Topic: NEWS

Canada 150+ Signature Events Unveiled

The events will showcase the vibrant living culture of our three Host Nations—the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh—as well as traditional and contemporary arts from the Urban Aboriginal and Métis people of Vancouver and beyond.

The nine-day Drum is Calling Festival set for July 22-30 in Larwill Park is one of three signature events planned for this year. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Festival Artistic Director Margo Kane today announced the unique Indigenous and diverse cultural programming for this festival.

Some festival headliners include: Buffy Sainte-Marie, PowWowStep creator DJ Shub, singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk, country sensation Crystal Shawanda, Juno Award winner William Prince, rising R&B star George Leach, genre-defying artist Kinnie Star, literary giant Tomson Highway, and powerful spoken word poet and musician Shane Koyczan.

“Vancouver is proud to be a City of Reconciliation and commemorating our heritage this Canada 150+ year in partnership with our host First Nations, the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson. “Vancouver’s ‘plus’ in our Canada 150+ celebrations recognizes the heritage of our land before 150 years, our journey to the present, and moving forward with mutual understanding and respect with our local First Nations and Urban Aboriginal community. I encourage all Vancouverites to experience the music, traditions, art and more of our Host Nations at one of our many events this year.”

During the program unveiling some of the speakers included Chief Wayne Sparrow from Musqueam Nation, Chief Ian Campbell from Squamish Nation and Chief Maureen Thomas from Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

Additional highlights during the Drum is Calling Festival will include hands-on workshops and live programming inside the Indigenous housing forms built by the Kanata installation.

Indigenous Fashion Week (July 26–29), is the brainchild of former international model Joleen Mitten and will feature the super-stars and emerging artists of Indigenous fashion design and modelling.

The first signature event of 2017 will be the opportunity to witness a landing of the Pulling Together Canoe Journey at the Gathering of Canoes on July 14.  Up to 30 canoes—with First Nations, Public Service Agencies and youth paddlers—will request permission to land on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

During the third signature event, tens of thousands of Vancouverites are also expected to participate in the second-ever Walk for Reconciliation on September 24. In partnership with Reconciliation Canada and as part of the legacy of the inspirational Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, O.B.C., the walk will remind Vancouverites of the healing and transformational power of ‘Namwayut — We Are All One’.

More details about The City of Vancouver’s Canada 150+ programming are available on the program’s website: www.canada150plus.ca.

BC Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative Funding for 2017-18

Vancouver – The New Relationship Trust (NRT), partnered with Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) through the Strategic Partnerships Initiative (SPI), has allocated $1,200,000 of federal funding for the 2017-2018 fiscal year of the BC Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative (BCICEI).

Eligible BCICEI projects could receive support through contributions up to $150,000 in assisted project costs; however, project support levels will be determined based on demand for funds and the strength of applications. Categories of project development phases under the BCICEI include:

  • Feasibility and Site Selection
  • Environmental Review and Permitting
  • Project Design and Engineering
  • Demand Side Management

The BCICEI funding will support community projects that follow the completion of community engagement (such as a community energy plan), including those needed to secure an electricity purchase agreement and/or to attract debt and equity financing to enable project construction. Demand for BCICEI funds is high, therefore 2017-18 priority will go to project applications that:

  • Demonstrate readiness and viability through agreements and/or partnerships required for construction and commissioning;
  • Create opportunities for communities to gain experience and build capacity with clean energy or energy efficiency project development, including pilot projects; and/or
  • Support clean energy development in remote, off-grid, or diesel dependent communities

The BCICEI funding will provide support for planning and implementation of clean energy projects, such as hydro, wind, biomass, solar, marine, or geothermal technologies. Other initiatives may include energy efficiency projects, energy storage, and reducing dependency on conventional diesel power generation.
 

