with them and following their direction. We need urgent action to end this state of emergency, and we need to work with the community to create a new environment of hope and opportunity for our young people.”
Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario has appointed Angelique Eaglewoman, a Native American Indian from South Dakota, to lead the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law. She starts in May, a month before the new law school’s first class is set to graduate. The Bora Laskin Faculty of Law opened in the fall of 2013, making it Canada’s newest law school.
Angelique EagleWoman went to Lakehead University from the University of Idaho College of Law, where she is a law professor and a legal scholar. She has also served as a Tribal Judge in four Tribal Court systems.
Ms. Eaglewoman served as General Counsel for her own people, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate (one of the Dakota Nations), and has also served as a Tribal Judge in four Tribal Court systems. She will leave her current position as a law professor and legal scholar at the University of Idaho College of Law and take over the university position from the school’s first dean Lee Stuesser, who resigned in 2015.
“Angelique was at the top of our list,” said Lakehead Provost and Vice-President of Academics Dr. Moira McPherson,” and we are thrilled she’s coming to Lakehead. Her diverse experience and knowledge will be of great benefit to our students in the Faculty of Law and to Ontario when those students begin practicing law.”
Eaglewoman said she was drawn in part by Lakehead’s mandatory first and second-year courses in Aboriginal law. That requirement aligns with the recommendations of the final 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which calls for all law students to take courses in Aboriginal peoples and the law, including the history and legacy of Canada’s residential school system. The TRC recommendations aim to ensure “that this next generation of lawyers would know what the history is and what the legal relationship is between the Canadian federal and provincial governments and indigenous communities,” Eaglewoman said in a CP interview. “Our graduates will know that history, will know those legal relationships, and then they can go out and they can help with the new collaboration, the new reconciliation.”
Eaglewoman has taught in the areas of Native American natural resources law and tribal nation economics and law, and has published articles about tribal economics and quality of life for Indigenous peoples. “This position is a dream come true for me because of the Faculty of Law’s commitment to produce lawyers for rural and small town legal practice, the focus on natural resources and environmental law, and the required curriculum on aspects of Aboriginal and indigenous law,” said Eaglewoman. “With my background, I feel especially suited to be at the helm of the law school as it moves from its start-up phase to taking its place among other distinguished law schools in Ontario and nationally.”
Nishnawabe Aski Grand Chief Harvey Yesno says the revelation that Indian And Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) has withheld more than $1 billion in social services funding from First Nations over the last five years sends the wrong message to First Nations as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa concludes in June. “It is very discouraging that just days after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for more resources to help survivors, families, and communities recover from the abuse inflicted through the Indian residential school system, it now appears the government is withholding massive amounts of funding that should be spent on much-needed services,” said the NAN grand chief, a residential school survivor who attended the ceremonial events in Ottawa. “With the conclusion of the TRC, First Nations are looking for the federal government to move from apology to action by addressing the multi-generational impacts of the Indian residential school system. It is difficult to accept that this government is committed to reconciliation when it is withholding so much funding.”
Nishnawabe Aski Grand Chief Harvey Yesno
That significant level of “lapse spending” (money promised, but never spent) places INAC among the largest “serial offenders,” meaning key departments regularly spend less than the amount budgeted in big dollar amounts year after year. CBC news obtained a heavily censored analysis of lapsing behavior from the Privy Council Office, the prime minister’s department, under the Access to Information Act. Other serial lapsers, including National Defense, made the Privy Council Office’s “top seven” list by failing to spend all their budgeted money for infrastructure and procurement, while INAC stands out as the only social service department regularly falling significantly short of budget. Other social-service departments have made the headlines recently for significant dollar shortfalls in promised spending, including Veteran Affairs, which has underspent by $1 billion over a decade, and Employment and Social Development Canada, which lapsed almost $100 million in 2013-14 alone.
