Category Archives: First Nations

Moving Past Complacency in Protest

Activists need some inspiration. Salutin’s piece in the Globe today [see below] is key to reminding us of the necessity of a fight, not just a polite march through some streets to a park for a peaceful rally. That’s important. However, the injustices seeping into the fabric of our rapidly decaying democracy need to be challenged radically, in part to wake up a complacent public distracted by Canadian Idol, iPhones and the fall TV line up.

Neglect of social, political and economic for First Nations, the creeping SPP and our recent success in outing the agent provocateurs at Montebello [though we still need an inquiry and a government to topple because of it] all should remind us of what is at stake.

Indeed, the success with the rock-carrying masked cops in Quebec should let us know that the anti-democratic elites running our country are desperate to undermine dissent.

Their desperation is our vindication of the importance of what they are doing and what we need to do to stop them.

Mild social change can be polite. But when elites are transforming our democracies into soft fascism, the stakes are incredibly higher. Perhaps the biggest indication of this is in the USA where habeas corpus has now been declared optional and the population is largely unaware of it and certainly too complacent to do anything about it.

George w.Caesar is not Jack Bauer. In the backs of too many people’s minds, I think he is seen that way. This kind of complacency will be our undoing.

Salutin’s piece is a welcome tonic.

A Canadian labour moment: Don’t apologize, never placate
The Globe And Mail
Friday, August 31, 2007
Rick Salutin

Labour Day weekend, 2007.

Canadian labour had a good moment two weeks ago at the Montebello protest. Union leader Dave Coles denounced three undercover cops posing as anarchists and cradling rocks to give the protest a bad name. They retreated behind police lines, not a normal anarchist tactic. But he went a step too far for my taste, in shouting, “This is a peaceful demonstration.” He sounded perhaps overeager to placate TV viewers or police or maybe the people who write editorials in places such as The Globe and Mail. To be sure, it was a peaceful protest, but radical movements such as labour have been most effective when they had a touch of menace.

Uh-oh, I’m having a Dave Coles moment. I don’t mean they should be violent or threaten violence. But they need a sense of implacable determination that takes them beyond any desire to seem respectable. The best example is the movement for Indian independence led by Gandhi. He more or less invented non- violence as a political tactic. Yet, he didn’t shun violence when it arose and, in cases, courted it. He wouldn’t instigate or retaliate, but lots of bloodshed was involved. Here’s 90-year-old Baji Mohammed, “one of India’s last living freedom fighters,” interviewed recently: “On August 25, 1942, we were all arrested and held. Nineteen people died on the spot in police firing … Many died thereafter … Over 300 were injured. More than a thousand were jailed … Several were shot or executed. There were over a hundred shaheed (martyrs) … ” Others, such as Nelson Mandela, went to jail for causes that did involve armed resistance. But I’m saying the key is not violence, it’s relentless determination.

A sense of commitment at any cost draws the attention of others, and sometimes their respect, especially if every normal recourse has failed, sometimes for centuries. I’m thinking of the case of Shawn Brant, the Mohawk leader who spoke eloquently for native protests that recently closed Highway 401 and the CN rail line. He was jailed and has twice been denied bail. In an eloquent plea of her own, his wife, Sue Collis, compared his situation to labour protests against Mike Harris in Ontario 11 years ago. Then, she says, “economic repercussions … far surpassed” those of the recent one, “yet no labour leader was ever jailed, let alone charged.” So why is Shawn Brant in jail? I’d say there was an implacability in his expression; he cut his opponents no moral slack. He didn’t threaten, but he didn’t try to mollify, either.

In its heyday, the labour movement had this kind of single-minded, almost stoic conviction. Its main weapon, the strike, was non-violent but aroused feelings comparable to those during war, toward scabs or bosses. In that frame of mind, there is no need felt to placate the other side and none at all for respectability. What would you want it for?

I think a society benefits from this kind of challenge. It clarifies choices and discourages endless avoidance. Sue Collis writes that, after the Mohawk blockades in June, polls showed “71 per cent of Canadians wanting actions on land claims and 41 per cent of Ontarians prepared to acknowledge rail blockades as justified.” There’s also a social loss when fierceness and passion vanish almost entirely from movements such as labour or the environment. I sympathize with the dismay of green veterans at the rise as a green icon of Al Gore – who couldn’t even beat George Bush in his home state in 2000 or fight the battle of the Florida recount with bloody-mindedness, despite its dire implications.

Sue Collis writes that, after the second bail hearing, she found herself “contemplating the best way to tell my children that they would have to wait an unknown period of time before seeing their dad, and wondering how to explain … why.” From a very minimally comparable experience, I’d recommend playing them a Peter, Paul and Mary song: “Have you been to jail for justice? I want to shake your hand …”

Gordon Campbell’s Greedy, Sticky Fingers in Riverview and Tsawwassen

On Friday, July 27, 2007, Rich Coleman set his status on his Facebook page as “thinking big about Riverview.” Once a mental health facility, it closed down in the 1990s as the model for mental health administration changed.

But now, Coleman, Minister of Forests and Range and a-ha! Minister Responsible for Housing, sees great things for the vast under-[market]-utilized tract of land: condos!

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, not one to embrace humility, consensus, community-building or progressive social change, has embraced the province’s decision to develop Riverview. And why not. Why bother with pesky social housing in Vancouver itself. Why bother with dealing with social decay, homelessness, abject poverty and drug addiction by accommodating people actually in our city when the province is thinking of sucking land out of decades of imprisonment at Riverview for market housing…oh yes, let’s send the ne’er-do-wells out there. NIMBY institutionalized!

