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The Zibi Development and Indigenous Consent: Contestation and Protest

By Joey Clavette

On June 17 a group of over 300 protesters marched from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill. The protest was organized by Algonquin Elders under the slogan “It Is Sacred,” referring to the Albert and Chaudière Islands, which have been sold to Windmill and Dream Unlimited Corp. in order to build the Zibi development project consisting of condominiums and commercial spaces.P1040975

Picket signs read: “Trudeau aidez nous (Trudeau help us),” “Nothing is Greener than Trees,” “Solidarity with Algonquins,” and “Amazon tribes support Grandfather William Commanda’s Spiritual Centre. Declare the centre sacred now.”

The project has been shrouded in controversy since the city rezoned the land and sold it to Windmill on Oct. 8, 2014. The controversy focuses on the claim that the Chaudière Islands are sacred Algonquin territory that have been sold to a private company without the consent of the Algonquin people.

P1040976Many of the protesters were in support of Grandfather William Commanda’s vision for the Chaudière site as an alternative to the Windmill developments. Commanda was an elder from Kitigan Zibi who passed away in 2011 yet remains an important figure. His vision was for a peace and healing centre to be built on Victoria Island and for Albert and Chaudière to be reverted to park land.

Samantha Tenasco, who is a member of Memengweshii Indigenous advisory council, whose mandate is “to ensure the integrity and appropriateness of the Zibi development,” told the Leveller that the Windmill developments are not in conflict with William Commanda’s vision for a peace centre on Victoria Island, as the condos would only occupy the Albert and Chaudière Islands. Windmill’s dialogue website reiterates this, stating “Grandfather Commanda described a rejuvenated future for Victoria Island in a vision he called Asinabka: A Healing And Peacebuilding Centre At Victoria Island. Zibi [the name of the Windmill developments] will not conflict with that vision, and we are entirely supportive of that idea.”

However, 9 out of 10 Algonquin bands, as well as the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, have motioned in opposition to the decision to sell the land to Windmill. The one band which is in favour, Pikwakanagan, is working with the Windmill developers.

The Algonquins of Ontario (AOO), who are comprised of the Pikwaknagan band and nine other non-status Algonquin groups, have also voiced their support for the project, though their legitimacy has been questioned by certain activists including Lynn Gehl and Douglas Cardinal.

A common topic at the protest was the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which requires “free, prior and informed consent” from First Nations before land is ceded. What remains to be determined within the Canadian legal system is the definition of consent and clarification surrounding its applications. This is a problem Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash plans to rectify with his private member’s bill (bill 262) which would ratify the UNDRIP and set such definitions.

The question of consent regarding land secession is ambiguous according to current common law precedent in Canada. The Nations of Haida, Delagmuuk and Tsilhqot’in in British Columbia have all made land claim suits to the Crown which have set precedence at the Supreme Court.

In Delagmuuk v. B.C. (1997), the ruling set that governments have an obligation to consult First Nations with land claims to territories before selling them. In Haida v. B.C. (2004), oral tradition was allowed to be submitted as evidence in limited ways for the first time. Tsilhoqot’in v. B.C. (2014) set a legal test for overturning First Nation land claims, requiring consent.

P1040965Windmill developers, on their website zibidialogue.com, mention that they are working with the definition of “collaborative consent.” This definition was elaborated by former Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and current corporate sector advisor, Phil Fontaine, in a report by the same name.

This definition would mean that free, prior and informed consent would be maintained through collaborative efforts between developers, government and First Nations with land claims. This collaboration, as Fontaine elaborates, would include “development of legislation,” “development of policies and plans,” “negotiations regarding ownership and use of land and waters,” and “resource revenue sharing agreements.”

However, as local independent journalist and Indigenous solidarity activist Greg MacDougall recently noted, government has yet to consult with the nine Algonquin nations opposing the Zibi project, calling into question the notion of “collaborative consent,” in this case limited to the developer and its pro-development mandated advisory council.

Responding to this sort of criticism, the Memengweshii council released an open letter in which they state “at first glance, it may be easy to see the same old story, to criticize this project as a condo development by greedy developers at the expense of First Nations People.  But to do so is to miss an opportunity for our people to rise above and advance.”