A spokesperson for INAC says most of the lapsed funds are “carried forward” to be used in coming years. “From 2009-10 until 2013-14, 97.2% of what was marked as lapsed funding in the public accounts has actually been carried forward to future years and spent on a wide range of programs,” said Valerie Hache in an email that didn’t include any accounting of rollovers. “The reprofiling is simply due to timing issues that are common in complex negotiations where a number of parties are involved.” The Privy Council analysis concludes that in future years “the existence of a lapse in the 5% range is likely to persist” across all of government. “Such a result should not be seen as problematic.”
Aboriginal Affairs critic, New Democrat MP Niki Ashton, said the repeated underspending of millions of dollars is “unconscionable” given the appalling living conditions on reserves today. “This government chose, in silence, to repocket [unspent funds] instead of spending it on people who do not just need it but people for whom they have a fiduciary obligation,” said Ashton in an interview.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission wants additional resources to help survivors of residential schools recover from the decades of horrific abuse at the hands of church and government workers, and heal the hurt that has continued to damage families for generations. The Harper Tory government has made no concrete commitments. INAC’s planned budget is expected to decrease by a billion dollars (to $7 billion) for 2017-18, according to the department’s spring fiscal blueprint.
NAN’s 49 First Nations, especially remote communities, continue to suffer from insufficient infrastructure, housing, health care, and education. In February this year, Health Canada reported that 139 Drinking Water Advisories are in effect in 92 First Nations communities. Thirty-five of these are in NAN First Nations. In a 2015 spring report, the Auditor General of Canada found that Ottawa is not providing adequate access to health care services for First Nations people in remote communities.
NAN also wants to see changes in the federal Nutrition North food subsidy program. Currently only eight of NAN’s 32 remote communities receive the full subsidy, while seven receive a partial subsidy. “The government of Canada has a historic opportunity for nation-wide reconciliation with First Nations, but a sincere commitment backed by action will be needed if we are ever going to repair this relationship,” said Grand Chief Yesno.
Two Nelson House residents are being hailed as heroes after saving four children from a fiery death. The community of Nelson House is about 80 kilometres west of Thompson in Manitoba.
Chastity Spence and 19-year-old Arnold Culley rushed to the aid of four children trapped inside a burning storage shed behind a neighbour’s home.
On Saturday, June 6, 2015, Chastity Spence (a pregnant mom) and 19-year-old Arnold Culley rushed to the aid of four children trapped inside a burning storage shed behind a neighbour’s home. Hearing the children’s cries for help, Spence and Culley tore into the shed to rescue them.
“I grabbed the wall, and I ripped it right off. I couldn’t believe that. I’m a tiny person and that wall was boarded on there pretty good with three other two by fours right over it,” said Spence in a CBC interview. “The flame came out and I backed away. I was going to run in there, and one of the little girls came running through the fire.”
The door to the abandoned shed had been nailed shut, but the kids found a small hole in the wall. “[Culley] went around the back and started prying the corner,” Spence said. “He got that open, that little boy fell out, and then two other little girls came running out, and then like two seconds after we got them out, that shack fell.”
The Office of the Fire Commissioner is investigating the fire. Two six-year-old girls, a five-year-old girl, and a three-year-old boy were injured in the blaze. The three girls were transported to a Winnipeg hospital for treatment of their burns, and one of the six-year-olds remains in serious condition. The boy was treated at the local nursing station and was released.
Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Chief Marcel Moody said that one of the children may have started the fire with a lighter. “We’re real lucky that there were people who came to their rescue and saved them,” Chief Moody said. “They are the real heroes.”
The issue of fire prevention on First Nations reserve lands across Canada continues to dominate the collective consciousness of Aboriginal Canada after two more toddlers were lost to a house fire on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in northern Saskatchewan due to a dispute over unpaid bills with a nearby non-Aboriginal community.
Haley and Harley Cheenanow died in a housefire February 17th on the Makwa Sahgaihcan First Nation in northern Saskatchewan.
