Indigenous People Defending Their Land and Our Environment
On Monday May 26, Indigenous people will gather from across Ontario, including the remote North, on the lawns of Queen's Park to insist that governments and industry recognize their right to say no to mining and forestry on their lands. Travelling by bus and even by foot, they are coming to participate in four days of sacred ceremonies, teach-ins, drumming, music, readings and a mass rally that they are calling a Gathering of Mother Earth Protectors.
In a sign of what is to come Aboriginal people are not only standing up for their rights , they are defending the environment against unbridled industrial development . Across the Americas, from Brazil to Bolivia to the Boreal Forest in Northwestern Ontario, Indigenous people are leading the way to a more sustainable future and a more democratic political system that roots out the vestiges of colonialism. Here in Toronto environmentalists are joining with unions, students, churches, urban Aboriginal, children's rights, anti-poverty and immigrant groups to support them. All of us are working under the leadership of three Indigenous communities who have put themselves on the line to demand respect for their inherent rights and changes to the law to protect the environment. They are Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug , known as KI, Ardoch Algonguin First Nation and Grassy Narrows and they are willing to go to jail if necessary to protect the land for future generations.
Two of the three communities sponsoring the events have leaders in jail for contempt of court because they refused drilling on their land without permission. Retired Ardoch Algonquin chief and university professor Bob Lovelace was sentenced to six months in jail three months ago. He started a hunger strike last week and now is suffering solitary confinement.
Six leaders from the community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, known as the KI Six, were also thrown in jail for peacefully opposing mineral exploration on their lands in the Boreal Forest (located 600km north of Thunder Bay). This isolated community has been completely devastated by the jailing of most of their leaders.
In an interview from jail with Indian Country Today Bob Lovelace said: "You know, the longer I sit in here, and the longer I think about these things, it irks me that really great minds of this generation have been wasted and just squandered on a relationship where colonialism runs the show."
While jailing of Indigenous activists is nothing new, this is the first time that a Chief In Council, Donny Morris of KI, the official leader of the community as recognized by the Indian Act, has been jailed for following the laws protecting Indigenous rights.
The excuse given by the Ontario government is the archaic Mining Act that places industrial development over everything. Mining companies are given automatic license to explore wherever they want without First Nations approval, without an environmental assessment, without even the permission of the owners of private property. Premier Dalton McGuinty under pressure from growing public support for Bob Lovelace and the KI Six has said he will amend the Mining Act. But requests for a moratorium on drilling so that the leaders can be released from jail have gone unheeded. In a sign of the pressure that the mining company Platinex is feeling they agreed to stop drilling until the appeal so that the KI 6 could come out of jail until their appeal on May 28th. The KI 6 will attend the rally.
In an interview from jail Chief Donny Morris said, "When you think of when the settlers first came, they tried to slaughter us. Why? For the mineral riches on our land like gold and now it is happening again. . I have been thinking about what it means that non-Indians are organizing all this support for us. I am thinking about that a lot here. I haven't seen this kind of thing in the past. It's like all of you are becoming Indians. The Canadian government tried to assimilate us for generations and now it is the opposite that is happening. You are all starting to think like us about the earth."
Grassy Narrows, who have been waging a decades long battle to protect their land from clear cutting and their water from mercury poisoning, are joining the other two communities in sponsoring the Gathering .Twenty-two young people from Grassy Narrows will arrive in Toronto on Monday at the end of an 1800 km walk from Kenora they are calling the Protecting the Earth Walk.
The four days of activities will start with a welcome rally late Monday afternoon at Queen's Park and culminate in a march to recognize the Aboriginal Day of Action called by the Assembly of First Nations.
Judy Rebick and Judy Finlay are both professors at Ryerson University with a long history supporting social justice and equality for women and children.