Open Date for Applications
April 19, 2017
Close Date for Applications
May 24, 2017

 

“NRT is pleased to partner with Western Diversification Canada to deliver this clean energy initiative throughout British Columbia. We have found that First Nation communities in BC have embraced clean energy projects enthusiastically and look for sustainable options to create economic opportunities while respecting the environment.”
-Cliff Fregin, Chief Executive Officer, New Relationship Trust

The new 2017/18 BC Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative (BCICEI) Guidelines and Application are available on the NRT website:
http://www.newrelationshiptrust.ca/initiatives/special-projects/clean-energy-initiative

The Legacy of Standing Rock

By THOMAS FITZGERALD

The Dakota Pipeline battle is over and the smoke has cleared at Standing Rock, and once again history records another injustice, one more in a long train of abuses perpetrated upon First Nations people by a North American government.

Since First Nations Drum last report on Standing Rock was published late November of last year, winter arrived and camp population dwindled to a few hundred people. In January, Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault called for camps to disband, citing harsh weather conditions and possible contamination of the Missouri River during the coming spring flood.

Authorities set the deadline for all protestors to evacuate both camps – Sacred Stone Camp, and, Oceti Sakowin Camp – for February 22. In a news release one day prior to the deadline, Minnesota Governor Doug Burgum announced people were being allowed to leave voluntarily.

“You know that our big ask for tomorrow is anyone remaining in the camp, we want to make sure that they know they have an opportunity to voluntarily leave. Take your belongings, remove anything that may be culturally significant and we’ll help you get on your way if you need to do that,” Burgum was quoted by CNN.

Most protestors, about 100, obliged, and left voluntarily. However, 33 persons were arrested the following day for refusal to comply with the government’s demand, this according to the North Dakota Joint Information Center. According to North Dakota authorities, an additional 23 people were arrested during site cleanup, bringing the total number of persons arrested to 55. On February 24, one day after the deadline to evacuate expired, via social media – Twitter – the Morton County Sheriff’s Department declared the camp cleared just after 2 p.m.

Directional drilling under Lake Oahe is complete and Dakota Access intends to place the pipeline into service on May 14 of this year. Lake Oahe is located one half mile upstream from the Sioux tribe’s Standing Rock Reservation. The Dakota Pipeline does not cross Sioux land but at it nearest point comes within about 150 meters from Standing Rock Reservation.

Sacred Stone Camp was founded by Standing Rock’s Historic Preservation Officer, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, in April 2016, and served as the center for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline.

The change in season to warm summer weather brought with it an increase in the number of protestors. At its peak Sacred Stone became home to 10,000 people. This lead to the creation of an overflow camp, the Oceti Sakowin Camp (the Lakȟótiyapi name for the Great Sioux Nation or Seven Fires Council). Oceti Sakowin was the camp closest to where the pipeline runs beneath the Missouri River.

History Between the US Government and Great Sioux Nation

Land belonging to the Great Sioux Nation was taken by the US government by authority of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The Sioux were restricted to land east of the Missouri River and the State line of South Dakota to the west. The Black Hills, sacred land to the Sioux, were awarded to the tribe.

The infamous General George Custer led his 7th Calvary into the Black Hills in 1874 in direct violation of the treaty. With Custer’s discovery of gold in the Black Hills, a “Gold Rush” ensued leading the US government to seek negotiations to rent or buy the Black Hills from the rightful owners – the Lakota Sioux.

Lakota Sioux spiritual leader Sitting Bull led his peoples’ opposition against acceptance of further encroachment upon, and theft of, their ancestral land leading to another war between a First Nations tribe defending their land against a US federal government looking to take it.

The Great Sioux War of 1876, or, the Black Hills War, included the Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho, and ended in 1877. The war was not without a significant victory for indigenous forces. It was at the Battle of Little Bighorn where Custer met his demise. Known as Custer’s Last Stand, the battle was an overwhelming victory for the Plains “Indians.”

As happened throughout U.S. history, superior resources enabled the US federal government to have its way, forcing the Sioux to surrender. The US government employed a common tactic when combating a First Nations people – attack and destroy encampments and property. The Agreement of 1877 ending the Black Hills War included a provision allowing the US government to steal the Black Hills away from the Sioux Nation.

T’Sou-ke First Nations Lead the Way in Solar Energy

Car charging station at T’Sou-ke Band Office. Source: <a href="http://www.tsoukenation.com" target="_blank">www.tsoukenation.com</a>.

