On the Land: Grassy Narrows Traplines – Interviews with members of the Swain family

With the Grassy Narrows “Trappers’ Case” finally reaching the Supreme Court this week, it seemed like a good time to repost a write up of the interviews I did with Chrissy Swain, her son Edmond Jack, and grandfather Jim Swain, wherein we talked about the recent re-acquisition of a family trapline and the importance of trapping and being on the land for the history and future of Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek, the People of Grassy Narrows.

This interview originally appeared as an article in Peak Magazine‘s recent issue on “Intergenerational Movements.”

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On the Land: A Grassy Narrows Family talks about the History and Future of their Relationship with Trapline and the Lands of Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishnabek Territory

For me doing this isn’t just about protecting the land, it’s about reviving our people, bringing that spirit back to our people. And that’s what’s going to bring the spirit back to our people, is to keep this land.

-Chrissy Swain

On February 9, 2014, Maryanne Swain finally received word from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) that she had been approved as the new title holder for trapline KE056, located in Ontario Forestry Management Unit (FMU) #490, also known as the Whiskey Jack Forest.

The Whiskey Jack Forest roughly overlaps with the Traditional Territory of Asubpeeschooseewagaon Netum Anishnabek, also known as Grassy Narrows First Nation, and has been more or less protected from Industrial logging for over a decade by the longest standing blockade in the country.

In April of this year, the MNR’s 10 year Forestry Management Plan (FMP) for the Whiskey Jack Forest comes into effect, which means that for the first time since the blockade went up in 2002, the heart of Grassy Narrows Territory in Northwest Ontario is under immediate threat from industrial scale clearcut logging operations.

A March 1 statement from a new Grassy Narrows Youth Group says, “The new clearcutting plan threatens our home, including lands that our decade long blockade has protected. Our community’s leadership, both grassroots and Band Council, have firmly rejected the new cut plan and contested the Government’s right to make decisions regarding our Territory.”

One of the two Youth organizers quoted in the statement is Edmond Jack, Maryanne Swain’s grandson. His mother, Maryanne’s daughter is Chrissy Swain, a former Grassy Narrows Youth leader and a part of the Grassy Narrows Womens’ Drum Group, who, along with one of her sisters, is often credited with the act of starting the blockade back in the winter of ’02. She is a tireless land defender and advocate for her community.

Jack, in the Youth Group Statement, says, “Not only does the plan threaten my family trapline, but it also threatens the traditional knowledge of future generations who cannot yet speak for themselves.”

Trapline KE056 falls on the south and west shores of Keys Lake, a pristine spring fed lake that was spared from the industrial mercury poisoning of the river system in the ‘60s from which new generations in Grassy Narrows continue to suffer. This past summer, as part of the Annual Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering, a one day blockade of the roadway to Keys Lake was enacted, declaring long term intent on the part of the community’s Youth and grassroots land defenders to protect the lake.

The FMP has six separate cut blocks scheduled for clearcutting within the Swain family trapline, and another six in the adjacent trapline. One of the clearcut blocks will tear out the heart of the Swain’s trapline, spanning from Keys Lake to the neighbouring Tom Lake. Others appear, from the available maps, to engulf at least two of the natural springs that feed Keys Lake.

Ontario’s new 10 year logging plan will clearcut over 500 square kilometers of the Whiskey Jack Forest, with over 50% of Grassy Narrows lands having already been previously logged.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Chrissy Swain, 34, and Edmond Jack, 19, as well as with Maryanne’s father, 78 year old Jim Swain, to ask about the trapline—land which the family has been connected to for as long as they can remember. I consider myself tremendously privileged to have had the opportunity to conduct these interviews, write this article, and work with this family. To all of the Swains and their families, miigwetch.

During these interviews, I asked about the process of (re)claiming the trapline, its history, and the significance of its being brought back into active use by the family.

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Chrissy Swain:  I know that the area that [my mom] asked for, she asked for it because we have family history there. My grandfather was living there as a kid, and I think she had to get affidavits to prove that our family was in that area.

[I just know] stories that my grandpa told, of him being a kid over there. One of the stories he told was about how one time his mom sent him for sugar, and that’s where he had to walk from, from there to the Hudsons Bay [store], and he slept with a relative close by and then the next day walked all the way back to there.

[Keys Lake and that area] is probably just one of the places [his family] stayed. Our people were everywhere.

I’ve heard some stories about that area being a sacred place, that that place was healing because of the spring where the water comes from the earth into that lake, and the medicine that’s all around that lake. And people used to do ceremonies there, and it’s an area where people went fasting. Those are the kinds of things that I heard about that place.

Edmond Jack: I’ve got my trappers certificate, and I think that when the time comes that my grandma won’t be able to use it anymore, then I will the one who takes that trapline in my name.

To me, when my grandma finally got the trapline, it gave me a sense of relief to know that ill have that when I get older.

That whole area where that trapline is, that lake, I remember one of the older people, I think that was Old Tommy Keesick; before I started my Water Walk, he was telling me about Keys Lake becausecause that’s where I was going to be walking for that first day. He told me that that lake has sturgeon, and he was telling me about why that lake was so sacred and precious. He said that the water there is the cleanest water that we have today. None of our other lakes are as clean as that one, because of all the spring water streams that go into it, I think there’s three of them. He told me that when people go there, they’re not supposed to fish there, because of those sturgeons that are in there.

He said the reason that the sturgeon are so sacred is because when it swims at the bottom, people would pray to the sturgeon and honour it like one of our own people. They can’t walk on the land like we can, but they stay under the water near the bottom of the lake, and they’re kind of like the ones who look after the land under there. They’re not much different from us. They know medicines that we could never reach, probably. And he also said that that whole area is, like my mum said, a place for healing and medicines where people would go and find that medicine that they need to clean themselves out. There are all kinds of cedar that grows around there. It’s just a really beautiful place.

I remember my grandpa telling me that people would go over there and fast on an island close by there, where they would go and drop off a young person who was going through their rites of passage. They would sit there for four days… There are lots of things that I’ve heard about Keys Lake. For me it’s just a really sacred area.

The trapline that my grandma got is right on Keys Lake. It’s almost like an asset or something, to be able to use that place… I’d just really like to be able to really take after the lake and keep it as clean as I could.

Jim Swain: I don’t know exactly how it started… how would I go about [explaining] that?

There was a white guy, who we found out later was part of the family. He is a trapper around Silver Lake. And [the trapline on] Keys Lake was up for grabs, and he applied for it. But then, [the MNR] weren’t sure if they would give it to him or not, they’re very strict. So Mary Anne decided that she would find out if it was possible for her to apply.

They wanted its history, of the trapline. But we didn’t know where to start. So, when I went to Kenora to talk to the person, he said, ‘how much do you know about it?’

I said, ‘My grandfather owned it, owned the trapline, and worked it for a while, for years.’

Before that though, [there was an old guy from the community] who had [the trapline on] Scenic Lake already, he owned it.  And he asked my grandpa if they could trade traplines, and at the same time he offered some money, not much. That’s how it started… That’s when they signed the agreement. It kept the old man happy. And after that [Scenic Lake] passed on to my Dad and my Unlce, and then I owned it after. I don’t know how many years we trapped there.

So when they asked me the questions, and I said, ‘I was there. I know the area very good.’

I told them that it would be great if one of us could get it back.

I said, ‘how would I go about it?’ He said, write an affidavit. I didn’t know anything about affidavits. But anyway, they explained to me how to write it, even though I made a mistake. The lawyer who looked at it said, ‘you were supposed to do that in front of me, not on your own’. ‘I’ve never done this before,’ I said. But anyway, they accepted it.

And [the ‘white guy’] was also fighting for it, he almost got it. But after about a year they called Maryanne and they were happy with the affidavits, so that’s how she got that trapline.

Other than that, I don’t know what sort of things to tell you, but we did a lot of trapping at Keys Lake when I was young.

We went all around that area, all the way back to Wonderland [Lake]. There used to be Caribou in that area. But after the road came, and other things, they went further north.

It was hard, really, for me [to tell them about Keys Lake specifically], because I’ve been all over the place. I trapped with my Uncle in Wilcox [Lake]. Then I went with my brother in Kilburn [Lake]. By paddle it used to take two weeks to get up there. Then I went with my other uncle to Oak Lake. But the main one was Keys Lake that she wanted me to talk about.

Anyway, the affidavits helped, and she got it. Now it’s up to her and Ed to look after it.

Chrissy Swain: I think and I feel confident that my son is going in the right direction by taking his own initiative and learning to hunt, fish and trap, and learn medicines. And I’m confident that he’s going to use that land in a good way, to teach his kids and raise them on the land, because that’s a big part of our ways that’s been missing. It makes me proud to hear my son say that he wants to protect that place and to keep it as clean as possible for my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren. That’s my hope—that those teachings and that way of life will be carried on.