On Tuesday, February 17th, a two-year old boy and a one-year old girl died in an early morning blaze at the First Nation west of Meadow Lake. RCMP said officers were dispatched around 1:30 a.m. to the Maka Sahgaiehcan reserve where they found the house engulfed in flames. They said a man, who had gone to the home and found it on fire, came out carrying two small children. Two year-old Harley Cheenanow and his 18-month-old sister Haley had been home with their grandmother when the fire started. The grandmother managed to get out of the house, and although the children’s father arrived in time to carry them out, it was too late, and the children didn’t survive.
The First Nation has had a working fire truck for several years but has never used it. The truck isn’t properly equipped, and no crew had ever been trained to use it. Makwa Sahgaiehcan Chief Richard Ben said the First Nation usually depends on volunteer firefighters from the nearby village of Loon Lake, which is generally responsible for emergency services in the area. However, a dispute over unpaid bills (nearly $3,400) led to a decision not to send firefighters.
Volunteer fire chief Larry Heon of Loon Lake said they got an automated call about the fire Tuesday morning, but his crew did not attend the scene. Heon said the First Nation had sent a letter cancelling a contract with the village for fire services last year. The First Nation, however, said there was previously a dispute over how much the band owed the village over firefighting services. Laurie Lehoux, who has worked as the village administrator since 2012, said the issue of unpaid bills has been ongoing for at least a year. Between March and May 2014, the Loon Lake fire department attended calls to the First Nation for brush and structure fires. By September, Lehoux said the village hadn’t received its fees, despite calls and notes to the First Nation.
An agreement between the village and the First Nation was reached in January 2013 that outlined the costs for attending fires. On January 30, 2015, the fire department sent a letter to the First Nation saying it was over three months behind on payments. In that letter, the fire department said it would no longer respond to any fires until its account was paid.
But Chief Ben said he doesn’t recall signing any contract and said the First Nation always pays the fire department after the call was finished. “It was more or less, they come and we pay them and that was it,” he said. RCMP were they only first responders to attend the scene. “It’s a big big tragedy for us, especially the two children,” said Ben in a CBC interview. “In a way, those kids are like our kids, and I couldn’t help but cry.”
The decision not to attend the fire has fueled tension between the two communities and created a debate in Ottawa over the issue of fire prevention funding to First Nations’ reserves. Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said Makwa Sahgaiehcan, like all First Nations, gets sufficient funding for fire services, but it’s up to band officials to decide how the money is spent. Saskachewan’s child advocate Bob Pringle said too many children have died in fires on reserves lately, and Aboriginal and government leaders need to get their act together and address the problem. “The issues have to be addressed, or there’ll be a next time and a next time and a next time,” said Pringle in a Canadian Press interview. “Adults, figure it out; it’s not rocket science.” Five children died in house fires on Saskachewan First Nations’ reserves last year, and a ten-year-old boy and his adult sister perished in a burning home on the English River First Nation last month. Pringle said he is writing a letter to provincial, federal, and Aboriginal leaders to meet and work on solutions.
Aboriginal leaders and critics have pointed to poverty, outdated and crowded housing and lack of fire prevention measures as causes for widespread house fires on reserves. Eric Sylvestre, head of the Meadow Lake Tribal Council representing First Nations of the area, has ordered an inventory of fire services on the reserves of his group. It’s time for action, Sylvestre says, not “to argue about funding and placing blame.”
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) plans to establish a new co-operative to oversee technical and emergency services on all of the province’s First Nations. Interim FSIN leader Chief Kimberly Johnathan made the announcement at a news conference in Prince Albert. “The co-operative will enable First Nations, through their tribal councils, to benefit from best practices and experience in technical service program delivery,” she said. The co-operative would be responsible for dealing with the provincial government on matters relating to technical and emergency services. “Once the tribal council’s technical services co-op is established, the federal and provincial governments will have an entity to work with on a government to government basis,” she added.
Jonathan said the co-operative would be managed by member First Nations and tribal councils and would oversee areas such as fire protection, water quality, housing codes, community standards, and emergency management. Jonathan said the proposal will be presented to Saskatchewan chiefs at the FSIN’s general assembly in May. They hope to have the specifics ready by June and have the co-op fully functional by next spring.