Car charging station at T’Sou-ke Band Office. Source: www.tsoukenation.com.


by Frank Larue

“We made the decision, which is really easy, that it’s a light footprint approach, and we did that for our children. It’s all about future generations.” T’Sou-ke Chief Gordon Planes told the CBC.

Located just outside Victoria, B.C., the T’Sou-ke First Nation may be a native Band of only 250 members but they are numero uno when it comes to solar energy. Having operated on a solar micro grid for the last ten years, their solar energy program was made possible thanks to the Comprehensive Community Planning, which is run by Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

The T’Souke Band solar energy program is based upon a list four priority pillars – energy, autonomy, food, self-sufficiency and cultural renaissance – and is built on the premise that it does not use more power than it produces. And selling power to BC Hydro brings the T’Sou-ke a financial return.

The Band offers eco-tourism tours that have attracted politicians, thousands of visitors interested in solar power, and several native leaders, including four chiefs from Manitoba making the trek to find out firsthand about solar energy and its benefits. The Band also offers workshops demonstrating how solar energy works.

Solar panels at work. Source: <a href="http://www.tsoukenation.com" target="_blank">www.tsoukenation.com</a>

Solar panels at work.
Source: www.tsoukenation.com

The benefit to solar energy over traditional energy sources was clear to Chief Planes, who, regarding the money that will be saved by adopting solar energy, said, “You’re going to look at a huge cost in the future if they’ve gotta’ start flying fuel in.”

The T’Souke also are involved in specialized agriculture. They own three greenhouses and grow Wasabi, a plant that stimulates nasal passages and is known as the Japanese horseradish. Although Wasabi is more popular in the USA and Europe than it is in Canada, the Band’s first Wasabi harvest was worth $100,000 and the Band now grows Wasabi on a yearly basis.

The T’Souke Band have one more project that is a work in progress. They want to save the Olympia oyster, which is listed as an endangered species. “There are not many left in our harbor We need to bring them back, full circle. The community will tackle anything that ensures the environment will be better for future generations and children yet to be born,” said Chief Planes. “It is important to bring everyone along and that whatever we envision, that we have the whole community behind it.”

Brenda Butterworth-Carr First Aboriginal Woman Promoted to Commanding Officer of the RCMP

by Frank Larue

Brenda Butterworth-Carr

Brenda Butterworth-Carr is the first Indigenous woman to head the RCMP’s B.C. division. (RCMP)

Born in the Yukon, a member of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in Han Nation, Brenda Butterworth-Carr has been a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for 30 years.

“I’ve always kept in my mind why I joined the organization in the first place and that was to influence and affect positive change. I come from a First Nation where we strive for equality,” said Butterworth-Carr.

Butterworth-Carr’s career began in the Yukon in 1987 as one member of a three person detachment.

After the Yukon she went on to serve in the National HQ in Ottawa, followed by a tour of duty in Saskatchewan where she was eventually promoted to commanding officer.

“Her career has been diverse and has provided her with a strong understanding of the provincial, municipal and First Nations service agreements,” Public Safety Minister Mike Morris told the CBC.

When Butterworth-Carr returned to British Columbia in 2016 she did so as Officer in charge of Criminal Operations Core Policing.

“My experience has lent credibility to what I bring to the organization, from the smallest detachments in the north to larger municipal detachments, and certainly on a national level,” Butterworth-Carr is quoted in the Vancouver Sun. “I don’t shy away from any challenges.”

One challenge facing Butterworth-Carr is addressing sexual harassment, a behavior she says, as does any other inappropriate behavior, that needs to be met with a policy of zero tolerance.

“Any kind of inappropriate behavior, sexual in nature, or otherwise. We are a force of inclusion and equality, and we strive for that. Anything less than that is unacceptable,” explained Butterworth-Carr.

Butterworth-Carr supports and prioritizes the building and maintaining of a strong connection between police and the people of all communities, large and small.