Edmond Jack: For me, when I do have kids, I could only wait until they get older and hope that they would take in everything that I could teach them, whatever I know by then, to carry on that way of life.

For me, when that time comes, I’m pretty sure that other people will see whatever my kids might be going through, what they’re doing. Other kids will be talking about it; some of them will be talking about partying, some will be talking about playing games, and then hopefully my kids will be talking about what they did all weekend out in the bush, all their little adventures. And to me, that is a good way of putting it out there for future generations. When [future generations] are young, I won’t be able to interact with them as much. But once some of them learn how to do these things, it’s there, in that age group, and it gives me a hope that more young people will take up these things and pick up on lost ways of life.

There are still a lot of things for people to learn.

Our Anishnabe way of life is so shattered; there are just pieces all over the place. Some places have the ceremonies, some places have our traditional ways of hunting, some places have our traditional way of living—they know how to survive in the bush… The more that we try to enforce these things in our community; if we can bring back our ceremonies and our other more down to earth ways of living, I think it would bring a lot of good things into the community.

Jim Swain: I always liked that area. But then, it was good to see different places. It wasn’t long before I got to know what that guy gave us—Scenic [Lake]. I was really young that time.

It seemed like it used to be, for me anyways, it seemed to be a lot of freedom. There was no vehicles, there was nothing or anything going by. Then all of a sudden, when the roads came in, that kind of… I don’t know, it just seemed too civilized.

I guess I thought about travelling on frozen ice, or making portages, having to cut across—we went through all that.

Keys Lake was mostly rocky, that’s how I found it. There was one place there; it looked like there was a cave there. I told another uncle, ‘let’s go down there, take a look.’ He said, ‘no.’ My grandpa said, ‘no, no, no, you gotta be really brave to go down there.’ I said, ‘why?’ He told me why, he said, I don’t know if it really happens, but he said, ‘you go down there and you go past the entrance and it seems like the wall, the cave just closes behind you,’ so I never went down there, I was scared, so I don’t know if it’s true.

Believe it or not, sometimes you hear strange noises at night… But then again, I never believed in seeing something like that, what they talk about so much; big foot and all that. I don’t know if it’s true. But it is true that sometimes you hear strange noises at night…

Of course now it’s getting, like I said, with too many machinery, that you don’t hear them anymore. You used to.

There was one time I was coming out of the house, just at Keys Lake, where the springs open on to the shore there. I heard something, like someone was whistling loud… I stood there for a while and then walked my way to the shore, and it seemed like that’s where that sound came from, from the open water. It was just a beaver coming up to the surface. And then every time his tail would go up and his head would go up and he’d make that high pitched sound—it’s very loud. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it’s like someone is whistling loud.

Me and my cousin there, at Scenic one evening, around midnight, we heard what’s called the Howling Owl. ‘What’s that,’ he said? ‘You never heard that before?’ ‘No,’ he said. And I said it in Ojibway —- it’s a Howling Owl. After we went around that bay, that’s where our log cabin was. It was a good sleep…

These are all the sounds that you hear in the trapline, especially in the spring. And in the fall, I like in the fall, you can hear owls. We used to sit outside around the fire and listen to the predators coming out during their night hunt.

Keys Lake was one of the main routes for trappers that came down from further up—Sidney Lake, Kilburn. They’d stop by the Hudson’s Bay then go try to get to Macintosh where the school was.

I used to have a trapline house that used to be the main stop. They always stopped, sometimes for a couple days, and carry on to wherever they were going. I wrote that down [in the affidavit], how the trappers used to be, that it was a main route, going to Sidney Lake and all over the place.

I think the most interesting part of trapping was moving—you know when the ice starts breaking up, and moving away with the current—sometimes you have to go through that… These were the adventures I remember.

Spring trapping it was good. I used to like it.

That’s another place they had, around Keys Lake. You’d go to Muskeg [Lake]. Muskeg was good for spring trapping.

Other than that, I don’t know what I can say.

But how we got Keys Lake, I don’t know if my affidavit was good, but I know they enjoyed reading it. They accepted it.

I think [in the future], I don’t think it will be as, I don’t know how to say it; There’s too many—it’s gotten too civilized. There’s so much coming in and out of there, at Keys Lake all the way back to Wonderland. And there’s summer cottages over there. I know I really don’t care for it. It’s not like the old days. You didn’t hardly see anyone on your trapline.

In a way I think it is ok. To me, now I think it’s just if you’re looking for adventure or something, it might not be as frontier, if you’d like to call it. You know there’s a house down there and you know there’s somebody else that’s going to be there.

I was 16 or 17. I travelled by myself in mid winter, in mid January, from Anishnabe Lake. There was no roads, nothing. I came down Oak Lake, across that little crossing at Oak Lake Falls. I knew there was a little trappers’ cabin there but I didn’t know if anyone would be there, and I was all by myself, just a young lad. But I made it through there. The people that were there happened to by my uncles and they were happy to see me.

The next morning I was going to go. They said, ‘You’d better not go, it’s cold out there and you’re not dressed right. Yesterday it was warm and you were travelling with the sun, but today it’s not like that. It’ll be nicer tomorrow.’ So I stayed that day and the next morning I went, and came to Grassy. But after that, I got to like where I travelled by myself. The only thing is that I always made sure that I never got caught alone out there in a storm without a cabin. But I was just lucky I guess.

Only one time I did. I was with my brother. We were going to Red Lake. It was February. So we had to find a place to bed for the night in heavy snow. He went and chose, he was lucky to find a rock wall, and he said, ‘that’ll be our shelter for the night.’ He told me to gather up some wood. And he put some logs and sticks to cover it. It wasn’t the warmest place, but it was ok.

I heard of a couple guys who got caught in a storm and still had a couple days before they could get to a cabin. They had no choice, he said. They piled up some snow and covered it up and went in. ‘It didn’t collapse?’ I said. ‘No, we didn’t think about it, I guess’, he said. ‘But it was warm there, cause of the snow we piled up.’

Another thing that I’ve seen them do is that they get boulders and heat them up and put them where they’ll spend the night.

It would be good for the young fellas to learn, I would think anyway. Cause you never can tell: there might be a time where it will be something like the depression, I don’t know, and at least you’ll be ready for it, if you’ve learned to be a trapper. That’s what my grandfather told me. I was going to go back to school. He said, ‘no, wait two years before you go back to school. First learn about trapping. There won’t be that many jobs there all the time.’ I got to enjoy trapping.

It’s the things that you learn, I guess. I didn’t really make my own snowshoes, but I patched them up. I made my own lacings. I learned that. That was something that surprised me. I didn’t know that I could—I used to watch how they laced them. One day I was out around Slant Lake area and my snowshoes broke, I had to get new lacing. So Denis, he’s my uncle but not too close, he had a moose hide, so I fixed it up. No one had shown me, but I’d seen them do it a couple of times, and I did that. Got some water and laid it out in the cold, take all the moose’s fur out and then scrape it. It comes out nice if it’s frozen. I was surprised, it was the first time id tried it. I did ok the first one, but I did it real good on the second. ‘I didn’t know you could mend snowshoes,’ my uncle said. I didn’t know either.

I told my grandpa, ‘I fixed my snowshoes, no one had shown me’. He said, ‘they talk about people having gifts. That’s your gift. No one showed you, you just knew automatically.’

Chrissy Swain: What I see is that it’s always been a fight for our way of life. Because of the things that I’ve seen growing up and the things that I see now, I feel like the only way that we can always remember who we are as Anishanabe people is to have this land and be able to use it. Something that puts that pride inside of is being able to go out on the land and go out on the lakes and fish and hunt and to be out in the forest and be able to connect.

I do see a big change from when I was a kid. There are kids that are aware of what’s going on. People always say that we’ve lost a lot of our ways, but I want t stop saying that we’ve lost that, because I feel it’s always there, and that’s what we’ve got to protect is what’s there, for our kids. They look around and they see people moving and people saying this is not right. When I was a kid I don’t remember seeing that. [But] I do remember feeling it: ‘This is not right. Why do we live this way?’

I remember being eight years old, walking down the road and looking at our houses, saying ‘why do we have to live like this?’ Because I think I was kind of already aware of what living in a town or a city was like, from visiting my mom, or seeing that they had running water, that the grocery store was right there. And I was like, ‘Why is it harder for us? Why does it feel like this?’

For me doing this isn’t just about protecting the land, it’s about reviving our people, bringing that spirit back to our people. And that’s what’s going to bring the spirit back to our people, is to keep this land. That’s the way I look at it and that’s how I feel.

I see that it’s slowly moving, since the Blockade began. There are more young people that are going for their trappers licenses, that are interested in being on the land. You see and hear about a lot of young men that are going out in groups, fishing or hunting together. You hear of and know women that are like, ‘let’s go blueberry picking’, ‘let’s go get cedar.’ So that’s way more than what was in my time.

