[photo credit: Cultural Survival]
This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival, originally publish on February 18, 2015
By Emily Sanders
In what promised to be the most widespread protest by First Nations in Canada since Idle No More, Indigenous peoples staged a massive boycott intended to temporarily freeze the nation’s economy. At least twenty-two scheduled rallies, peaceful protests and events were held in various counties, communities and cities around Canada including Vancouver and Toronto on Friday February 13, 2015, in order to spread knowledge and educate passersby of the violations committed against Indigenous Peoples in Canada and demand justice. The purpose of these events was to further the legacy of Indigenous resistance against the violence and robbed autonomy tribes have suffered since colonialists began their reign of subjugation.
Participants in the nationwide protest #ShutDownCanada want to inform the public about numerous incidents of institutionalized racism and cultural genocide committed by the Canadian police forces and government. The issues covered include land dispossession, disproportionate homelessness of native peoples, and numerous causes of environmental destruction such as the tar sands, pipelines, fracking, mining and energy developments like the Site C mega-dam, which drastically affect the traditional livelihoods of Indigenous peoples. “This government blatantly oppresses Indigenous peoples in a calculated effort to create dysfunction within communities to maintain control of the land and exploitation of natural resources,” reads the #ShutDownCanada Facebook event page. The event aims to prevent further cultural disintegration and the fracturing of Indigenous communities, the goals of a corrupt democracy where “systematic racism and structural violence are connected to the needs of this illegal colonial state to maintain control of the land for exploitation.”
Canadian communities and grassroots organizations were called upon to blockade their local railways, ports or highways on Friday with the goal of paralyzing the Canadian economy for a day and demanding attention towards these issues. Protestors also hope to draw attention to the devastating consequences of unconsented development projects on native land, such as severe disruption of ecosystems and the Dene way of life invoked by the expansion of tar sands extraction, the public health crisis spurred by the byproducts of this development, the loss of exported jobs as a result of pipeline construction, the destruction of the wild salmon habitat and unconsented fish farming in native waters, and issued grants for open pit mining despite the outcome of the Tshilqot’in Supreme Court decision. The Facebook page reminds readers that, not dissimilar to the tactics of “biological warfare” used in colonial times to steal land from Indigenous peoples, the crippling effects of unsustainable resource use destroy a way of life that is crucial to Indigenous resistance and survival on their traditional land.
The dramatic over-representation of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s prison system was also a focus of attention. In 2013, the correctional investigator for Canada reported during a news conference in Ottawa that there is “no deputy commissioner dedicated solely to and responsible for aboriginal programs, planning, implementation and results. And worst of all, no progress in closing the large gaps in correctional outcomes between aboriginal and non-aboriginal inmates.” Despite that Indigenous peoples make up only four percent of the population in Canada, “in federal prisons nearly one in four is Metis, Inuit, or First Nations.” First Peoples Worldwide reported in 2014 that Aboriginal women represent 33 percent of all women imprisoned, a number that has increased 90% in the past decade.
Members of the United Urban Warrior Society held a protest in the intersection of highways 17 and 6, with its Manitoulin and North Shore organizer Isadore Pangowish voicing her concerns as the traffic halted for five minutes each hour. Among these were Bill C-51, an Anti-Terrorism Act that would heighten the power of Canada’s intelligence agency and allow the RCMP the ability to make excessive arrests based on fears of terror attacks that “may” happen, as opposed to attacks that “will” happen. “What we are doing right now, this will be illegal,” said Pangowish of the picketing.
Perhaps the most prominent issue that this and all #ShutDownCanada protests demand to see addressed is the lack of justice and inquiry into over 2,000 cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed cries for investigation into these crimes by claiming that the issue “is not on their radar.” The delegitimizing of Indigenous women’s safety by the Canadian government and police forces reared its head at the protest itself: Audrey Siegl was injured during the action when an officer bumped her with his shoulder as he walked by, thrusting her hand drum into her face. “A VPD shoved Shannon & Savannah aside, and as he marched forward, looked right at me as he shoved my drum into my face with his shoulder. We three women were standing still, drumming n singing. He could have gone around instead of using aggression to intentionally intimidate and harm three unarmed and passive women,” Siegl posted on her Facebook page. Siegl, a Vancouver COPE Council Candidate and Musqueam First Nation activist, has mentioned plans to press charges.
Indigenous protestors want the public to know that all of the issues addressed by #ShutDownCanada, including a history of excessive police involvement and force deployed during peaceful demonstrations to which Siegl’s assault can be added, fall under the umbrella of one underlying fact: that “the system has failed us all miserably.”
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