Jonathan noted the FSIN was recently informed that the federal Aboriginal Affairs and Saskatchewan have negotiated a bilateral agreement for emergency management on reserves, without the participation of Saskatchewan First Nations. She called for those discussions to end until First Nations are included, and for any money given to the province to be transferred to the FSIN instead, to be used for the proposed co-op. “The FSIN executive council is demanding that the government of Saskatchewan and the government of Canada cease and desist all discussions that would see $10 million of Indian money transferred to the province, and redirect those resources to the development and implementation of a tribal council technical services co-operative,” said Jonathan.
Still determined to save their land and culture, the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation hand-delivered a revised nomination for the proposed Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Site to the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris, France at the end of January for review by a team of international experts. The submission has been refined after UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) deferred making any decision on inscribing the 33,400 square kilometres of Anishinaabe cultural landscape and boreal forest in 2013. Since then, the WHC’s expert advisors have worked with the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation, sending missions from the WHC to the area to help strengthen the submission and improve its own evaluation processes for unique projects like Pimachiowin Aki.
Canada’s boreal forest is considered to be the largest intact forest on earth.
The revised 4,000 page submission is a joint effort between the Manitoba and Ontario governments and the five Anishnaabe First Nations of Poplar River, Pikangikum, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, and Bloodvein River. “UNESCO told us in 2013 that they didn’t adequately recognize the bonds that exist in some places between culture and nature,” said William Young of the Bloodvein First Nation, spokesperson for the for the Pimachiowin Aki. “We appreciated the opportunity to explain to them even more clearly the special relationship our people have with the land for generations in this deeper nomination. Our belief is that a World Heritage Site can help protect the boreal forest and our culture is as strong as ever.”
Pimachiowin Aki’s submission contends that the area is both a powerful Aboriginal cultural landscape and a great natural wonder. Of the 1,007 World Heritage Sites recognized by UNESCO, only three percent carry the dual designation of being both a natural and cultural heritage site, making them more complex proposals for the WHC to assess. Pimachiowin Aki, which is Ojibway for the “land that gives life” would be the first of its kind in Canada.
Manitoba premier Greg Selinger described the area as “a rare combination of ecological integrity and cultural continuity in the largest protected area of its kind in the world,” noting that the UNESCO committee sent missions to the area to help re-draft the proposal, “which indicates that they believe it has merit.” “I’m confident UNESCO will look favourably upon this application,” said the premier. The Manitoba and Ontario governments have poured millions of dollars into the bid, with Manitoba putting up the lion’s share of $8 million in funding, spending $320,000 to rework the bid following its rejection in 2013.
Selinger said the money is worth it, as the special designation will give the area worldwide recognition, encourage ecotourism, and protect the land from development. The land, on the east side of lake Winnipeg extending into northwestern Ontario is a relatively untouched stretch of remote boreal forest that is home to the five First Nations whose people continue to practice traditional land use. “It’s an investment for all time, for the citizens of the world and, in particular, an investment in our partners, the First Nations on the east side that are looking after the land and have for generations,” said the premier.
A northern Manitoba First Nation has set up a blockade in the path of hydro workers clear-cutting trees to make way for a hydroelectric transmission line planned to cross their ancestral lands. On Saturday, January 24th, the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation set up what they call “a peaceful occupation that includes a sacred fire” in the path of Manitoba Hydro’s planned Bipole III transmission line.
The Sapotaweyak Cree Nation wants work halted at Manitoba Hydro’s Bipolle III until the provincial government consults with them. Photo credit: Winnipeg Free Press.
The Sapotaweyak Cree Nation released a statement saying they want work halted on clearing a path for Manitoba Hydro’s Bipole III until the provincial government consults with them as required by legal precedents. The First Nation, located north of Swan River, applied for an injunction to delay work on the line in December, but a judge denied their request earlier this month.“I have exhausted the diplomatic and legal routes to voice our concerns against this project, and regrettably, the responsible Manitoba ministers and Manitoba Hydro bigwigs did not take our concerns seriously,” said Chief Nelson Genaille in a statement.
