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

May 13, 2014 1 comment

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.”

***

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.

***

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.

*****

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.”

Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering, Report back

August 27, 2013 1 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)

Support Six Nations Land Defenders: an open letter to all those who have supported me

This is a letter I am writing to everyone who supported me over the past two years, since our arrests brought to light the massive police operation against a group of solidarity activists and community organisers.

In that time I have received such an incredible amount of support from friends and family, from allies, from “movement” organisations, and also from civil liberties organisations, academic and journalist associations, and unions. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude and appreciation for all of it.

As I head back into jail on Tuesday, lots of people have been offering renewed support, and having seen how substantial that support can be, I am asking that the support people are hoping to give to me over the next year, be instead extended to the new Legal Defence Fund recently established for Six Nations Land Defenders.

The type of targeting, repression, manipulation, intimidation and harassment that were directed at anarchist and other activist communities in the lead up to the Olympics and the G20 are realities that are standard fare in Indigenous communities where resistance to colonialism is a part of daily life.

However, in the years since the Reclamation action in 2006, people from Six Nations have not always seen the same kind of support that I and some of the other G20 defendants received.

Part of what is sadly ironic about the contrasting levels of support is that those who were most directly targeted by the intelligence/security operation against activists in the lead up to the G20 were those whose primary organising work includes building linkages and relationships with the strong network of Indigenous Sovereigntists and their allies, migrant justice organisers, and anarchists. The policing operation was largely designed to disrupt those relationships and that movement building. These are standard tactics used against the resistance movements that arise from Indigenous and other racialized or otherwise targeted communities.

I would like to propose that we now strengthen those linkages by turning the massive capacity for support that we have developed over the past two years towards supporting front line land defenders from Six Nations.

Since 2006 there has been a particularly insidious wave of criminalisation and demonisation aimed at Haudenosaunee people who are asserting the sovereignty of the Six Nations Confederacy and defending the land. The tactics used in everyday policing operations against Six Nations, like with other Indigenous nations, are exactly the type of oppressive state security that the rest of the southern Ontario “activist community” got a taste of around the G20.

I would strongly encourage you to consider formally supporting the new Six Nations Land Defenders Legal Defence Fund.

The fund is currently being administered and coordinated by the April 28 Coalition which includes organisers from Six Nations as well as established allies from various unions and activist organisations. If the fund is successful, a formal board of directors will be established and procedures codified. For now, the immediate concern is fundraising for Francine “Flower” Doxtator and Kevin “Sleeper” Greene, though the goal is a sustainable fund that can cover legal costs for people from Six Nations who are charged while engaging in land defence actions.

Support for the Six Nations Land Defenders Legal Defence Fund could include a formal endorsement, a public statement of support, promotion within your organisations or networks, and/or making donations. Please contact the April 28 Coalition (kanonhstaton@gmail.com) for more information, or visit this link to donate directly: http://bit.ly/K39HCN.

Thanks again so much for your continued support

Sincerely,
alex hundert

#June26, Get on the Bus: Court Support vs Criminalisation

June 14, 2012 1 comment

UPDATE – Official Callout: June 25+26: Solidarity w Six Nations Land Defenders
Community Solidarity Network (CSN) Callout: Remember the G20 by supporting criminalized Indigenous Land Defenders and solidarity activists

***

An invitation to support front line activists

This June 26, exactly two years after the police kicked in my door for a pre-emptive arrest, two years after the burning cop cars and the black bloc riot, two years after the egregious police crackdown, i am finally going to be sentenced by an ontario court. We’ve know for months exactly what my sentence would be as it arises from a plea deal made in order to get the charges dropped for several of our co-accused, but in less than two weeks it will be official and i will be back in jail.

On the same day, a friend and ally, Fran Doxtator, also known as Flower, will be up in court in Cayuga on charges stemming from a February 18 incident at Kanonhstaton, the Six Nations reclamation site at Caledonia. Flower is a Haudenosaunee land defender, grandmother, and a member of the April 28 Coalition. Her newest charges are yet another instance of the criminalisation of Six Nations land defenders and their community, and must be challenged accordingly. For more info on Flower’s case see this link.