To me, protecting this land is being successful. Even if it’s just little steps, right now today we can say there’s been a little bit more movement. If we keep going, more is going to come for our kids and for our grandchildren.

Edmond Jack: I think having that trapline kind of gives me a stronger place to stand.  I know there’s a proposed clearcut area right in the middle of our trapline, and I know for sure that they’re not going to cut in there. But if they cut in other places it’s still going to have an effect.

To me, stopping the clearcuts is really important because if they do cut all the places that I’ve seen on that map, a lot of damage is going to be done and it’s just going to make sustaining the trapline harder. Animals that we trap and hunt, they have really big territories—some of them are narrow and long, and some of them are wide. And if you cut one area out then that whole thing is going to change. Some of them are going to leave or die. It would pretty much suck the life dry. Our trapline would be depleted. It would almost be pointless to have a trapline if there’s nothing to do out there. Clearcutting companies come in and when they cut down the trees they’re destroying our way of life. I guess having the trapline makes me feel like I have no choice but to fight.

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The statement from the Grassy Narrows Youth group concludes with the following:

“Our People have been dealing with the impacts of logging for decades. Our rivers have been poisoned and many traplines have been destroyed. Now, still dealing with mercury poisoning (from the Dryden Paper Mill’s industrial dumping in the 60s), and facing new threats from mining expansion in Asubpeeschoseewagong Territory, the Government is coming back for our trees.

Over the years, Grassy Narrows has been fortunate enough to have support from some Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and organizations in Ontario and across Turtle Island. This spring, that support will likely be more important than ever and Grassy Narrows organizers expect to call on renewed support from allies. Please be ready to answer our call and to back us up.”

An Update on Logging Plans. A Report from Grassy Narrows, Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek Territory

UPDATED, May 2, 2014

A partial version of this report appeared as an article in theTwo Row Times, April 16 2014.

will wynne force clearcuts...

On April 1 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) 10 year Forestry Management Plan (FMP) for the Whiskey Jack Forest came into effect, with over 50 000 hectares – that’s more than 500 square kilometers of forest scheduled for clearcutting.

If you think you have heard of the Whiskey Jack before, it is probably because the Whiskey Jack Forest is one of the names that have been given to an area of land that corresponds with Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows First Nation) Traditional Territory, which has been protected against clearcut logging for over a decade by the longest standing blockade in Canada.

Over 50% of Grassy Narrows Traditional Territory has previously been logged.

The Province does not recognize the land as Grassy Narrows’ Territory. While they tacitly recognize Grassy Narrows Traditional Land Use Area (GNTLUA), that is mostly for the purposes of “assigning” traplines, a right claimed by the MNR. They also call it Forestry Management Unit #490, and the FMP makes it clear that they intend to take the trees, which they view as belonging to the Crown.

Recently the MNR rejected a request from now former Grassy Narrows Chief, Simon Fobister for the management contract (also known as the “Sustainable Forestry License”) for the Whiskey Jack Forest. It took less than 48 hours for the Minister of Natural Resources, David Orazietti to reject the offer, an offer that was also condemned by Kenora MP, now Federal Minister of Natural Resources, Greg Rickford.

The quick rejection and condemnation came after months of silence and refusals to publicly address the issue by the Wynne Government and Orazietti Ministry. Even the NDP’s MNR critic, Dave Vanhouf has refused to comment (though other NDP MPPs have raised the issue in Parliament).

Then on March 28, just days before the plan is to come into effect, a statement was released from the MNR in which Orazietti claimed that this year’s Annual Work Schedule (AWS) will not contain any cutblocks within the GNTLUA, however the AWS is still yet to be released by MNR. They claim to have, for tis year, decided to only log Whiskey Jack cutblocks that do not fall within Grassy Narrows’ Territory, though all of the blocks within the GNTLUA would remain on the 10 year plan.

In a call to the Kenora office of the Ministry of Natural Resources, a representative said that one reason for the delay in releasing the AWS is the request for an Individual Environmental Assessment (IEA) made by the Grassy Narrows First Nation Band Council in January. The Ministry of the Environment has yet to formally reply to the request.

The MNR representative did, however, confirm that they could proceed with an AWS that does not include the areas covered by the IEA immediately, which makes the delay somewhat suspicious.

There is reason for speculation that the MNR will use this delay to attempt to build a wedge between Grassy Narrows and other local First Nations, as well as within the community, in order to pressure Grassy Narrows to drop their IEA request, a tactic that the MNR has used in the past.

Regardless of whether clearcutting is scheduled within the GNTLUA for this year or next, the 10 year plan, as well as the MNR’s own statements (or in some cases, lack thereof) has made the Government’s intent clear.

This reality, and the remaining uncertainties in the ongoing stand against logging, coming from the provincial government, come as even more severe a slight since when she was Minister of Aboriginal Resources, Wynne actually visited Grassy Narrows and promised to help the community find resolution to the ongoing logging conflict and the ongoing problems caused by the mercury poisoning of the English River System, from which new generations of children continue to be affected.

In the 1960’s logging operations dumped an estimated ten metric tonnes of industrial mercury into the waters at the Dryden Paper Mill, resulting in the long term poisoning of the English and Wabigoon River Systems, affecting Grassy Narrows as well as other First Nations.

In an April 2 press release, former Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister said, “the Wynne government is still hanging the threat of a decade of clearcuts over our heads year after year causing great distress for our troubled community. When will Wynne finally promise to respect our voice and commit never to force logging on our community against our will?”

That same day there was an election in Grassy Narrows and a new Chief, Roger Fobister was elected. All indications are that the new Chief Fobister will continue to uphold and support Grassy Narrows’ long stand against logging and for control of their Territory.

In addition to the IEA request, another likely factor in the province’s decision not to log in the GNTLUA this year is the recent commitment by major regional lumber company EACOM to avoid conflict wood from Grassy Narrows. EACOM’s commitment leaves no large operating mills in the region willing to accept conflict softwood from Grassy Narrows Territory after years of boycotts and divestment actions.

Grassy Narrows First Nation Chief and Council (old and new), as well as grassroots organizers in the community have firmly rejected the logging plan, and one reason why the MNR may be slow to commit to a timeline for specific cutblocks within the GNTLUA might be related to the pledges of resistance coming from all corners of the community.

Taina Da Silva, a Youth organizer in the community, and daughter of long-time organizer and grassroots leader Judy Da Silva, said in a recently released statement from the Grassy Narrows Youth Group, “If the logging begins in our territory, I am certain there will already be planned strategies on our part to bring it to a complete halt… It’s important to stop the new logging plan because our traditional way of life depends on the health of the environment.”

Another of the newly formed Youth Group’s core organizers is Edmond Jack, who is also the eldest child of another one Grassy Narrows’ most prominent grassroots voices and former “Youth Leader”, Chrissy Swain. In the March 1 statement, Jack says, “Our organizing is connected through bloodline relations and teachings. Our mothers fought so we could have this land, so we will continue to fight for it… Not only does the plan threaten my family trapline, but it also threatens the traditional knowledge of future generations who cannot yet speak for themselves.”

While the logging plan is the most imminent threat, and one that directly challenges the 12 year old blockade, sadly and shockingly, it is far from being the only dire threat to the long term future of the land and culture in Grassy Narrows Territory.

In the 1950’s, Caribou Falls was dammed for a massive Hydro Project to power logging and mining operations in the region. The damming flooded important parts of the Territories of Grassy Narrows and other local First Nations. This dam was just one of several that have been imposed on the waters of this region over the last 90 years. Currently, the MNR is set to put in yet another major hydro dam.

The new dam planned for Big Falls is in the Traditional Territory of the Namekosipiiw Anishnabe of Lac Seul First Nation, and is a crucial site on their historic migratory canoe route which is still used for trapping (and other cultural and traditional economic) activities.

Big Falls is located at the headwaters of the English River System, the same one still poisoned with mercury.

The new hydro dam at Big Falls is being built, in part, to power the expansion of Gold mining around Red Lake, west of Big Falls and North of Grassy Narrows. Red Lake is already home to the largest and most profitable gold mine in the country, owned by Goldcorp, a Canadian mining giant that has one of the world’s worst records for corporate human rights abuses.

While the Ring of Fire mining projects somewhat stall several hundred kilometers to the east, Red Lake is booming. The Financial Post has called it “the Fort McMurray of Ontario.”

Gold mining is among the most environmentally destructive resource extraction processes on the planet, and poses as grievous and long term a threat to the waters of Grassy Narrows as has been wrought from the mercury poisoning.

The new dam at Big Falls is expected to allow for a massive increase of mining capacity over the next thirty years and also the attendant infrastructural and municipal development in and around Red Lake, which will, over the long term, decimate what may be left of the traplines, even if logging operations are stopped.

And while mining is controlled by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM), not the MNR, it is clear that the Provincial Government under Kathleen Wynne, just like every other government before hers, is firm in their belief that the land is theirs for taking. That idea is unlikely to be an issue in the upcoming provincial election, unfortunately.