“One thing very critical to me is to continue the engagement in all of our communities in a very collaborative manner. Police services are not done in isolation,” said Butterworth-Carr. “I believe that together we’re stronger, and that will continue to be our focus as we move into the future.”

Butterworth-Carr currently serves as chairwoman of the RCMP’s National Women’s Advisory Committee, is a member of the Canadian and International Association of Chiefs of Police, and a member of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces.

Brenda Butterworth-Carr is the first Aboriginal woman promoted to Commanding Officer on the B.C. RCMP. Her promotion to this position means the door is now open for other Aboriginal women to be considered for high profile positions in police roles. She is more than deserving and will do an excellent job.

First Nations an Integral Part of Clean Energy Landscape in BC

By Paul Kariya, Executive Director Clean Energy BC (CEBC)

Culliton Creek hydro facility commissioning

BluEarth celebrates Culliton Creek hydro facility commissioning with the Squamish First Nation in May 2016. Photo Credit: BluEarth Renewables

As Executive Director of CEBC, which represents clean energy operators and developers, suppliers, contractors, service providers, and post-secondary institutions’ Yorkville University and BCIT, I know the dramatic impact that renewables can have on First Nations economic development.

There are currently 106 independent power projects in operation throughout BC. The private sector has invested over $9 billion in clean energy projects that benefit all British Columbians. We in BC are very good at doing these clean and renewable projects. We have a supply chain that is experienced and possess the know-how to do this – the contractors, legal teams, financiers, environmental consultants, etc. Projects are a significant source of revenue for local communities, and taxpayers benefit too (public debt is not used).

But this success story would not be possible without the support of First Nations. Our members work closely with First Nations, who receive training, jobs, and contracts. First Nations partners also benefit from royalties from the developer and revenue sharing from the provincial government.

First Nations have embraced economic development from clean and renewable energy projects that will provide revenue for their government and necessary public services – schools, education, recreation, cultural services and roads etc. Previously, the wealth came from fishing, hunting and trade based on natural resources. The economic underpinnings of government still come from the land and natural resources. Many First Nations embrace clean and renewable energy projects because they meet their principles – protect the environment, build legacy infrastructure, and enable sustainable economic development.

Water Flowing out of the tailrace culvert

Water Flowing out of the tailrace culvert at Alterra’s Jimmie Creek hydro project. Photo Credit: Alterra Power Corp.

Last year, I attended ceremonial openings of the Box Canyon, Culliton Creek, and Tretheway Creek hydro projects. These projects were all awarded contracts from BC Hydro under the 2008 Clean Power Call. But soon, the last of these projects will be completed. And the Standing Offer Program, which provides an opportunity for projects under 15MWs, is also at risk of being rolled-back. So when and where will the next opportunity come? Will economic reconciliation with First Nations continue to include hydro, wind, solar, biomass and other renewable projects?

BC can unlock more of these opportunities through aggressive climate policies that encourage greater use of electricity to power how we live. That involves everything from promoting electric vehicles, to getting remote communities off of diesel. CEBC is one of the few industry associations with First Nations members, and we encourage your readers to consider joining CEBC as we advocate clean energy for more opportunities going forward. Given the need to encourage young people to look for careers in clean energy, we are also launching a Clean Energy Scholarship, which will provide $1000 to a graduating student this year. For more information, please visit www.cleanenergybc.org.

On Call for Fentanyl

by Michelle Oleman

Vancouver BC, one of Canada’s largest and busiest port cities, is riddled with overdose victims – many ending up as dead bodies. At a ready to aid on the front line is Glenice Delorme, a young First Nations woman trained to administer Narcanon to overdose victims. She works with a team of first responders in the downtown eastside.

Glenice Delorme, OPS Team member

Glenice Delorme, OPS Team member

She lives at a Raincity Housing building in Vancouver. Here, she received training through the Overdose Prevention Society (OPS).  Upon being asked how she felt about helping others and working with authority figures, she responds: “I think it’s great, we are peer-to-peer – addicts helping addicts. I think they trust us a little more than they would police or ambulance because we’re there to help them… keep them safe.”