Why bother developing the land solely for mental health and social needs when you can plunk some market housing there. After all, people live on the former BC Penitentiary site.

Coleman mentally meanders about like this: “We should blend in some social housing and seniors housing for folks [folks=the kind of people George w.Caesar talks to/about] who need it, and also some types of supportive housing for families and for seniors and the health side [and the health side? this is now in the running for political vagueness sound bite of the month] and then you have a lot of land there that may be allowed to where you could maybe do some market housing would help pay for those facilities on behalf of taxpayers, I think it’s something that we’d have to look at.” [my emphasis]

Absolutely, Mr. I-Want-To-Defeat-Carole-Taylor-As-Next-BC-Premier, we kinda think that maybe there’s land there so maybe kinda we could I dunno, sell it?…and make some cash to pay for, you know, all the cost and stuff for taking care of like old people and the mentally and socially challenged…yeah.

God only knows that taxes are an evil burden, even to pay for, hmmm, “supportive housing for families and for seniors and the health side” because the taxpayer wants value for their money. Value in the form of massive tax cuts so we don’t to pay for them. Shudder.

But not to be outdone by the Riverview condo fire sale, we also have the new treaty between the province and the Tsawwassen First Nation. Sure, there are many points on the political continuum of First Nations relations with this “Canada” thing and while the Tsawwassen First Nation will certainly gain from the deal in some tangible ways, many see it as a sell-out doing dirty deals with occupiers in many other ways.

Despite whatever spin whoever wants to put on the treaty, a potent template for urban treaty negotiations, there are several facts here that make Gordon Campbell et al grin. Land will be removed from the socialist Agricultural Land Reserve. That land will be paved so containers coming in and out of DeltaPort can rest on their long Pacific Rim journey inside BC’s great golden Gateway Plan of fossil fuel worship that includes twinning the Port Mann Bridge. Instead of just pulling land out of the ALR despite legislative processes, it is certainly less politically ugly for the province to sign a treaty and co-opt one of so many generationally oppressed First Nations to get the land out of the ALR for container storage.

In all, it has been a good week for the BC Liberals neoliberal land reform program.

I see it as a bad week for mental health programs, socially progressive housing, government as service provider for the needy and disenfranchised, social and economic justice, sound ecological stewardship, respect for aboriginal title, and universality and equality in society.

Or maybe I should just stop complaining, invest in a container shipping firm and buy a river view condo in Coquitlam.

Privatization and the Creation of Humanity’s Prisons…by Ameena Mayer

Privatization and the Creation of Humanity’s Prisons

Traditionally defined as the selling off of public assets to the private sector, over the years the term ‘privatization’ has taken on a variety of meanings, none of which leaves a palatable taste in the mouth of the tenderhearted. Take for instance British Columbia, a province redolent with fishes and trees and waters, soon to resemble those hapless African countries ravaged by colonization and forced to sell off everything to international sharks, whose citizens have been left with nothing accept some silver strands of hope and the spirit to fight for anything resembling a sane quality of life. Our salmon runs are being served in body bags to the Scandinavian companies who own BC’s murderous fish-farms, while an accidental dump of 40,000 litres of chemical soda into the Cheakamus by the mismanaged, privately owned CN Rail has turned a river once resembling an emerald-sapphire ribbon into a brown death soup. If that isn’t enough, Terasen gas is soon to be sold off to the Texan company Kinder Morgan Inc., despite the fact that its faulty pipelines have killed hundreds of people.

However, it is not only this well-known type of privatization that is decimating the world, sectioning it off to ill-intentioned stewards in tidy little packages, but a type which literally forces people into sick private pockets, cutting them off from the rest of the world. The best example of this sort can be seen in Palestine, where a hideous concrete wall, ridden with graffiti pleading its abolishment and firing bombs at whomever approaches it before its gates open, twists like a python around Palestinian villages. Severed from 70% of their wells and 45 % of their agricultural land, sorrow and pain swelling within them like broken roses, these Palestinians who cannot even view the sunrise and sunset are bereft of hope. And if Sharon’s purpose of confining Palestinians to 12 % of their traditional land is to reduce suicide bombings, to say he is in for a colossal surprise would be an understatement.

To unearth another case in point of people being forced to remain private from the mainstream, one needn’t look further than Canada, wherein the First Nations have been blotted out from the centre in no less callous ways than those experienced by the Palestinians. Like their Eastern counterpart, they have been deemed invisible and at best a problem to be swept like dust into miniscule pockets of land called reserves. There, the government attempts to appease them with tax exemptions and other monetary recompense, ironically slaughtering their lifelines to true wealth, namely, the forests and fishes and waters, through the traditional form of privatization. The story of the Cheakamus may have faded from the news, but the plight of the Squamish community living there will throb for years to come.

The effects of sectioning resources and humanity off into private spheres of dysfunction are pernicious: war, poverty, and perhaps worst of all, alienation from nature and each other. When we hand over public assets to a select rich few, when we hand over the right to participate in society to only certain individuals, we become fearful of each other. The end result is all of us becoming imprisoned in private worlds behind our locked doors. Armed with emotional and physical weapons lest our fellow human attack or threaten us, we shiver in dark isolation. And for a species that thrives on community and togetherness, that is a true tragedy.