Archive for June 4, 2007

These days, the police cruisers don’t even slow down when they patrol a gravel quarry occupied by native protesters from the Bay of Quinte Mohawks. Despite claims these protesters are armed and willing to exact a price for the slow pace of land claims with threats to block the country’s busiest rail line and its most travelled highway, no one in authority appears to be hurrying to dislodge the demonstrators, nor address their demands.

As it is here in Deseronto, so it is in Caledonia, so it was in Ipperwash. Familiar standoffs all, but these flashpoints are but a handful of the more than 1,300 centuries-old native land disputes that have been stalled for decades and that touch virtually every corner of Canada– urban, rural and wild.

“There’s hardly a road, a railroad line, a transmission line or an oil pipeline that doesn’t go through some disputed property [or] territory,” said David Peterson, a former Ontario premier, days after the blockade went up at Deseronto.

A recent report by the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples painted a similarly bleak picture. “The committee feels that eliminating the delay in settling specific land claims is an outright necessity, not only for the claimants, but for Canadians in general,” said the report. “Failing to find the political will to act appropriately on specific claims could invite more confrontations. The choice is Canada’s.”

(Edit: Threats, Threats, and more Threats)

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As Canada heads into what many aboriginal leaders have promised will be the “summer of the blockade,” the final report of the Ipperwash inquiry sends the wrong messages at the wrong time. By absolving native protesters of any responsibility in the 1995 death of Dudley George; and by recommending that the protesting band be given the provincial park they were illegally occupying, the report by commissioner Sidney Linden essentially tells natives across Canada that they are not responsible for their own actions. Nothing they do will be punished. Indeed, if they protest long enough and loud enough, they will be rewarded with land and money, even if their illegal acts end in violence.

This report simply adds to the fecklessness of officialdom in the face of the recent rail blockade near Belleville, Ont., and the illegal occupation of a housing development at Caledonia, Ont. (At the latter site this week, Ottawa offered squatters $125-million to end a land claim it originally claimed had no legal merit.)

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When the newly elected premier Dalton McGuinty called the Ipperwash inquiry in November, 2003, there was more than a whiff of politics in the air. The pending wrongful death suit brought by the family of Dudley George against Mike Harris had provided useful fodder for the Liberals during and after the former premier’s time in office and all through the 2003 campaign. The damage done, on election day the family suddenly dropped the suit — four days before the trial was to begin. So for all of Mr. McGuinty’s pious claims that the inquiry was merely about “looking for the truth about what happened” the night Mr. George was killed and “what lessons we might draw from that tragedy so that we can ensure that it is never repeated,” the subtext was clear: It was to put Mr. Harris and his government on trial.

The natives who seized the park had no mandate to do so from the local band council, and indeed faced active opposition from other band members for having done so.

Many of those who participated were not even from the area, but had travelled from as far away as the United States to show their support.

No formal warning was offered that the park was about to be occupied. No grievance was clearly articulated beforehand, other than a vague, disputed and intermittently advocated claim that the park contained a native burial ground. Even after the occupation began, the protesters refused to communicate in any way with the police. And in almost every case where police and natives clashed, the violence was initiated by the natives. While the beating of Cecil Bernard George at the hands of several OPP officers, the proximate cause of the events leading to the other Mr. George’s death, was clearly deplorable, it came only after the first Mr. George had whacked an officer with a six-foot length of pipe. The fatal shooting — again, as wholly unjustified as it was — came after natives drove a bus at police.

So the police badly mishandled the occupation, yes. But had this particular group of natives not taken it into their heads to break the law, defy their band council, and seize the provincial park, they would never have come into conflict with the police. Yet throughout his report, Judge Linden takes the existence of this and other such native occupations as a given.

They simply “occur,” as if by acts of God…

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Re: Flashpoints for protests remain ‘as intense,’ June 1

So the Ipperwash inquiry report has been made public and both the federal and provincial governments have been found responsible for the events of Sept. 6, 1995. What will become of this report?

We know that the
Ontario government and the federal government have been presented with recommendations regarding the outstanding landclaim disputes. Both governments are involved in landclaim negotiations with the Algonquins of Ontario.

For years, there have been complaints ranging from questionable election practices to the double-dipping of allocated funds by one community. To date, both governments have ignored these complaints.

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Recent Aboriginal protests over land claims do not have the support of most Canadians, a new Angus Reid Strategies poll has found.

In the past few weeks, Aboriginal groups have blocked railway lines to protest slow negotiations on over 800 native land claims. But in the online survey of a representative national sample, over half of respondents (56%) say these blockades are unjustified, with 44 per cent saying such actions are completely unjustified.

Earlier this month, Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice warned native leaders of financial penalties in the event federal money is used to plan blockades. Two-in three Canadians (67%) share Prentice’s opinion.

View the full results here