Emphasizing the idea behind the Overdose Prevention Society’s mandate to help prevent death by overdose through trust and peer mentorship, one Vancouverite states that “… it’s someone else who has been on the street, walked in their shoes… pulled up her boots. More relative than some lady living in a penthouse suite who knows basically nothing about the person.”

During the interview at the trailer on Lot 62 W Hastings, one overdose actually occurs. First Nations Drum could not get any photographs of the action, but we did get a running commentary from the ante-room in the trailer.

The victim falls, and Glenice ushers me into the ante-room away from the drug user room. She points to a chair where I can sit and take notes.

The sounds of first responder’s voices are heard:

Female: “How long ago did he use?”

2nd Female: “He signed in 20 mins ago.”

Male:  “What did he take?”

2nd Female: “Down [heroine] – in the arm.”

There are scuffling sounds as the responder team rallies around the victim, checking vital signs and assessing his situation. More voices are heard as they try to revive the victim.

Male: “Wake up buddy! Wake up or we’re going to Narc you!”

2nd Female: “Call 911!  He’s got the… He needs some breath.”

More scuffling as oxygen is administered. I still cannot take a picture, though, the image of the young male – completely motionless – surrounded by people in orange safety vests etches itself in my memory. His lips are blue. Glenice closes the door.

Male: “Please don’t fight while we’re trying to save somebody’s life.”

A fellow user has recognized the victim: “I know him! His name is –”

Male: “Please step back, we need to help him.”

Female: “Yeah, you need to wait outside.”

The trailer door bangs shut as they escort the other user outside, and the team continues their work.

2nd Male: “Did you narc him? Narc him again!”

2nd Female: “Do you want me to make him another one?”

The victim stirs audibly.

Male: “He’s ok, I just gave him another one. He’s ok.”

Female: “He’s breathing.”

2nd Female: “There’s the ambulance.”

Possibly the most intense 5-minutes anybody could ever experience is over for everyone involved.

I later learned that it took a team of four first responders to revive this victim and call the ambulance within less than 5-minutes. The victim cannot be named, but he was taken to hospital in an ambulance and has hopefully survived this ordeal.

When asked about her recent experiences reviving young people, Glenice says, “so far, I’ve had to revive only one native victim. She was so young, she was only 17 and her [male partner] didn’t want me to help her. She was so tiny, maybe 80-pounds, and I had to narc her several times.” On another note, she adds, “It is so sad that we’re losing so many aboriginal drug users to the fentanyl because they are embarrassed and ashamed to come into our program for help, in case their families find out.”

Philip Tom, OPS Team Member

Philip Tom, OPS Team Member

Speaking to Lee (who wishes not to be photographed), the acting Overdose Prevention Society program director/ supervisor for this shift, states very solemnly that: “Definitely without a place like this, many will die.” He also states that this program is ongoing, growing and learning quickly. Along with Lee and Glenice, there are two more team members willing to share their brief experiences of working at Lot 62 E Hastings St., alley entrance to the tents and trailer just behind Pigeon Park Savings.

Samantha Boss lives in the downtown eastside, and has been working with OPS since just before Christmas time. This is one of the busiest seasons for overdose occurrences. “It can get to you, plus bring harm reduction,” she says. “It’s keeping me sober.”

Philip Tom from Burns Lake BC worked at Carnegie Center, The Gathering Place, and the former Downtown Eastside Street Market before the side became the OPS location. He says that “… it’s the most satisfying work I’ve done around here.”

Joseph Boyden Now Questioned for Similarities

by Frank Larue

Joseph Boyden is one of the most successful native authors in Canada. His books, the Orenda, Three Day Road,  Born with a Tooth, Wenjack, Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, A Mixed Blood Highway, Kiskwakew, Upronts: The Orenda, Northwords, and Outside the Wire have become best sellers, and he has been the recipient of several awards including the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and Canada Reads. He has also been celebrated by the media as one of the country’s best writers.

Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden, author of award winning books Three Day Road and Black Spruce, questioned about aboriginal ancestry

Lately though, not everything has been going his way. APTN recently questioned Boyden, asking him if he is truly native.