The planned transmission line crosses the First Nation’s ancestral lands between The Pas and Swan River. According to the First Nation, the land being cleared includes burial sites and other sacred places. Manitoba Hydro said in a statement that it considers the action a blockade. “At this time we are evaluating the potential impact of the protest on our work in the area. Clearing work will continue where possible,” said Hydro spokesman Scott Powell. “Manitoba Hydro is reaching out to both the protesters and community leadership to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” he added.
Hydro will continue to evaluate its options and assess the situation, said the spokesman, noting the legal options are firmly in Hydro’s favour. “The community recently went to court to request an injunction to stop work on project, but the courts denied the request,” Powell said.
Genaille said he hopes crews will respect the occupation and not try to skirt the teepees in an effort to resume work. “They’d be making more access points and destroying more land,” he said. Genaille said community leaders from a second First Nation in the area, Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation at Indian Birch, set up a teepee Sunday at another location on the hydro line in a gesture of solidarity. About 20 people are at the Indian Birch site. “Northern and southern communities are getting wind of this, and they could possibly come here also. I’ve spoken to private landowners, local communities, and farmers, and I’ve told them we all stand as one here,” Genaille said.
Manitoba highway workers dropped off road signs for Sapotaweyak to alert passing traffic of the occupation, and RCMP visited the main site of the occupation Saturday, the chief said. Sapotaweyak is located 400 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
A national coalition to encourage the public to report incidents of trafficking contraband tobacco products was formally launched on October 29th by a group of 18 of the nation’s largest retailer associations and tobacco companies, much to the chagrin of tobacco-producing First Nation groups. The National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT) is a Canadian advocacy group concerned about the dangers of contraband tobacco and criminal activity. NCACT is composed of groups such as the Canadian Convenience Stores Association, the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council, the National Convenience Stores Distributors Association, the Retail Council of Canada, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Elected Chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River, Ava Hill opposes Bill C-10.
The initiative comes as police are set to get new powers of arrest under Bill C-10, an omnibus crime bill that passed third reading in the Senate in mid-October and is set to become law. The controversial bill will make trafficking in contraband tobacco a criminal offense, a move heavily criticized by First Nations.
The Six Nations Council of the Grand River says that Bill C-10 is a direct attack on their economy. They argue that the Native tax-free tobacco trade has been well established for over 30 years, and their producer, the Haudenosaunee Trade Collective (HTC), reports that Six Nations territory has over 2,000 jobs linked directly or indirectly to the tobacco industry that could be at risk. The HTC says that some smoke shops have already shut down in fear of the bill’s implications.
Jacqueline Bradley, executive director of NCACT, said contraband tobacco makes money for organized crime and gangs and is part of the same trafficking network that moves drugs and guns. Bradley claims there are at least 50 illegal manufacturing plants and some 300 illegal smoke shops on reserves in Canada. “As soon as it leaves the reserve, it’s contraband,” said Bradley in an interview with the Hamilton Spectator.
The NCACT says that contraband tobacco is a serious problem that is getting worse each day. They are cheap, easily bought, and lack any government inspection, control, or taxation. They say that it greatly contributes to young people’s addiction to cigarettes because cheap prices, easy access, and no age checks means that youth are having no trouble getting tobacco through the contraband market. From 2007-2009, the Canadian Convenience Stores Association conducted a major study into the proliferation of contraband tobacco at high schools in Ontario and Quebec. After surveying hundreds of sites, the study found that nearly one-third of the cigarettes found at Ontario high schools and 40% at Quebec high schools were contraband.
Gary Grant (retired police officer with the Toronto Police Service) is the National Spokesperson for the National Coalition against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT).