The Memengweshii council also refuses to acknowledge the land’s sacredness, arguing that the claim to sacredness is contested by Algonquins. Obviously, the more than 300 protesters who marched on Parliament Hill, with iterations of “Save and preserve Asinabka sacred Chaudiere islands,” disagree.

This article first appeared in the Leveller.

Occupy INAC: Protesters occupy Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada offices across the country

by Matt Cicero

Photo Credit: Peter Stockdale

Photo Credit: Peter Stockdale

A group of 50 people belonging to the Occupy INAC movement marched from Parliament Hill to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) on the morning of Friday, April 15.This rally was an act of  solidarity with the Cree community of Attawapiskat, where there have been more than 50 suicide attempts in the past seven weeks.

On April 14, INAC offices in Toronto were occupied by a group calling themselves Ground Zero INAC Toronto.  Since then there have been actions and occupations in Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec, Gatineau, Regina, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

According to their Twitter feed, INAC’s Regional offices in Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and their Status Card office in Ottawa were all closed on Friday in response to protests. INAC Offices in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver were occupied by protesters.

On Thursday, April 21, Ground Zero INAC Toronto ended their occupation with a rally. “The Youth of Attawapiskat have let us know that they are satisfied with the meeting that took place on Monday with Federal MP’s and the Regional Director of INAC,” according to a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page.

On Saturday, April 23, Occupy INAC in Vancouver Coast Salish Territories ended their own occupation after they secured a meeting with both Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett and Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly to discuss their demands.

The catalyst for these protests was a declaration of a state of emergency by the Chief and Council of Attawapiskat who said they are overwhelmed by the number of suicide attempts. Since 2006, Attawapiskat has declared four other states of emergency: in 2006 over the deteriorating quality of drinking water; in 2009 homes were contaminated by sewage; in 2011 for a severe housing shortage; and in 2013 due to flooding and sewer backups.

Occupy INAC Ottawa on Algonquin Territory

Photo Credit: Peter Stockdale

Photo Credit: Peter Stockdale

At the INAC offices at Terrasses de la Chaudière in Gatineau, police and security guards were on site and secured the building’s entrances ahead of the protest. Gatineau police refused to let the protesters enter the building.

Several speeches were delivered outside of INAC headquarters.

Jocelyn Iahtail, a Cree woman from Attawapiskat who now lives in Ottawa, spoke against “intergenerational child warfare with the Indian Residential Schools and child welfare.” She demanded that the Liberal government uphold the apology for the Residential School system and “honour that apology, because everything that you did to my parents, you’re doing to my children as well.”

Currently there are three times more Indigenous children in the custody of state-run child welfare agencies, such as the Children’s Aid Society, than there were at the height of the residential school system.

After the speeches, there was sporadic drumming and singing until the protest ended in the mid-afternoon.

Four protesters were eventually permitted to enter the building to speak with an INAC representative. However, they were told by Sheila Murphy, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Lands & Economic Development, that they would have to wait until Tuesday for a meeting.

It’s Politics Time Again

In a statement released on Friday, April 15, Carolyn Bennett, Minister of INAC, and Charlie Angus, NDP critic for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said that they “will be visiting the community on Monday.” They also said that “Officials have been working…to provide mental health and community supports to Attawapiskat and the individuals and families in need,” and they are working on “longer term solutions.”

“Federal and provincial partners and the First Nation all have dedicated people working on a priority basis on these issues,” the statement continued.

In a 2016 report by the Mushkegowuk Council, which represents the Cree First Nations of Attawapiskat, Chapleau, Fort Albany, Kashechewan, Missanabie, Moose Cree and Taykwa Tagamou issued a report entitled “Nobody Wants to Die. They Want the Pain to Stop.” In the report, the authors wrote that the Mushkegowuk Council had completed and submitted a Regional Crisis Response Plan to the suicide epidemic in their communities in 2010. However, the necessary funding was denied as “the plan was not approved by the Federal and Provincial Health Authorities.”