Years ago, when the future superstar Shania Twain was climbing the ladder of success, she stated she was native and was raised by an Indian father. The latter was true, but the same doesn’t go for the initial. There was no native blood running in her veins. APTN is wondering if Boyden will be another case.

Boyden has stated that his ancestry is one of mixed blood. “I’ve used the term Metis in the past when referring to myself as a mixed blood person. I do not trace my roots to Red River, and I apologize to any Red River Metis I’ve upset.”

Boyden may have critics, but he also has supporters. Manitoba NDP MLA Wab Kinew understands the problems of proving native ancestry without being able to connect with some native community.

“I myself have been curious about Joseph Boyden’s ancestry, but at the same time, I recognize that he is part of our community by virtue of the relationship he has formed with many people,” expresses Kinew. “I think, for any people who find out about their Indigenous ancestry later in life, there a lot of questions about ‘how do they belong’. I think the way he has gone about giving back to the community, particularly in the James Bay region, taking kids to hunting camps, doing some philanthropy in some other areas, and working to highlight up and coming writers – even giving them residency – these are all signs he is giving back,” Kinew told APTN.

Considering the reputation Joseph Boyden has built over the years as an author and someone who cares about native people, First Nation’s Drum wonders what has brought about the questions of ancestry?

“I’ve heard of people questioning his background,” Russ Diablo, policy analyst from Kanawake, told APTN. “It is because of his public comments on Aboriginal issues that people started to question ‘Who is this guy?”

The controversy won’t go away, only the calendar will resolve the situation. In the meantime, Boyden has another problem, which is also serious enough to derail his career.

Boyden’s short story Bearwalker has similarities to a story written by Ron Geyshick, titled Inside My Heart. Geyshick died in 1996, so he can’t discuss the matter; however, Judith Doyle, the woman who helped him compile his stories, told APTN:

“The stories formally share intimate structural details. They begin and end in exactly the same way – the turn of phrase, the cadence, the description, the characters. There’s such symmetry between the two passages.” Boyden stated he had heard the story from elder Xavier Bird in the mid-nineties in Fort Albany, and then again in Moosonee.

“I saw it as a type of modern parable, a Christian story, filtered through the distinct local experience and lens. It was a story that stuck with me.” It seems strange that a celebrated and respected writer, who has written 11 books – including award winners Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce – has been questioned about his blood and the sources for his writings. Respected literary critics in the United States and Canada have reviewed him, and most of the reviews were of a positive nature – the word plagiarist never being brought up.

One of Canada’s Finest Writers, Richard Wagamese Dies at 61

by Frank Larue

Richard Wagamese, one of Canada’s greatest writers, died in March.

“He taught us about our history. He taught us the emotional truth of our history, as great fiction writers do. And he was one of our greats,” says Shelagh Rogers, a close friend of Wagamese. “He lived story. Story was who he was. And he felt that we all connect through sharing our stories, and that reconciliation would be about sharing our stories.”

He was the author of several books, including Indian Horse – which will soon be a movie – Medicine Walk, Keeper’n Me, Ragged Company, One Native Life, One Story One Song, Dream Wheels, For Joshua, The Next Sure Thing, Him Standing, Runaway Dream, and his most recent release, Embers. 

Richard Wagamese 

His books are greatly influenced by past experience. Largely, it was the pain of being one of the Scoop of The Sixties victims, ripped away from his birth parents, forced to be brought up by adopted white parents. But along with the pain, there also came a deep understanding of native life, and of the difficulties of cultural survival within our present. Within the residential schools legacy and the racism that has existed for the last century.

“We’re becoming an undeniable voice. The strength and the vitality in the way we’re learning and choosing to tell our stories is becoming undeniable, so that when we present manuscripts to publishers, the first thing they look at is the quality of the writing and not the colour of the person.” Wagamese told the Kamloops Star. “What we’re indeed engaged in is creating a literature of our people.”

Before writing books, Wagamese was a journalist. Beginning in 1979, he wrote columns for newspapers, including the Calgary Herald. His columns attracted attention for their style and originality. He was the first Indigenous writer to receive a National Newspaper award.