One of the other industrial projects that would be powered by a new dam at Big Falls is a new Kenora pumping station for Transcanada’s Energy East Pipeline, which intends to pump Alberta tarsands bitumen westward across the country.

However, campaigns to Save Big Falls and the formation of a new Grassy Narrows Youth Group that “see protecting the land and cultural resurgence as a single inseparable process,” speak from a strong vision of a different future for the forests of this region and for the futures of Anishnabe Peoples who have lived here, in some cases, “since time immemorial.”

The seemingly ongoing fight against the FMP and the longer term struggle to protect the land are at a crucial moment. With the FMP, the Government is seriously challenging the Blockade for the first time in a decade, with the knowledge that they have major development plans for the long term future of this region.

There are also major “rare earth” mining projects scheduled to begin in the west of the territory in the next few years, and more gold mining expansion to the south.

But there are Anishnabe people who are saying no. They are also asking for support.

To conclude the Grassy Narrows Youth Group Statement, Taina Da Silva says the following: “The most important thing supporters can do is to be ready, and commit to both physical and political support should the Province begin logging operations,” she says.

On May 15, the Grassy Narrows “Trappers’ Case” will be argued before the Supreme Court of Canada, though a decision likely won’t come for several months. The case will have major impacts on the interpretation of Treaty Rights within Treaty 3 Territory and beyond.

This is still but a partial assessment of threats to the lands of Grassy Narrows’ Territory. There are other on going concerns including the encroachment of cottage properties onto traplines, granite mines that may be disturbing rock and soil with naturally high uranium levels and impacting drinking waters, increased usage of traplines by non indigenous hunters and recreationalists, and more.

The most concise place to get information and updates on developments at Grassy Narrows, where there is also information on how to support land protection efforts, is at http://freegrassy.net. According to the website, direct political pressure on the Provincial Government is important. The Grassy Narrows Youth Group is also currently fundraising and can be reached at GrassyNarrows.YouthGroup@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering, Report back

August 27, 2013 Leave a comment

“Solidarity to Protect Our Waters”

I missed this past weekend’s #NoLogging #NoMercury demonstration for Grassy Narrows in Toronto. The demo saw 7 full marching bands accompanied by busses full of people who descended upon the home of Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynn. The message being sent was that the people of Ontario demand that the Province adhere to the decision made by the people of Grassy Narrows that there be no more logging on their territory, and that the mercury poisoning of their waters be cleaned up and properly compensated for.

Sunday’s demo comes ten and a half years after a youth led blockade against clear-cut logging was initiated on their territory, and one day after an action by youth and women of Grassy Narrows, accompanied by other Anishnabek youth and women attending the annual Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering, participated in a demonstration of their own, sending a message about their intent to protect the waters of their territory against further damage from mining and other environmental threats.

I missed the demo on Sunday because I was in Grassy Narrows, where I’ve been for a week now, having attended the Youth Gathering and the annual Grassy Narrows Pow Wow in the preceding days. The theme of this year’s gathering was “Solidarity to Protect our Waters.” I had been scheduled to facilitate a workshop on the impacts of mining and Indigenous resistance to mining companies around the world.

I was going to talk about the position of mining in the global economic system of corporate colonial capitalism, and how people from communities who resist Canadian mining companies (the same companies which seek to mine on Indigenous lands here in so called Canada, who are also operating in the global south) are often attacked by paramilitary security forces. I was going to talk about how mining operations rip apart and devastate the earth and the ways they poison the waters in the regions in which they operate. I was also going to talk about the fierce resistance undertaken by Indigenous Peoples around the world and how that resistance is most effective when people are on the land, using it and defending it.

At the workshop I would have talked about how the Federal Conservative’s Navigable Waters Act allows for any lake that is not part of a “navigable waterway” (i.e., a river system) to be re-designated so that it can be used as a “tailing pond” for mining (or other industrial) waste and runoff. I would have talked about how the Ontario Mining Act reserves mining as the priority usage for any land such that any private or crown lands can be staked for mining by any licensed prospector who can prove they have capital to extract the resources: this is a big part of why it is so hard to stop mining companies from carrying out their destructive operations in Ontario, even when they do not have the consent of the Peoples upon whose territories they operate.

I didn’t get the chance to facilitate that discussion, but instead I had the honour of being able to participate, as a settler-ally, in a demonstration on the land, for the water, with some of the fiercest, most inspiring people I know. At the Youth Gathering, I also had the privilege of hearing some of those people—mostly Anishnabek women—talk about the importance of protecting the water, not only for reasons of environmental protection, but as a fundamental part of processes of decolonization and traditional resurgence for Anishnabek Peoples.

The most compelling message, I think, was about the deep connection between the destruction of the waters and the violence against Indigenous women that is endemic to this colonial society. The capitalist raping of the land and patterns of missing and murdered Indigenous women are connected in numerous ways, and combined, amount to a real and primary strategy for destroying Indigenous Nations, cultures and Peoples—genocide—so that the Canadian (and American) Nation State and capitalist corporations can legitimize their theft and plunder of the land: Without the presence of strong Indigenous women in Indigenous communities, Clan-Mother based governance systems of Indigenous Nations cannot function; without access to undestroyed land, Indigenous cultures cannot survive. We talked about deep cultural, political, spiritual and ceremonial connections between Indigenous territories and waters and Indigenous women. We talked about both the destruction of Indigenous lands from resource extraction and the systemic societal devaluing of Indigenous women that makes possible existing and ongoing patterns of missing and murdered Indigenous women, both as forms of explicit active genocidal racism being enacted at the state level with the complicity of all settlers residing here.

At the gathering we also heard about threats to water from fracking and from pipelines, and about the damage done by a Goldcorp gold mine on upstream Lac Seul First Nation Territory at Red Lake  and the fight against imminent construction of a new hydro dam at Big Falls. There was also a presentation from one of the founders of Idle No More, and there were ceremonies, traditional teachings and a ‘mini pow wow,’ as well as lots of singing and drumming by the camp fire. For many of the youth, it seemed, teachings from Elders, Clan Mothers and Warriors were highlights of the gathering.

On Sunday, while the demonstration was taking place out front of Premier Wynne’s home in Toronto, I went swimming at some local cliffs in Grassy Narrows Territory with a group 10-12 year old girls who are members of the youngest generation of one of the families here, which I have had the honour and privilege of coming close to over the years, that has been central in the blockade and the ongoing fight here against logging and other forms of environmental destruction. One of the girls looked at the tattoo on my back and asked me what “Resist” means. I told them it means fighting back when people who have more power than us try to hurt the people or places we love and need. She asked me if I meant like when her aunts stopped the logging the trucks here. I told her that was precisely the kind of actions that I was talking about. Another one of the girls pointed out that the word in “Resist” can be rearranged to spell “Sister.”

In a lot of ways, it is those girls and their peers that are the reason that this fight in Grassy Narrows in particular, like other anti-colonial fights led by Indigenous women and youth, is the struggle that I find myself most committed to. It is the understanding of how deep the connection is between the destruction of the land and violence against Indigenous women, as well as knowing how urgent is the need and real the possibility of defeating the destruction of the land and People here on this territory, that keeps me going back to the front lines and back on to the land to resist.

For Prisoners Justice Day I am finally posting my Sentencing Statement from June 26, 2012

August 8, 2013 1 comment

I want to write about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women campaign in Toronto. I want to write about how three different young Indigenous women have been apparently killed this summer in this city, and how like across the country such deaths are so often not taken seriously by the state. I want to write about the connection between these deaths and the murder of a Syrian teenager by Toronto police. I definitely want to recall their names: Cheyenne Fox, Terra Gardner and Bella Laboucan-McLean; Sammy Yatim. I want to write about the connection between the horrific phenomenon of missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country and the capitalist ethos of environmental destruction and how at a really deep level these patterns can be seen as part of one and the same.

But I still haven’t figured out how to write about that.

But it is almost Prisoners’ Justice Day and I figured that I should post something to this blog. After all, the problem of prisons in this system is also connected to the patterns and problems above.

So, below is something that I’d meant to have posted quite a while ago. It is the sentencing statement that I delivered to the court on June 26, 2012 before I went in to jail to serve time for my role in organizing the protests that took over the streets of Toronto during the G20 Summit in the summer of 2010.

Those protests were about a lot more than the G20 and the austerity agenda that was ushered in through those meetings. They were also about all that which I mentioned above, and about people uniting to resist intersecting and overlapping forms of oppression and violence.

Prisoners’ Justice Day is on August 10, this year and every year. While the statement below was my attempt to challenge the Crown and the Court’s processes of persecution that they exacted through the G20 Main Conspiracy Case like they do with all their prosecutions, I hope that people will take the 10th to think about, not only the people in prisons and the history of prisons, prison organizing and resistance, but also the way prisoners’ justice and resistance against prisons intersects with the fight for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, for the victims of police murder, and for all families and communities struggling against the ongoing racist legacies of colonialism and capitalism that continue to attack us everyday.