Support Flower: Get on the Bus

As luck would have it, Flower’s hearing is at 2pm and mine is at 10am, which means there is time for people to go to both. The April 28 Coalition is charting a bus that will bring people from the courthouse at 2201 Finch W in toronto (after my hearing) to the courthouse in Cayuga (for Flower’s hearing), and then back to toronto [more info, and a callout coming soon]. I want to strongly encourage people to fill that bus and to pack the court for Flower, to show solidarity with her and other Six Nations Land Defenders.

If i were not going to jail on #June26, i would be going to Cayuga to support Flower and the efforts and intents of Six Nations land defenders.

Since the g20, “criminalisation” and support have been a hot topics in activist and social movement circles. However, the criminalisation of Indigenous land defenders and sovereigntists has been a long standing practise in this country (and other colonial states), as has the criminalisation of migrant communities and other racialised and poor communities.

Resisting criminalisation as well as legal/jail support have increasingly become cornerstones of contemporary activist activities amongst settlers on ‘The Left’. Now it is time that we practice this at a level deeper and more meaningful than the simple support of our friends and closest comrades; it is time we shift our support to those whose communities are most targeted by the state, those whose struggles are at the root of the broader anti-colonial resistance on Turtle Island.

Resistance against austerity, colonialism, and criminalisation

There is more connection between these two cases than the simple criminalisation of front line activists, land defenders and organisers. There is also more connection here than the fact that, while our charges are seemingly unrelated, Flower and I have known each other for the better part of a decade now, and more than a few times we have stood on the same side of a line together.

Alongside the solidarity of anti-colonial activists, perhaps the most meaningful connection here lies in the fact that it is not our methods that the state seeks to criminalise, but our ideas and our stories and our bodies; they seek to crimialise both dissent and dissenters, in and of themselves.

The reason both dissent and the bodies and lives of those who would resist need to be criminalised by the state is because our resistance to colonialism and capitalism (of which austerity is but a face), fundamentally undermines the authority with which they govern and rule. When we challenge austerity we challenge the very notion that capitalism is an appropriate form of economic management. When we challenge colonialism we challenge the very legitimacy of the state and its mythologies.

When we insist that “we are all treaty people”, like when we insist that these are “our streets”, we tell the state as we tell the world, that we will not be ruled by those who exploit people and the planet for profit. We will be guided instead by treaties made between autonomous nations, and we will be guided by our historical connections to the earth and the lessons that have been learned through generations of relationships.

We will continue to resist, in part, because we know that this–this era of colonlialism and capitalism–cannot last. We will keep fighting for survival and for a better world that we all know is possible.

Fight on all fronts

The most important thing we can do, is almost always, to keep fighting on all fronts, from the locations that make sense for us.

June 26 is also the anniversary of the arrest of Mohammad Mahjoub who is one of the Secret Trial 5. He has been detained on secret information for 12 years, and is holding a rally in Toronto on this day. He was arrested on the basis of racial profile and has never even been charged, under a “security certificate” regime that only applies to non-citizens where the court has ruled that the presumption of innocence does not apply

Also on June 26, is a local fight in the Downtown East neighborhood of toronto for a men’s harm reduction shelter that the city is trying to cut and close down. This is a key example of how austerity is being brought down in this City – targeting the poor by shutting down a homeless shelter in the midst of a housing crisis and overcrowding in the shelters.

All of these struggles are deeply and intimately connected.

For people who are not able to get on the bus to Cayuga to support Flower and Six Nations Land Defenders in general, i would strongly encourage people to attend the morning City Council meeting to support the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s fight for the SchoolHouse, and to attend the rally for Mohammad Mahjoub, rather than just coming to court for me and skipping these other events.

***

*more info about getting on the bus will be available here and at April 28 Coalition soon*

A Response to Judy Rebick

February 27, 2010 17 comments

The Black Bloc and the 21st Century anti-Colonial Movement at the Olympics

Judy Rebick, from her office in downtown Toronto, complained that “when a spontaneous anger against the Black Bloc emerged on social media, people berated us for ‘dividing the movement.’” She says that, in fact, “it is the Black Bloc that is dividing the movement.”

She is wrong.

I have been involved in a wide array of coalitions on various issues over the past half-decade, and never have I witnessed cross-movement solidarity like I have in the anti-Olympics campaign. In southern Ontario, as in Vancouver, radical groups from a variety of locations in the broader movement have come together to start to develop a shared anti-colonial analysis. This solidarity and unity, on the anti-colonial front, is deeper and stronger now than it has been at any point in the last ten years.