Eventually, he started writing for the Globe and Mail, and he became the voice of Canadian Indigenous people. In one article, he wrote:

“To be Indian in Canada today means that one signatory to be the nation-to-nation agreement that frames your life forgets that it’s a treaty nation. It entrenched itself historically when it signed those documents. Unfortunately, the years since have been an ongoing process of denial of obligations and responsibilities under treaty.

“To be Indian today is to see youth languish in chronic unemployment and malaise, endure high rates of alcohol, drug, and solvent abuse or die by suicide at a rate five-to-seven times higher than non-aboriginal youth.

“To be Indian today is to see your children suffer. On reserve, in Metis communities, and in the cities. Aboriginal children go hungry, lack warm clothing and solid educational resources, die as infants at a rate two-to-four times the national average, and endure immunization rates 20 times lower than the general population.

“To be Indian in Canada today is to know your women are likely to be victimized, murdered, or go missing. It’s to know that you may have to share a two bedroom with as many as 16 other people. It’s the understanding that running water is a luxury, or clean drinking water a rarity. It’s the awareness that Canada has known about these grave issues for decades, but they still persist.”

Wagamese brings out several other pitfalls for being an Indian, and then concludes in a more optimistic direction:

“To be Indian today is to stand in solidarity and equality with brothers and sisters across the country. To say that we won’t live in this way no longer. To watch our youth and our women take to the forefront of this direct action, and lead. This is what awaits the new ‘Indians’, and to them, I say welcome.”

Wagamese was also critical of certain native organizations such as the AFN.

“At the risk of being politically incorrect, there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians in the Assembly of First Nations. When the AFN votes today to elect a new chief, only 633 voices will count. Those are the voices of the elected chief, they, or their proxies, are the only ones who are allowed to vote. To be a First Nation’s person in Canada is to be rendered voiceless by the very organization that purports to represent you.”

To say Wagamese will be missed is an understatement. He was an original, and has left big shoes to fill.

“I think he was very generous and kind with others,” Wab Kinew, a member of the Manitoba Legislature, told the media. “As much as it is sad to see that he left us too soon, it’s also very powerful to see the impact he had on so many people in life.”

Natives Are Defending Ontario Forests

by Dr. John Bacher (PhD) and Danny Beaton

Our Mother Earth is protectively robed in a cloak of beautiful forests, but in southern Ontario they are threatened by urban sprawl. Most of the remaining forests away from the northern taiga bogs and the rocky Canadian Shield are wetlands, which farmers have gained the wisdom to understand are unsuitable for agriculture. These vital wildlife refuges are now threatened by a policy review that has escaped coverage in the mainstream media outside of the Niagara Region.

Danny Beaton (left) and John Bacher (right) at Niagara Falls in 2016. Photo by Sandy Devih Heeralal

Danny Beaton (left) and John Bacher (right) at Niagara Falls in 2016. Photo by Sandy Devih Heeralal

The cornerstone of public policy in Ontario, whose concepts have emerged from the United States’ Clean Water Act and subsequent battles by environmentalists in the courts, is protected, achieved from the wetland policy mandated in 1992. It was achieved following a process triggered by the New Democratic Party (NDP) government of Ontario, and initiated by the previous Liberal government.

The core of the wetland policy is that once it has achieved a scoring of 600 points, a wetland is considered ‘provincially significant’, and is therefore legally prohibited from development and ‘site alteration’. Apart from having plant species that thrive in wet environments, what pushes the point score to the needed threshold is the presence of species at risk.

The wetland policy was one of the achievements by the NDP government when it was intensively consulting with native peoples on needed environmental reforms. During this time, the respected Iroquois Confederacy Chief Arnie General would complain about the need for better mileage allowances, although he tried to economize through getting around in a mini two-seat car.

During the early 1990’s when the wetland policy was being developed, Danny Beaton – a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan – worked closely with General and other environmentally concerned native leaders, such as Norm Jacobs. This experience put him in a good position in 2015, when brave public servants sent alarm signals privately to environmentalists, warning that two disturbing changes in public policy were being made to open up southern Ontario’s wetland forests to developers.

