| By Walter Bresette and
September 14, 1995
The Midwest Treaty Network calls for the immediate withdrawal of all Canadian police and military forces from the Gustafsen Lake Sundance grounds in British Columbia, and from the Ipperwash former military base at Stoney Point, Ontario. Both confrontations are the results of the failure of Canada to properly address First Nations land rights. To characterize the confrontations as mere police actions is to further exacerbate the situations, and to justify the positions of those who see physical occupation as their only recourse left. The deaths and injuries in the past week need not have occurred and there is certainly no need for any further military response, which so far has been more violent than even the 1990 Oka siege of the Mohawk in Quebec.
Gustafsen Lake in British Columbia represents just one more symbol that federal and provincial officials are denying the legitimate claims of Indigenous peoples whose title to the land was never extinguished by treaty. Attempting to criminalize these voices will only give rise to similar actions elsewhere. Canada has refused to deal with this situation since the 1763 Royal Proclamation stated that Native people "should not be molested or disturbed" where lands have not been ceded or purchased. If after two centuries the government has failed to uphold its legal responsibility, it is a charade to argue that the situation can be militarily resolved in a period of days or weeks. The armed conflict reportedly started when a group of cowboys threatened a Shuswap spiritual leader, calling him a "red nigger." The federal RCMP has now escalated it to include use of the Army�s Bison Armored Personnel Carriers and land mines. This is an unacceptable militarization of a dispute over religious access to sacred land. [Update: Defenders left September 18, 1995]
At the Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario, the record is even more clear. It and an adjacent former military base at the southern tip of Lake Huron (north of Detroit) was taken illegally from Native people during World War II. Promises to return the land--which has a burial ground--have gone on too long, and were recently reversed. The Ojibwe and Potawatomi people from Stoney Point and Kettle Point have occupied the site for a month, defending themselves only with baseball bats. They have already lost one leader, Dudley George, to Ontario Provincial Police bullets in his back on September 6, as other defenders were severely beaten. As at Gustafsen Lake, police have cut access and communications. Over 1500 have marched in grief and protest, and 150 others have broken through police lines to join the occupiers, who have asked for a Witness presence and camcorders to monitor the police.
Ipperwash is another symptom that, even within treaty territories, where the government has failed to understand Native rights even within its own constitutional framework. [Update: Army base returned, but not park , Sept. 16, 1995] Canada owes its very existence to Native nations that chose to cede their lands to the Crown rather than the outright genocidal Americans. We fear that the recent crackdown across Canada is a message to Native nations not to react to Quebec's possible vote for independence by declaring their own autonomy. [Update: Quebec secession narrowly defeated October 30, 1995]
The Midwest Treaty Network was formed when Ojibwe treaty rights were threatened in Wisconsin in 1989. Our Witness for Nonviolence program brought hundreds of observers from around our region to monitor Ojibwe spearfishing under assault by anti-treaty groups. We have supported the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and other Wisconsin tribes fighting metallic sulfide mining plans by Ontario-based companies like Noranda and Rio Algom. Canadian rallies and visitors have actively supported these Native struggles in Wisconsin; now it is time to return the favor. As a Native and non-Native alliance, we are committed to observe and report on threats made to Native peoples, whether by racist thugs at Wisconsin lakes, or by Canadian paramilitary forces in Ontario. The colonial boundary drawn so long ago in Washington and London means nothing to the Indigenous peoples whose homelands straddle both sides of the Great Lakes.
We urge people of conscience to speak out and demand a peaceful and a proper hearing for Native land claims. We urge the U.S. media to cover assaults on Indigenous peoples in our northern NAFTA partner, much as they covered the repression of 1994 Chiapas uprising in our southern NAFTA partner. Fax Prime Minister Jean Chretien at (613) 941-6900 and Minister of Justice Allan Rock at (613) 947-4276, and copies to the Canadian Alliance in Solidarity with Native Peoples at (416) 972-6232. Also call the Canadian Embassy in Washington at (202) 682-1740.
MIDWEST TREATY NETWORK,
P.O. Box 14382, Madison WI 53714-4382 USA
Fax/Tel. (608) 246-2256; firstname.lastname@example.org
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