*************

ONTARIO COURT OF JUSTICE

HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN

against

ALEX HUNDERT

************

SENTENCING

BEFORE THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE L. BUDZINSKI

AT TORONTO, ONTARIO, ON JUNE 26, 2012

**********

APPEARANCES:

 J. Miller, Esq. Counsel for the Crown

J. Norris, Esq. Counsel for the accused

*************

THE ACCUSED: The first thing I want to address is the point that Mr. Norris finished on. It has been stated throughout these proceedings repeatedly by Mr. Miller, and by several J.P.s, and I think even by yourself, that this case isn’t about politics, and I want to suggest that that’s ridiculous. That everybody who has witnessed this case be it the defence lawyers, be it the media, be it non-politicized family members of the co-accused and community, this is so obviously about politics.

And given that we keep hearing this phrase about putting the reputation of the justice system into disrepute, or anything like that, or other variance of that we have heard, I think every single time, either someone behind the Bench, or the Crown Attorney suggests this isn’t political, it puts the justice system in disrepute.

I think the most concrete evidence of that is when we compare the sentences given to people who were caught breaking a couple windows during the G20, versus what has happened to people who were caught in Vancouver [during the Stanley Cup riot].

There was recently a young man who broke a half dozen windows, was involved in fist fights, smashed up a couple cop cars, he got 1 month. They are trying to give Kelly Pflug-Back, a G20 defendant, 18 to 24 for almost the same set of charges. So to suggest that this isn’t political is, I think, ridiculous.

Further, the way that the Crown, as Mr. Norris also eluded to, has demonized otherwise perfectly normal community groups, I mean, AWOL is a group that existed in Kitchener for almost a half dozen years, the way we were described by the Crown in this case, we were never, ever described by any political people in Kitchener, Waterloo, or by the police that way. This was a new invention that was part of politicizing this case. It is not an accurate description of who we were as a group. And, you know, pictures of me hugging the Mayor of Waterloo after one of our actions from years ago I think would attest to that. This is a fabrication of these OPP guys, and this Crown unit, that we are some kind of evil organization.

I also think –another thing that speaks to that is the tremendous focus that was put on hyperbolic rhetoric. Things that I accept that were clearly offensive and societally unacceptable ideas to put forward, some of the quotes that we heard over and over again [during our bail hearings and at the preliminary inquest], but trying to take quotes that were obviously jokes, and frame them as serious political discourse, and then say that is what makes us more guilty, that is a ploy, and it’s a political ploy. I think it is very clearly a political ploy meant to turn people against us, so that people won’t listen to what we actually have to say. And I think that’s really obvious, and I don’t think — I don’t think the media were duped, and I don’t think the public were duped, and I don’t understand why…  I understand why the Crown is insisting on it. I don’t understand why the courts are.

And that’s part of it, I think part of the reason it’s all happened is to put up a smoke screen and make it impossible for people to hear about the alternative ideas that we’re actually putting forward, or to have a reasonable discussion about tactics.

It can’t be illegal for us to talk about the possibility of actions, except the very premise of this case when it was still a conspiracy charge, was that merely being at meetings where people were talking about illegal actions may be part of a conspiracy to do those things, and I don’t know how we are supposed to have any kind of political discourse if we are not allowed to talk about ideas anymore.

I also think this case was really political because as we suspected from the beginning, as the disclosure has suggested through looking at the Intelligence Reports, and as through a number of F.O.I.s [Freedom of Information applications] into various issues, including the 2009 Aboriginal JIG [Joint Intelligence Group] Report will confirm a lot of what this case was about really clearly to people who have looked through it all; it was about targeting a growing network of radical activists.

There has been a burgeoning network over the last half dozen years in this country, of Indigenous Sovereigntists and their allies, migrant justice organizers, and anarchists. And we have seen time and time again in the evidence that those networks are explicitly what are being targeted by the Intelligence operations. We have seen it in who was selected for — to get brought into this case, as opposed to who wasn’t. And then when this JIG report came out, when someone dug it up, half of what they are talking about in that report those networks, anarchists, migrant justice organizers, — in the RCMP’s report  about policing aboriginal communities. And that is — they talk about it in the case as part of the goals, but I don’t know how much of the disclosure – you don’t have access to all of the disclosure until it comes before the court.

THE COURT: I want you to understand that your plea, your admission of the facts, constitutes all the information that I have to deal with this case.

THE ACCUSED: Right.

THE COURT: It would be inappropriate for me to read newspapers, and look at what you may have said or done outside, or prior issues that you may have raised before, or the history of anyone, I am isolated by the information I have in this courtroom and nothing more, do you understand that?

THE ACCUSED: I understand that, and I think that’s part of what is – it’s somewhat problematic about the system. I think that this whole process that we have been dragged through is really — has been all about the criminalization of dissent, and I think that if you want to take the position that you can only — that you are very bound by a certain set of parameters, then I would suggest the court is being used as a weapon by the Crown and the police to criminalize dissent. I would suggest, perhaps, the Court has been used in that way.

Dissent has very much been criminalized. It is very clear to most people that things like [the Crown] appealing our bail, given that we weren’t actually accused of anything violent, things like asking for two year sentences for what are essentially thought crimes, that these are about nothing more than intimidating the public to try to scare people from doing the types of things we were doing—like Mr. Miller just said, deterrence. But this is deterrence from thinking. This is deterrence from engaging in politic activity. This is deterrence from community organizing.

Deterrence from smashing windows is catching people smashing windows, and charging them appropriately, not giving them politically motivated sentences for doing so.

And I think it has specifically been about, not just criminalizing the idea that we are not allowed to talk about these things, but in the course of the way their case was put together, actual tactics and methods of political organizing have also been criminalized. The suggestion that merely being at a meeting where something illegal was talked about makes you part of a conspiracy, makes even the most peaceful soft forms of civil disobedience, conspiracies, because how can you plan them without talking about them.

And I think part of the reason why the Crown didn’t want us to go to trial was so that we couldn’t talk about those issues in court, so you couldn’t see all the disclosure, so that there wouldn’t be an actual public conversation on these things.

We were quite explicitly silenced. When I first got out of jail, the –

THE COURT: You are not suggesting your counsel in some way is part of the conspiracy, are you?

THE ACCUSED: No, I am not –I don’t believe in conspiracy.

THE COURT: You did have counsel, and counsel represented you.

THE ACCUSED: Counsel represented me, stuck by in the parameters of a system, and I will — and I am going to get to that a bit, but I think that the fact that we were very explicitly silenced, that I came out of jail and was told, “You’re not allowed to talk· to the media,”

THE COURT: Are you being silenced now?

THE ACCUSED: No. I had to fight. I had to refuse my bail conditions at one point, and then we –

THE COURT: Are you being silenced right now?

THE ACCUSED: Right now, no. But I think this process — there has been a tremendous amount of –

THE COURT: Let’s keep focused on what we are doing right now, that’s all –

THE ACCUSED: But right now is the culmination of four years. It’s not just the culmination of the trial, and since the arrest, it’s also the whole operation. And I think the court has to own some of what the police did. I think the court is much more responsible for what the police did than anyone else in the room, other than the police.

So you know, these lawsuits that are starting to come up, I think the court is somewhat complicit in those things that happened for not having stopped it.

I also think that the process was –was used tremendously to bully us into a deal. We were told –

THE COURT: What do you mean “a deal?”

THE ACCUSED: The plea deal. I totally accept –

THE COURT: Do you want to take a moment to speak to your counsel?

THE ACCUSED: No, I have talked to him about this. I totally accept that I definitely… I’m quite sure I did something illegal in this process. i’m quite sure that the nine months i’m about to serve is relatively appropriate for what I did. I think it’s unfortunate that none of us can tell anyone which parts of what we did are actually illegal.

The Crown approached… once the discussion for a deal was on the table, we were told “it’s all or nothing. Either there’s a group deal, or nobody is getting cut.” This is in a system where one of our co-accused was facing potential deportation if found convicted, where there were 19 year olds only peripherally involved –

THE COURT: Each of the parties were represented by counsel.

THE ACCUSED: Yeah.

THE COURT: The parties had a right to say no, and each of the parties had a right to go to trial. I clearly articulated to you that you do have a right to go to trial—

THE ACCUSED: Yeah.

THE COURT: –and that by entering a plea you are waiving that Constitutional right to have a trial –

THE ACCUSED: I have a right to a trial, but what the system doesn’t—

THE COURT: But hold on, let me –

THE ACCUSED: –afford me –

THE COURT: Let me finish. Let me finish, okay? You have all the freedom in the world to write about whatever you want to write about, or speak about whatever you want to speak about after today. You also have some rights to speak about relevant issues today in the case. But if you are saying in some way that you were coerced, or that you entered a plea against your will, that is a different matter.