In late September, the NCACT called on the government of Ontario to finally take the contraband problem seriously, in light of new information about the trade of illegal cigarettes in the province that confirms 42% of cigarettes purchased in the province in July were contraband. “We’ve long known that Ontario has the worst contraband tobacco problem in Canada, but now we know just how extreme the challenge is,” said Gary Grant, a 39-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service and national spokesman for the NCACT. “This challenge is created by low price and easy availability of illegal cigarettes, with a baggie of 200 cigarettes costing as little as $8.”
Organized crime groups are using the trade in contraband tobacco to finance other more serious criminal activities. As of 2011, the RCMP has identified over 175 organized crime groups involved in the trafficking of contraband cigarettes. The NCACT also says that contraband cigarettes are killing small businesses and threatening the livelihoods of thousands of convenience store owners. These contraband cigarettes, which are being smuggled throughout Canada in record numbers, now represent one out of every three cigarettes sold. This means that legitimate retailers are losing tens of thousands of dollars in sales each year, but its not just First Nations cigarettes. The NCACT says most of these contraband cigarettes are being illegally imported from places like China or illegally sold—tens of thousands of cartons each day. This all happens with no government inspection, testing, oversight or taxation. CTV’s investigative news program W5, reported in 2011 that contraband tobacco is robbing the federal government of as much as $2 billion in taxes each year.
On September 22nd, Six Nations Chief Ava Hill made a presentation about the impact of Bill C-10 on the community of the Six Nations of the Grand River. Chief Hill said the bill will have a devastating effect on their economy and the local non-Aboriginal economies like Branford and Hagersville and criminalizes an inherent right to a traditional trade activity. Hill said the bill is not about crime but about lost tax revenues. “This connection to crime is a red herring and part of a fear mongering strategy used by this government to scare legislators into passing this bill,” said Hill. Hill said Six Nations acknowledges that there may be a criminal element in many sectors of business and society, but they do not support or condone any connection with criminal activity relating to the tobacco industry. Hill added that federal scare tactics that claim First Nations cigarettes contain dangerous or unhealthy additives. She said many manufacturers grow their own tobacco to be used in the final product. As such, there is more quality control, and First Nations cigarettes are often a more pure product than those produced by multibillion dollar manufacturers.
In her presentation, Hill asked the government to withdraw its bill or make First Nations exempt from the law. She also asked the government to refer it to the Supreme Court of Canada as a violation of section 35 of the Constitution, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the duty to consult. Hill said this is a jurisdictional issue, as the Six Nations have pre-confederation treaties with the Crown that are recognized and protected by Canada’s Constitution of 1982 and now form part of the rule of law in Canada. She said she will be talking to other Iroquois First Nations, the HDC, and other allies to work on a strategy to fight the implementation of the bill. Hill commented in an interview with the Branford Expositor, “We’re not just going to accept it. We’re looking at options to fight this.” The bill has yet to receive royal assent that will create minimum sentences for various crimes relating to the sale of contraband tobacco.
While helping with his mother’s funeral arrangements some six years ago, Snuneymuxw entrepreneur Tom Simpson wanted to find a way to acknowledge and honour her passing with a casket that would reflect her aboriginal heritage.
Much to his surprise, he could find no one who built an indigenous product of that nature to lay his beloved mother to rest. So Simpson set out on his own, slowly teaching himself to cut and carve salvaged western red cedar in the workshop of his Nanaimo home. He learned to transform the salvaged wood into custom-made Aboriginal caskets that could be painted and carved by First Nations artists in the traditions of the deceased.
Today, Simpson’s home-based business Cedar Creek Caskets is thriving, with people calling from all over Vancouver Island, the north coast, and lower mainland. In a typical year, Simpson and his one helper build and sell 70 to 80 caskets at a cost of about $13,000 per unit. “It’s been largely by word of mouth. It’s an eco-friendly product. There’s no decorative metal or chemicals. From an eco-perspective, it’s not necessary. I use natural oils,” says Simpson.
Simpson says a growing number of non-Native people are attracted to his eco-friendly caskets. “It’s a growing part of my little company. More and more non-Native families are choosing it for that reason,” he said.