This is not even the first time that suicide has caused Cree leaders to declare a state of emergency. In May 2010, Grand Chief Stan Louttit of the Mushkegowuk Council declared a state of emergency in response to the ongoing epidemic of suicide on all of the reserves represented by the Council.

“they have to move, like anybody else”

When Jean Chretien’s said that “[t]here is no economic base there for having jobs and so on, and sometimes they have to move, like anybody else,” he was expressing common-sense colonialism. However, the Cree of Attawapiskat are not simply like any other settler Canadians.  They have Aboriginal and Treaty rights stemming from Creator, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and from their adhesion in 1930 to Treaty Nine, and one of these rights is to live on their territory and to practice their culture and traditions

Furthermore, De Beers, a global diamond mining consortium, operates the highly profitable Victor Diamond Mine — $400 million a year, according to APTN — in Attawapiskat’s traditional territory. In a 2009 Intercontinental Cry Magazine article, Grand Chief Stan Louttit, said that Attawapiskat “is benefiting only a little. We’re still in poverty, we’re still overcrowded.” Little has changed since Grand Chief Louttit’s statement seven years ago.

In his 2013 article “Canada: Prime Minister Harper Launches First Nations ‘Termination Plan’” Mohawk policy analyst Russell Diabo wrote “for the last twenty years, the federal government — whether Liberal or Conservative — has continued to develop policies and legislation based upon the White Paper/Buffalo Jump objectives [to assimilate First Nations people].”

The state of emergency in Attawapiskat, and the crises level of suicide in the region and in many First Nations communities must be understood against this backdrop of Federal and Provincial efforts to assimilate First Nations.

Indeed, as Ground Zero INAC Toronto said in their April 14 press release, “Canada has been well aware of the high youth suicide rates in First Nation and Inuit communities nationwide. This is suicide by neglect.”

Or, as protestors in Gatineau put it, “Suicide is genocide.”

Earn air miles with pot!? Canada gets ready to legalize marijuana

By Ami Gagne

Ready or not, Canadians are most likely to experience openly available marijuana for sale within the next few years. As part of their campaign platform, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have promised to “legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.” Currently only medicinal marijuana is legal in Canada, and there is not a decriminalization model in place for recreational use (although it is largely tolerated).

Processed with VSCO with b1 presetNow three of Canada’s largest drugstore chains — Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall and London Drugs — have all set their bloodshot eyes on medicinal marijuana. By 2017, medical users might be able to get high on air miles and “the whacky tobaccy.” Shoppers spokesperson Tammy Smitham said in a press release that the pharmaceutical giant believes “dispensing medical marijuana through pharmacy, like other medications, is the safest option.” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has suggested that distribution of marijuana through the LCBO “makes a lot of sense.” Wynne argues that with the agency supply chain and security experience of LCBO, which has 600 provincially owned stores in Ontario, the alcohol supermarket is an ideal option for pot retail.

Legalization has its drawbacks and benefits, and proponents will certainly point towards its profit-generating capability. In 2012, Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize marijuana. The state made $1 billion in recreational marijuana sales in 2014, which amounted to $135 million in tax revenue. According to a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) estimate, the marijuana industry could lead to as much as $5 billion in sales within Canada in the first year.

But is Canada really ready to legalize marijuana? According to a 2014 Angus Reid Poll, six out of ten Canadians support marijuana legalization. However the framework in which it will be legalized has not yet been established, nor have any plans been released. It’s Health Canada’s opinion that these plans may be half baked. Canada’s present regulatory schemes are

far from ready to support retail marijuana sales. In fact, no regulatory framework has been officially proposed, and this is crucial.

International treaties also might harsh Canada’s mellow on the world stage, over legalization specifically. Canada is party to an international framework for drug enforcement, which includes the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The convention does not allow legalization. However, it is flexible in terms of decriminalization and other sanctions. This is why Holland has been able to decriminalize possession, while still technically keeping the drug illegal.

A UN special session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem is scheduled for April 19-21, and yes, that means they will be meeting on 4/20.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 8 No. 6 (March 2016).

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