THE ACCUSED: I’m not saying it was “against my will,” and I’m not sure quite what “coerced” means, because this whole process, the whole system is inherently coercive. If I don’t pay my taxes, I get in trouble. If I… we live in a coercive society. That is the nature of the authority in our society

THE COURT: And destruction of property is also coercive –

THE ACCUSED: Sure, that’s not what we are talking about.

THE COURT: Well, we are. That is exactly what we are talking about. We are talking—

THE ACCUSED: Okay, well I’ll get –

THE COURT: –about the freedom of speech that has been reduced to coercive acts of violence against property. That is –

THE ACCUSED: I think that –

THE COURT: That is no different than the coercion that you speak about.

THE ACCUSED: I think it is quite different. But to suggest that what we did was somehow more coercive than the way the police and the Crown have used the system that they possess against us –

THE COURT: In a free and democratic society, it is important that both the authorities and the public recognize that it is, I suppose, an issue of faith, and that people treat each other with dignity. Breaches of dignity or self-respect are wrong for either side to employ in any situation. One cannot—

THE ACCUSED: Okay, then

THE COURT: — justify their own use of breach of dignity or respect to other people by saying that the other person disrespected me first. There are revolutions throughout this world. There are panics in different parts of this country, not this country, but other countries right now, where one religious group fights another religious group I or and one particular political group fights another political group only because they are saying, “You did this to me, and I didn’t do this to you, so I’m going to do it back to you.” Unless we return to the fundamental issues of a democratic society, where everyone treats everyone with dignity, recognizing that there is mutual obligations both on the State and the individual, democratic societies will fail.

THE ACCUSED: Well, frankly, I would suggest that the direction this country is going in, and the very austerity agenda we were protesting, is the most violent thing that anyone did out of all of this, and to suggest that we have a wonderful democratic country that we need to protect with the rule of law, given what the austerity agenda they were putting into place that weekend, given what the police did, given what we can see happening in Montreal right now, I think it’s ridiculous. We have got a situation just across the Provincial border that is nearing the type of revolution you are talking about.

THE COURT: You are an intelligent man. I don’t want to engage in a lot of non-topic or non-relevant issues to what is happening here today. Like I say, you are free to pick up a pen, you are free to write, you are free to speak after today, after the sentence is imposed, in any way you wish.

THE ACCUSED: But I am not free to talk about the process right now?

THE COURT: Well, you have to keep it relevant. You have to keep –

THE ACCUSED: I’ve got –

THE COURT: We have got to keep it to how that sentence is relevant to you.

THE ACCUSED:  I think that talking about the fact that we were, I would agree probably within the confines of the law, bullied into a deal. I accept I did something wrong, I accept the terms –

THE COURT: I am going to take five minutes. You may want to speak to your lawyer because –

THE ACCUSED: I have talked to my lawyer.

THE COURT: No, no, no. I I want you to-take five minutes because to say that you are bullied into a dealt I think you need to –

THE ACCUSED: I am qualifying the term “bullied” but –

THE COURT: No, no, we are not playing linguistics here.

THE ACCUSED: We have been playing linguistics since the beginning.

THE COURT: No, I am going to –

THE ACCUSED: When he –when Mr. Miller dragged out the dictionary—

THE COURT: No, no

THE ACCUSED: –we started playing linguistics.

THE COURT: I am going to give you five minutes to speak to your lawyer, okay? You can have five minutes –

THE ACCUSED: Well, how about this, why don’t I fire my lawyer right now and you can talk to me. I don’t want the five minutes.

THE COURT: Just keep it to the point then.

THE ACCUSED: I am trying to keep it to the point. Talking about the process and the way this deal happened, how can that not be relevant to the sentencing hearing that is happening right now?

THE COURT: Mr., Miller, is there an issue here of concern by the Crown?

MR. MILLER: No.

THE COURT: I just –

MR. MILLER: No, I understand Mr. Hundert to be saying –he is explaining his motivation for entering a plea. I don’t take it to be somebody overcame –

THE ACCUSED: And that’s not what l’m trying to say either –

THE COURT: Wait a second. Wait a second. Mr Norris, you agree with the –

MR. NORRIS: Your Honour, I agree with Mr. Miller.

THE COURT: Okay.

MR. NORRIS: I think Mr. Hundert has stated his –

THE COURT: Okay, that’s fine, thank you very much. Go ahead.

THE ACCUSED: So I don’t know where I was in all of this, but I think that that all –all of that, I think you have got a system that you preside over that is flawed. I think it is set up to allow the Crowns to bully defendants into plea deals.

I spent a lot of time in jail, not a lot of time, I spent a very small time in jail, but got to talk to some people who have spent half their lives in jail who talk about pleading over and over again to charges they didn’t’ commit because of the way the system’ operates. Bail is used as a coercive mechanism, and the process is used as a coercive mechanism. The process is used as a coercive mechanism to rack up’ convictions. I’m not saying I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m saying it’s a shame that because we –nobody wanted to go to trial — that nobody knows which things are actually illegal. We didn’t set any precedent in this case, and that’s unfortunate, and that doesn’t fulfill justice.

And all I’m saying is that if the Crown had let the people who obviously weren’t guilty, and should have been cut out of this case get cut, and let the people who wanted to go to trial to have a public discourse about all of this go, that that would have been serving everybody’s definition of justice much better.

And I would just caution the Court and the Crown, and everything else involved, to not let this stuff keep happening. If this system is allegedly about justice, avoiding the conversation is not useful.

I also think — I mean one of the things that has happened through these sentencing hearings… You chastised Peter Hopperton for mentioning the Arab Spring. And then Leah Henderson was maybe not chastised, but, you know, when her lawyer submitted the Time magazine cover of the Occupy “person of the year, protester” story, and I think that in the time that has gone… since then it has become clear that these things are connected.

To suggest that the austerity agenda that we were protesting at the G20, and what is happening in Quebec right now is unconnected would be ridiculous. It is clearly connected to austerity –

THE COURT: No, but just to keep it –

THE ACCUSED: No –

THE COURT: Just to keep it understood is that the comments I made were not against the issues. That is not for me to decide or be involved in. The comments I made were in the effectiveness of the method used. The Arab Spring was very much a social media concern –

THE ACCUSED: That’s not actually true.

THE COURT: Well, okay, I –

THE ACCUSED: That is inaccurate.

THE COURT: We can argue here for hours and –

THE ACCUSED: Yeah, but this is my turn to speak.

THE COURT: No, no. But we can’t argue that point because there is no resolution –

THE ACCUSED: There is. There is. You could actually do the research and go back and look at the footage. People were getting killed live on CNN in Cairo. There was — it was a tremendously violent movement. The spirit of the movement was peaceful, and people were supportive of it so they called it a peaceful movement. That’s part of what our global media does. Is when we support things, we call them peaceful. When we don’t support them, we call them violent. It’s part of the way the whole system works.

For example, it has been suggested that one of the really egregious things we did was to be willing to use violence to achieve political ends. I would suggest that almost everybody is willing to do that. You, yourself, are willing to do that. If I refuse to go to jail at the end of this hearing, what is going to happen? You guys in uniforms are going to physically drag me out of this room. That is a use of violence for political ends, and I only bring that up to suggest that the statement, “Using violence for political ends is always wrong,” is it’s a fallacy. It’s not the world we live in.

And I would also suggest that the tactics that were used on the street during the G20 are part of a global history, and a global reality of resistance, and it was one of the first times in recent memory that a street protest in Toronto actually looked like a protest in the rest of the world, and I think that’s part of why it happened. I think people are waking up in this country, that Canada is not some oasis in some messed up world. Canada is actually part of the problem, a big part. And I think since that G20, we have seen a lot more protests starting to look like that, and I think if the direction this country is heading in doesn’t change immediately, the future is going to be full of a lot more of them. And why the courts wouldn’t take that seriously, and recognize where we are actually at in the world, I don’t think it serves anybody any good.

The other thing we were told is that the riot that happened on the G20 stole the message of the protest, and I think that’s preposterous. There were five days of entirely peaceful protests before it. They got almost no attention. It’s not our fault — it’s not anybody’s fault who was on the street that nobody paid attention to the peaceful protests. That nobody remembers the messaging from five days of themed protest that saw more than 40,000 people on the street. That doesn’t get covered, that doesn’t get talked about.

Occupy didn’t get huge media until it started getting a little bit rowdy. The same with the Quebec stuff, and same with the Arab Spring. To suggest that somehow violence on the part of the protesters is what steals the message is ridiculous. The media can cover whatever they want, and people can remember and think about whatever they want.