The two proposed changes were to the Conservation Authorities Act and the Provincial Wetland policy. Currently, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) evaluate wetlands. The policy change was to alter the Conservation Authorities Act in order to permit the staff of municipally appointed Conservation Authorities, subject to influence from developers, to evaluate wetlands. The other change was to allow currently protected, provincially significant wetlands to be destroyed by developers if compensation in the form of what was called, in a provincial consultation paper, ‘bio-diversity offsetting’.

In September 2015, Beaton journeyed to Newmarket, where the consultation on the Conservation Authorities Act was taking place with environmental groups. Beaton’s inspiring words denouncing the firing of the conservation authority staff, those who had worked to protect wetlands, woke up the environmentalists present. This discrediting of proposed alterations to the conservation legislation had the impact of developers putting even more pressure on the province to implement ‘bio-diversity offsetting’.

Developers targeted the 500-acre Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls for what they termed a ‘pilot project’ in ‘bio-diversity offsetting’. The old growth forest – predominately oak – is a refuge for a number of endangered species. These include three species of bats, the rare Black Gum, the Wood Thrush, Acadian Flycatcher, Chimney Swift, Monarch Butterfly, the Nine Spotted Lady Beetle, and the Snapping Turtle. The forest is rich in vernal pools that provide critical habitat for obligate species, such as the Blue Spotted Salamander, and the Wood, Chorus, and Grey Tree Frogs. It also contains rare Buttonbush and Rufous Bullrush communities.

On April 12th, Beaton went to the Niagara Falls City Council to rescue the threatened Thundering Waters Forest. He spoke about the dangerous precedent that was attempted to be set at Thundering Waters, which could spread destruction to forests throughout Ontario.

City Hall Council Niagara Falls 2016.  Photo by photo by Sandy Devih Heeralal 2016

City Hall Council Niagara Falls 2016.  Photo by photo by Sandy Devih Heeralal 2016

Beaton’s words helped to inspire an Oneida resident of Niagara Falls, Karl Doxtater. He mobilized his extended family in Niagara Falls to take part in the struggle to save the Thundering Waters Forest. Doxtater also subsequently played a major role in mobilizing native leaders in the struggle on both sides of the Niagara River.

Doxtater played a key role in organizing a rally by the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition of Niagara on July 7th, 2016, in front of the City Hall of Niagara Falls. Here, native leaders who took part included Celeste Smith, Allan Jamieson, Lester Green, and Kelly Frantastic Davis.  Smith, who is of the Wolf Clan of the Oneida of Grand River, called for a “… moratorium on the development of the Thundering Waters Forest until a clear, transparent, public process can decisively establish a full social, environmental, and economic benefit of this forest remaining completely intact.”

In his many writings defending the Thundering Waters Forest, Doxtater penned the moving essay: ‘Life Cycle of a Niagara White Oak Tree’. The essay is a tribute to the tallest and oldest tree discovered in the threatened forest. Expert ecologist Dr. Barry Warner – a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan – estimates the tree to be 250 years old.

Doxtater wrote that “… almost 250 years ago, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, William Johnson, stood only a few miles” from the now great oak. It was just a seedling. Then in the Treaty of Niagara of 1763, Doxtater explains that Johnson “… planted the seeds for a covenant of peace that became formative in the country now called Canada. This agreement, the Treaty of Niagara, which came on the heels of the Royal Proclamation, laid the foundation to formalize the importance of Niagara as a traditional land of peace, strength, and integrity. Johnson understood better than any of his contemporaries that the only path to peace was by including the principles of people original to the land. Those legally affirmed principles of land stewardship – such as equal access to resources like water and air for all living things – now tower over the Western cultural appetite for endless exponential growth.”

Beaton and Doxtater woke up the residents of Niagara, and a few leaders of the environmental group. It is to be hoped that their message of the urgency to protect threatened forested wetlands, as well as its dependent wildlife, is heard more widely.

by Dr. John Bacher (PhD) and Danny Beaton