A strong example of that solidarity was on display during the February 12th “Take Back Our City” march. That march saw upwards of 2000 people march on BC Place during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. That march was lead by Indigenous women. When the march reached the police line outside of BC Place that night, the cops started pushing and shoving the front line of the stalled march. Indigenous women called for the Black Bloc to move to the front to hold the line. When the elders amongst that leadership group decided that the crush from the police was too much, the Black Bloc made space for them to move to the back of the crowd.

21st century anti-colonial analysis is one that is able to identify commonalities between the struggles of the urban poor and those of Indigenous sovereigntists. Where colonization is ongoing against First Nations, we are also able to see gentrification and the criminalization of homelessness and poverty as a form of urban colonialism. In Vancouver (and elsewhere) there is often no distinction between Indigenous soverigntists and the urban poor; they are often the same people.

This 21st century analysis is finally moving beyond political philosophies rooted in 19th and 20th century Eurocentric intellectual traditions (such as those fostered by anarcho-socialists like Mick Sweetman of Common Cause in Ontario, who still choose to see the world through the lenses of an industrial workers struggle). This new anti-colonialism is one that seeks to push out the old colonial patterns of European intellectualism to make space for fundamentally different cultural ideas rooted in places other than Europe.

This 21st century analysis is moving beyond the empty rhetoric of “revolutionary acts.” We no longer wish to seize the machinery of the State to use it for our own ends; we wish to see it dismantled, to be replaced by something other than a new Euro-American colonialism. A better world than that is possible, but it cannot come about until we move beyond the dominant paradigms of our culture. Statism and white supremacy must be resigned to the dustbins of history.

Part of the strength of the anti-Olympic campaign, as a watershed for the new anti-colonial movement, has been the solidarity and unity around a “diversity of tactics.” Part of that solidarity is rooted in the idea that you cannot attack one part of the movement without attacking the whole. When we remember to defend each other, we also remember to work together to build the movement and our communities. This cannot be done by succumbing to the classic colonial tactic of divide and conquer. Diversity of tactics means that one day we smash the system and the next we build alternatives. The Black Block is a wrecking ball tactic that makes space for more mainstream or creative tactics. The anarchists who participate in the Bloc are for the most part solid community organizers and people who are at the forefront of making space for creative alternatives to capitalism and colonialism. A diversity of tactics is meant to be complimentary—different tactics demonstrate different values and objectives, and all must be viewed in sum.

***

The highlight of the anti-Olympic convergence in Vancouver, for me, has been to see a coming together and mutual solidarity between Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) and Indigenous sovereigntists (and their allies)—two demographics whom have been especially under attack by the Olympic and State machines. In fact, on the streets of Vancouver, increasingly it would appear that the sovereigntists and the anti-poverty activists are often the same people.

Working as allies, not just in a supporting role, have been a wide array of activists from many sectors. Prominent amongst the organizers in the Olympic Resistance Network (ORN) and throughout the convergence have indeed been anarchists who participated in the Black Bloc actions during the “Heart Attack” march on February 13 2010.

What Judy Rebick, and many other critics who have had little to do with the anti-Olympic movement, have entirely failed to notice is the fact that the Black Bloc was supported by almost every constituency of the ORN. This show of solidarity was not divisive—it brought us together and has built deep trust between activists who, in the past, have often had very little to say to each other.

Organizations that were publicly represented include (or had individual members present and unmasked): No One Is Illegal, the Council of Canadians, PETA, the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), StopWar.ca, Gatewaysucks, the Vancouver Anti-Poverty Committee, Food Not Bombs, and many more. None of those organizations have denounced the actions of the Black Bloc that day. And they can’t, because their members know that on that day, they were there to support the Black Bloc. Anyone who says that they didn’t know what was going to happen is lying. There were 200 people in black with masks on, and “Riot 2010” has been a rallying call for the movement for more than two years now. Everyone knew what was going to happen, and they all marched anyway.

For Judy Rebick to claim that the Black Bloc had “come into the middle of a demonstration with black face masks [to] break up whatever takes their fancy when the vast majority of people involved don’t want them to,” is either dishonest, or a sign that she has stopped paying attention to what actually happens on the ground. The Black Bloc is not dividing the movement—people with aspirations for mainstream acceptance who distance themselves from other activists are.