And I have pretty much covered everything I really wanted to say. I would like to suggest again that with — having seen that OIPRD report now, you know, there is a specific line in the statement of facts that says that the only reason teaching people how to defend themselves against the police was illegal was because I didn’t specify that you can only resist arrest if you know it’s an unlawful arrest. People have a Constitutional right to defend themselves against unlawful arrest.

And I don’t think it’s fair to punish us because we knew what the cops were going do. We knew that most of the arrests that weekend were going be unlawful, and we prepared people to defend themselves against a brutal police Force.  And if that’s the thing I did that was illegal, so be it, but that’s a flawed system if that’s illegal. That’s it.

THE COURT:  Thank you.

**************

Theresa “Toad” Jamieson vs Gary McHale at the colonial Cayuga courthouse

A forwarded callout from the Two Row Society
#SovSummer  #FreeToad

Remember Gary McHale? He is the anti-native racist organizer who has been provoking and baiting Six Nations land defenders since 2006, who has fronted a bullshit narrative of reverse racism that has been picked up by the likes of Christi Blatchford and Sun Media and poisoned public discourse, who wrote a letter to the Hamilton cops and the cbc threatening to come down to the #SwampLine9 blockade to “monitor” the protesters. Remember when we mobilized against that racist narrative, against his incursions on to the reclamation site, against the so called Caledonia Militia, against the alliance between the JDL and McHale’s (unofficially) white supremacist organization, canace?

Theresa “Toad” Jamieson is a fiercely dedicated front line land defender from Six Nations. She has been and continues to be an inspiration to many people.

On July 3 at 10am, Toad’s trial starts at the Cayuga courthouse. She is charged with “assaulting” Gary McHale on Feb 18 2012 when, McHale – escorted by OPP – forced his way onto Kanonhstaton, the Six Nations Reclamation site, then continued on past the police to worsen tensions and leading to arrests. McHale and the police are both employing the strategy of using racist agitators as bait in order to further criminalize Six Nations land defenders.

Toad is representing herself in court and challenging the court’s legitimacy and it’s alleged right to prosecute her on her own territory. She has asked for us to help mobilize support and to pack the court room.

Having recently been through the court system myself, i can tell you that it was unbelievably empowering to have a courthouse full of supporters there when i used my own sentencing hearing as a platform from which to challenge the system. We should now be extending that same support to Toad, who poses a much greater challenge to the state than I did. At her past court dates, the presence or absence of supporters has made a big difference towards how she has been received by the court; this is another reason it is important for us to be there.

Defenders Of the Land and #IdleNoMore have launched “Sovereignty Summer”, a call to build mounting pressure, including through mass direct actions to be joined by non-natives, to challenge the Harper government and the land destroying colonial system, a call for escalation in the ongoing struggles for Indigenous sovereignty, and now is a time to step up our support for Indigenous land defenders. In the wake of the amazing #SwampLine9 blockade which took place on Onkwehonwe Grand River Territory, it is especially important to support frontline land defenders from Six Nations.

The Cayuga Couthouse is at 55 Munsee St. N. The attached callout from the Two Row Society has contact info for people in various cities to help coordinate rides. I really hope to see lots of people there; this is a personal plea for folks to support the callout and pack the courthouse.

-alex.

#SovSummer #Solidarity

ps. Please do read the callout (here) and join the FB event (here)

safe and sound.

March 27, 2013 4 comments

I am out of jail; safe and sound.

I have been out of the house, wandered around the neighbourhood, in daylight and in darkness last night. It is good to be out.

Here is something I wrote last week.

“…any strength that i may have carried through this was brought in from the outside, borrowed from the people I have been honoured and privileged to fight alongside, derived from the communities and the earth that we fight for, it is derivative of our struggles, sent in from the outside word by word, letter by letter, from the people who have extended themselves into this enclosure to support, to keep of strength, to keep up the fight.  all of the strength i have had in here has come from them, from you, from being able to stay connected to community, and in turn rooted to the earth.”  (March 21, 2013)

All I really want to say right now is to extend my most sincere gratitude and utmost appreciation to everyone who has offered support to me and to my family and friends and to the various communities I and others who have gone through the same and similar experiences belong to, and to those who offer the same to the numerous other people going through similar experiences for numerous other but intersecting reasons who so rarely get the same, thank you, so much.

And especially to those who have been central and integral to the support i have received, more.

I have decided not write a list of names, cause I am sick of lists of names, and also because I do not want to forget or exclude anyone.

To everyone, see you in the streets.

Categories: Uncategorized

They don’t want us to organize

March 14, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the core features of authoritarian systems is the monopoly over the legitimate use of power. Only the authorities are allowed to exercise it. While prison is inherently an authoritarian institution, it is important to be able to recognize it as a microcosm of the ways that more encompassing systems function in our purportedly democratic state. The idea that power is rooted in a people’s consensus is but a fiction manufactured to elicit both complacency and complicity.

When people, imprisoned or otherwise, try to organize themselves — whether within or outside of the structures and procedures designated by authority as proper — if the goals of that organizing are counter to the interests of those who hold power, those organizers will be targeted and the so-called rights of people negated. Rights only exist in so far as they do not substantively undermine the needs and legitimacy of power, of those in charge. They do not want us to organize.

While I have been imprisoned at the CNCC, every attempt that I have made to act against the deteriorating conditions in the prison, though mostly in accordance with authorized structural mechanisms, has not only been negated or dismissed but also at times criminalized. This very much parallels some of my pre-imprisonment organizing experiences as well, where sometimes those efforts most in accordance with so-called “proper channels” were often those most targeted by authorities for criminalization.

In prison, this institution’s administration has repeatedly denied access to, or even the existence of, some of Correctional Service Ontario’s rules. I have been on multiple occasions threatened by guards and senior management. I have faced disciplinary action without even being accused of breaking the rules. Any attempts to appeal to the notion of rights or policies have been entirely negated, one way or another. None of these experiences are unique to myself. They are standard fare in prison, like in most authoritarian institutions and systems.

It is not a coincidence that the actions which led to the original conspiracy charges I faced, the breach of bail conditions I was re-arrested for, and the counseling charges I was forced to plead guilty to were themselves all seemingly protected by a doctrine of rights, yet criminalized because those rights were being exercised in a form that challenged the very legitimacy of the ways that power is monopolized in the neo-authoritarian statist system we are currently living under.

In such systems granted rights, guaranteed freedoms and democratic processes are only valid when used in ways that reinforce the legitimacy of power. So when people attempt to organize for individual or communal autonomy, or the decentralization of power, or to improve the lives of people in targeted communities which would undermine the system’s order, those efforts will be negated and criminalized. This is the system we live under. Prisons illustrate and embody, enforce and reinforce this authoritarian system.

In the federal prison system during the 1970s, in a series of riots, imprisoned people literally fought and died to challenge this type of systemic negation of their dignity as people who, though imprisoned, remain members of communities that collectively comprise an allegedly democratic society. One of the results of that period of resistance was the creation of inmate committees — currently institutionalized through Correctional Service of Canada’s Commissioner’s Directive 083 — which now serve as organizing bodies for imprisoned people and as an internal accountability structure within federal prisons.

A few months ago, several of us imprisoned at the CNCC decided that we wanted to try to establish something similar here, knowing that such a thing once existed in this very prison. In order to force the issue of accountability and input from imprisoned people for the day to day operations that dictate our lives here, we were going to simply submit request forms asking to start an inmate committee.

Before the request even made it past the guards, I was pulled off our range by one of them. Making explicit threats, he told me that such an effort would not be tolerated. He threatened to “search and strip” various ranges on the unit and to “put it all over me,” meaning that he would tell other imprisoned people that it was on my account that privileges would be revoked and cells trashed, meant to result in retributive physical violence against me. “I’m going to start doing your time and lots of other people’s time,” he told me.

Some of the people I had been collaborating with still wanted to push forward. We knew it was not a bluff from the guards but we were ready to see things escalate. However we had not done the work of building support on the unit for such efforts and knowing that people other than ourselves who had not consented to conflict would bear much of the brunt of the guards’ recriminiation, we took a step back to strategize.

The protest-action in December, that resulted in myself and two others being thrown in the hole, was a spontaneous response to worsening conditions in the prison at a moment near the culmination of that strategy. A week later we were almost ready to make our move, when I was then thrown back into solitary confinement on a “security hold”. I think that security figured out that something was about to happen. Nothing moved forward during the additional month that I was in segregation and by the time I returned the momentum had largely dissipated, tensions having been redirected to interpersonal conflicts among the imprisoned people.

One of the reasons we need an inmate committee here is to have space to deal with conflict between groups of imprisoned people. Another is to build a platform from which to demand accountability and to address issues including lack of access to books and programs, discrimination and racism, abuse of authority, and deteriorating living conditions. An inmate committee would be a representative body that would enable us to provide input for ways to decrease violence in the prison, to address needs, and to empower us to make our own lives better while we are in prison.

One of the preliminary strategic steps we took was an attempt to start a unit-wide inter-faith discussion group. This was to allow us to talk about racism within the prison population and in the broader world, misogynist attitudes that are prevalent amongst the population, discrimination and violence in the prison against people living with HIV/AIDS and queer and trans people; and to do work together to build, maintain and support connections and reintegration in our communities, as well as to give us experience and to foster an expectation of being able to organize together. This proposal was officially rejected because the prion is “understaffed,” but a member of the chaplaincy had forewarned me that the initiative would be turned down because the administration does not want to give us “space to conspire.” They don’t want us to organize.

Not only do they not want us to organize, they don’t even want us to know the rules. (This is part of why legal codes and procedures are so difficult to decipher and navigate.)

This prison has, on multiple occasions, literally removed from my mail the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services Act and its attendant Regulations, Regulation 778.

A security manager here, Sergeant Beninger,told me that imprisoned people are not allowed to see the legislation for security reasons, and refused to discuss the appropriateness of this rule. When I asked why we are not given access to the Inmate Information Guide for Adult Institutions, all he could say was that people imprisoned here are supposed to receive copies upon admission. He would not comment on the fact that we do not.

When I wrote to the Superintendent, Robyn Kasha, formally requesting access to the legislation, she responded by saying that the request should be redirected to the Education department because the MCSA is “resource material” and we are therefore only entitled to have access to it during class time. This would mean that only the estimated 10-15% of people imprisoned here who are enrolled in the education program are entitled to see the provincial legislation, the laws that govern this place. When I challenged Deputy Superintendent Johnston and refused to accept his repetition of the “security reasons” mantra, he acknowledged that “of course” we have a “right” to have a copy of the legislation.

There is, however, quite a logical reason why the institution’s administration considers it a security risk for imprisoned people to have access to the MCSA. The act and its regulations — those passed in provincial parliament — dictate a very different set of rules than those which govern the lives of people imprisoned here.

Our granted rights are infringed upon and violated in systemic and institutionalized ways on a daily basis here. The terrible conditions on the Segregation Unit, for example, do not in any way correspond to the rights that have been guaranteed to us by elected parliamentarians. It turns out that the “rules” of provincial prisons are determined not according to the legislation, but by a lengthy document called the Institutional Services Policies and Procedures Manual which is authored by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and has not been passed by the provincial legislature.

According to a January 24th letter that I received from Superintendent Kasha,”for security reasons the ISPP is not a public document.”

So apparently the Institutional Services Policies and Procedures Manual authored by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which fundamentally undermines and contravenes the rights guaranteed to us by elected representatives, is a secret document. A more Orwellian negation of democratic principles could not be invented. And people wonder why I do not believe in electoral democracy.

Within an oppressive system prison can best be understood as an institution that both enforces and reinforces the established order. On the one hand prisons are an enforcement mechanism whose spectre breeds compliance and complacency. On the other hand, the systemic patterns of how, why, and who is imprisoned ingrains hegemonic norms and shows complicity. Further, when we understand prisons as microcosms that illustrate the functionality of order and authority, complacency and complicity, we can glean deep understandings of how power functions in both micro and macrocosmic systems.

One of the ways that we can see prisons operating as a systemic microcosm that shuts down the ability of people to organize is to understand the prison’s role as a warehouse. Prisons warehouse — they store away people whose participation in ostensibly democratic societies power seeks to deny. They keep people out of their communities thereby denying their participation. This is obvious when we look at who is primarily targeted for imprisonment: Black people, poor people,Indigenous people and people disabled by inadequate social support for denormalized mental health conditions.

Within the prison, the Segregation Unit functions as an internal jail where similarly warehoused are those whose presence is deemed undesirable in the General Population. In the Segregation Unit, also known as “the hole,” are people whose mental health conditions the institution is unable or has no interest in supporting, and those labeled as threats to security. Some people merely spend short terms in segregation as punishment for “misconduct” thus serving as disincentives for challenges against the authorities’ claims over people, enforcing order, and reinforcing complacency as well as the values of exclusion.

I recently spent five weeks in segregation because my endeavours to organize have caused me to be classified as “likely to endanger the security of the institution.”

Initially I was thrown in the hole on “misconduct” for “inciting a disturbance.” After a week in segregation where I was able to find ways to build support for prison hunger-striker David Cedeño I was returned to the General Population with a “reprimand” for my “non-violent” offence.

Once out of segregation I immediately started working to spread word of Cedeño’s actions amongst the population of imprisoned people. His strike was as much for the dignity and rights of all of us and against the oppressive nature of this institution as it was about confronting the ongoing attacks he was facing from the guards. Awareness of his struggle and support for it was a potential catalyst for broader resistance inside the prison and could have sparked the fuel to start an inmate committee here. It was also simply important for people to know about David Cedeño — knowledge is often the most dangerous threat facing authoritarian regimes.

It seems that as soon as the authorities became aware of these efforts, I was quickly thrown back in the hole, just 48 hours after getting out of segregation.However it has also been suggested by one of the guards that I was never supposed to have been let out in the first place. I was never given a “misconduct” for this occasion as there were no rules they could point to that I had broken. I was merely guilty of sharing information. Nonetheless I was held for another four weeks in solitary confinement under the vague notion of a “security risk.” After four more weeks in the hole, I found an opportunity to agitate against the authoritarianism of this institution — even from solitary confinement. I began to challenge the procedures and policies — the rules — that are in practice on the segregation unit. I told other imprisoned people about their so-called rights and I explained to the guards that the orders they were following are contrary to what the legislation accords.

One day I showed a guard a copy of the MCSA Regulations (that I managed to finally get my hands on). He agreed that it very clearly guarantees imprisoned people a standard of living that is grossly violated by institutional practice. An hour later a sergeant was at the door of my cell. I showed her the same section of Regulation 778. Her response was to inform me that the issue was “above her pay grade.” Two hours later, along with two guards and two sergeants, Deputy Superintendent Johnston was in my cell to talk to me.

It seemed that all of a sudden my “security review” had been completed and they were ready to return me to the general population. I guess they had to stop me from undermining the authority of the institution through teaching people about the legislation. However, being moved out of segregation did not come without renewed threats.

Johnston told me that if another “disturbance” occurred it would not matter whether or not it was “non-violent” (nor if I was actually guilty of “inciting”), not only would I be put permanently back in segregation and lose my “remission” (extending my sentence), but I would also be hit with new “serious criminal charges.”

If I am forbidden from even talking about “rules” and “rights” then obviously organizing is to be out of the question.

When we were arrested during the G20 summit a group of us were charged with “conspiracy” — not doing something, talking about something — a thought crime; meeting to plan protests (and yes, some of those protests included elements that are “illegal”). Over the 48 hours following the police raid on my house more than 1100 people were arrested. Fewer than 300 were ever charged, fewer than 50 convicted. Most of the arrests were totally unwarranted and obviously illegitimate (as if any armed kidnapping — which is what an arrest is — should ever be considered “legitimate”).

Less than half way through our preliminary inquiry, the Crown wanted to drop charges against two thirds of the Main Conspiracy Group defendants and to have six of us plead guilty to “counseling” charges, to sharing information. I pled guilty to two counts, one stemming from a series of activist workshops, one for compiling a list of potential protest sites. For this I received a 20 month prison sentence.

At one point while I was out on bail, I was arrested for participating in a speakers’ panel that was arranged to talk about post-G20 organizing and movement unity. Allegedly this constituted a breach of the order not to participate in any public demonstrations — a “demonstration” being defined as any public meeting in which any moral or political matter is discussed.

And allegedly, this is not an authoritarian state.

The premise that the authoritarian power holders of our society do not want us to organize is a system-wide reality. By “us” I mean anyone who through their actions, or through their very bodies and identities, challenge the system’s dominant norms. For example: people of colour in a white supremacist society, trans people in a cis-supremacist heteronormative society,Indigenous people in a settler society. I hope that people can see that.

We are living with a mounting slew of measures from all levels of government that undercut the power of unions, of environmental groups, of cultural groups, of community organizations, of advocates, and of anyone who would organize to improve the lives of people in targeted neighbourhoods and communities. The very practice of non-governmental, non-corporate organizing — from unions to NGOs to community groups — is under attack.

While I have been able to document some of the recent attacks on the efforts of imprisoned people to organize at the CNCC, and to narrate some of the resistance to those attacks, there is nothing new or unique to this story.

This purportedly democratic state has a long history of criminalizing dissent and the organizing of people(s) who have been cast as peripheral to the hegemony of the dominant normative culture. Whether through historical and ongoing attacks against Indigenous Peoples’ sovereignty, the over-policing and stigmatization of neighbourhoods of colour, or the myriad ways that austerity cuts are eliminating opportunities for poor people to organize in their own neighbourhoods, this state has always sought to prevent targeted people from being able to organize. And not only do I hope that people can see that, but I hope we are ready to fight back.

Categories: Uncategorized
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