Judy Rebick is going to have to decide whether she wants to be a celebrity, acceptable to the CBC and their mainstream audience, or work on the ground with people who are fed up with capitalism, with colonialism, and also with the paralyzing cult of non-violence. It is time to realize that there are people who are ready to fight back, and that it is time to support them.

***

After the police clashed with the Bloc that day, and affinity groups were forced to scatter (the Black Bloc doesn’t do peaceful arrests—the tactic dictates mutual protection from the police instead), the majority of the “non-violent” marchers continued in support. Some of them allowed themselves to be arrested by the frustrated police. Blaming anyone other than the police for the conduct of the police is merely a legitimization of the police presence on our streets—it would be like blaming the poor for the criminalization of homelessness. I expect people to know better. Cops are no more than armed thugs-for-hire.

In fact, the willingness of unarmed activists to battle with heavily armed riot cops, in order to de-arrest people they may have never met before and may never be able to identify, is one of the strongest forms of solidarity I have ever witnessed. We have to be willing to physically protect our own communities, no matter the cost, by any means necessary.

This is the type of message that the Black Bloc sends. The point is that we don’t need or want your cops or your capitalist colonial system. The point of such actions is not to convince bystanders or any particular audience to join us in the streets. The point is to put people on notice that there exists active insurrectionary resistance, right here in the belly of the beast.

For Judy Rebick to suggest that Black Bloc tactics “put other people and the issues we are fighting for in jeopardy,” is just preposterous. The mass audiences that dismissed the “Heart Attack” march are consistently the same mass audiences who generally dismiss every form of direct action and every radical cause. Judy may be too used to her celebrity status to notice, but most people aren’t paying attention to start with. So-called “nonviolent direct action”, with rare exceptions, is also summarily dismissed by most people, most of the time. They want us to go through so-called proper channels, not understanding that the system exists to perpetuate itself, not to accommodate change or the empowerment of communities under attack. Begging the government for change merely legitimizes their claim to be the rightful authority over land and people. Too many, enamoured with the cult of nonviolence, have too easily parroted the conservative media narratives that so predictably hamper our movements.

Further, it is not unity under a commitment to a “diversity of tactics” that stifles debate within our movement—that is what we call solidarity. It is a zealous adherence to dogmatic “non-violence” that shuts down any meaningful dialogue.

***

An important point that nobody seems to have picked up on, is that the targeting of the Hudson’s Bay Company actually opened up space for Canadians to stop and think about the colonial history of HBC, if only briefly. Those citizens still capable of critical thought were left with little choice.

Two days after the “Heart Attack” march, there was an anti-poverty march which was attended by many liberals and so-called progressives—MP Libby Davies, for example. A group broke off from that march, hopped the fence to an empty lot (owned by condo developers, under lease by VANOC) and cut the locks from the gates, opening them up for people to set up the Olympic Tent Village which will still stand at least until the end of the Olympics. Many activists who participated in the Black Bloc at “Heart Attack” have been there ever since, volunteering almost around the clock cooking meals, working security shifts, helping set up tents and keeping them dry, working the medic tent, organizing new actions with members of the DTES community, etc., etc. Meanwhile, more liberal folks (like Dave Eby of the BCCLA) showed up once or twice for photo ops without ever setting foot inside the camp or talking to any of the people without homes whom they build their careers speaking on behalf of.

It is not the champions of civil liberties, the democratic reformers or academics who are down at the Olympic Tent Village. While they are in their offices, it is community organizers and radicals who are on the ground working side by side with neighbourhood residents, participating in real community building. At the Tent Village the State machine has been shut out from the site. Inside, residents of the DTES are rising up.

I’ve been at the front gate doing security, for more hours than I have not, over the past ten days. In that time many conversations with Vancouverites or Olympic tourists who pass by have turned to discussions of the “violence” on the 13th. I have watched multiple individuals take off their HBC red mittens and toss them in the garbage. While these people may not take any further action, in the face of the gross poverty on the DTES, they had no choice but to be ashamed. It was the broken windows which identified HBC’s Olympic merchandise as an appropriate symbol to bear that shame.

Stella August, an Indigenous elder and a member of the DTES Power of Women group has publicly defended the Black Bloc’s actions during “Heart Attack.” Those who have chosen to denounce the action without any appreciation of the dynamics on the ground in Vancouver should be just as ashamed as the people wearing those mittens.

People and communities are under attack and it is time to fight back. If you’re not willing to stand up and fight, or to support those who are, please at least get out of the way.