Winnipeg, July 19, 2014: Winnipeggers march in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Winnipeg, July 19, 2014: Winnipeggers march in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Photo: Paul S. Graham

July 19, 2014: Several hundred Winnipeggers rallied in front of the Canadian Human Rights Museum in solidarity with the people of Gaza who are enduring yet another murderous invasion by Israeli forces. The rally, the second in a week, was part of an international day of action.

Here’s my video report, featuring:
• Krishna Lalbiharie, Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg)
• Rana Abdulla, Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba
• Terrance Nelson, Grand Chief, Southern Chiefs Organization
• Daniel Thau-Eleff, Independent Jewish Voices (Winnipeg)
• Bassam Hozaima,  Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg)
• Glenn Michalchuk, Peace Alliance Winnipeg

The demonstration was sponsored by

• Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba
• Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg)
• Independent Jewish Voices (Winnipeg)
• Peace Alliance Winnipeg
• Winnipeg Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (WCAIA)

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I don’t normally reprint news releases. This time I will make an exception. At the end of the news release are two videos I recorded earlier this year that speak to this issue. In the first, Dr. Stéphane McLachlan, of the Environmental Conservation Lab at the University of Manitoba, talks about the research that is the subject of this news release. In the second, Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May explains why Canada needs an energy policy that is good for Canada’s economy and its environment.


Health Study Reveals Alarming Links Between Oil Sands Contaminants and Incidence of Illness

July 7, 2014, Edmonton, AB – Today the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN), in collaboration with researchers from the University of Manitoba, released a report Environmental and Human Health Implications of Athabasca Oil Sands, and is the first report of its kind to draw an associations between oil sands produced environmental contaminants and declines in community health and well-being in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.

This report has been peer reviewed by Health Canada and other health and environmental agencies. Integrating scientific research methods and local knowledge, the report is the result of three years of community-based participatory research that incorporates both the traditional knowledge of community members and scientific monitoring techniques.

MCFN Chief Steve Courtoreille says, “This report confirms what we have always suspected. about the association between environmental contaminants from oil sands production upstream and cancer and other serious illness in our community. The Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Programme has released data about the increases in these contaminants, but fails to address and monitor impacts to First Nations traditional foods. We are greatly alarmed and demand further research and studies are done to expand on the findings of this report.”

Findings include generally high concentrations of carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), and heavy metals arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and selenium in kidney and liver samples from moose, ducks, muskrats, and beavers harvested by community members. Bitumen extraction and upgrading is a major emitter of all of these contaminants.
Contaminants in wildlife, as well as limited access due to declining water levels, have nearly eliminated the consumption of some traditional foods; fish caught in Lake Athabasca and the Athabasca River are no longer trusted, while muskrat populations have declined precipitously.

ACFN Chief Allan Adam notes that “It’s frustrating to be constantly filling the gaps in research and studies that should have already been done. This demonstrates the lack of respect by industry and government to effecting address the First Nations concerns about impacts our Treaty rights and the increases in rare illnesses in our community. We need further independent studies done by internationally credible institutions like the World Health Organization.”

Community health and wellbeing have been in sharp decline. The study reveals a link between the Oil Sands and illness in Fort Chipewyan unlike the 2014 cancer report by Alberta Health Service which simply aggregated limited data.. Indeed, cancer occurrence in Fort Chipewyan is positively associated with the consumption of traditional wild foods, including locally caught fish.

“Communities are facing a double-bind”, says Stephane McLachlan, head researcher for the study. “On one hand, industry, notably the Oil Sands, causes a substantial decline in the health of the environment and ultimately of community members. On the other hand, the existing healthcare services are unable to address these declines in human health. These Indigenous communities are caught in the middle, and the impacts are clear and worrisome.”

Researchers and the community leaders urge further investigation of contaminant concentrations, in addition to the mitigation of existing occurrences. The report also emphasizes continued community-based monitoring and calls for improved risk communication from government and industry. A full copy of the report will be available online at www.onerivernews.ca


Winnipeg, Feb. 17, 2014: Suzanne Patles of the Mi'kmaq Warriors Society, speaking at at Thunderbird House. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Winnipeg, Feb. 17, 2014: Suzanne Patles of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society, speaking at Thunderbird House. Photo: Paul S. Graham

It is time to “warrior up” according to Suzanne Patles of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society. She spoke at Thunderbird House in Winnipeg on Feb. 17, 2014 as part of a national tour to raise awareness about the struggle at Elsipogtog First Nation against shale gas fracking and police repression, as well as their ongoing assertion of nationhood.

Their blockade in opposition to shale gas fracking at Elsipogtog First Nation (located in Kent County, New Brunswick) came to national attention on October 17, 2013 when the it was attacked by dozens of RCMP officers armed with assault rifles, pepper spray and dogs.

Forty members of the blockade were arrested, and a number of members of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society face charges.

Seen at the opening of the video is the Keewatin Otchitchak Traditional Women’s Drum Group, which performed at various times during the evening.

The Winnipeg stop of this national speaking tour was organized by the Council of Canadians-Winnipeg Chapter, Boreal Forest Network, Thunderbird House, Winnipeg-Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement, Aboriginal Youth Opportunities and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).


Winnipeg, Jan. 21, 2014: Niigaan James Sinclair, speaking at the "Gift of Treaties" teach-in organized by Idle No More Manitoba.

Winnipeg, Jan. 21, 2014: Niigaan James Sinclair, speaking at the “Gift of Treaties” teach-in organized by Idle No More Manitoba. Photo: Paul S. Graham

A standard dictionary definition of the word “treaty” will describe it, rather drily, as a formal agreement between two or more states – an instrument of international relations commonly used to make peace, cement alliances, enable commerce, and so on.

For Anishinaabe scholar and activist Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, treaties are gifts which oblige the signatories to accept and value each as equals. Treaties, says Sinclair, are as old as creation and inextricably embedded in the spiritual beliefs and traditions of aboriginal people.

Sinclair is an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba and a regular commentator on indigenous issues on CTV, CBC, and APTN.

He spoke at a teach-in organized by Idle No More Manitoba on Jan. 28, 2014 at the Circle of Life Thunderbird House in downtown Winnipeg.


Hiroshima Tar Sands

Image  —  Posted: January 16, 2014 in Aboriginal Peoples, Environment, Nibbling on The Empire
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Thunder in the heart

Several hundred members and supporters of Idle No More gathered at the centre court of the Polo Park Mall in Winnipeg Friday evening to sing and to dance. Some are calling it Idle No More 2.0. Idle No More Manitoba spokesperson Michael Kannon explains why in this video report.


HRD 2013 Poster

Because the assumptions that underpin Quebec’s Bill 60 occupy the same racist mindset that drove the Canadian government’s decision in the 19th Century to set up the Indian Residential School system, it was fitting that local Idle No More activists capped Winnipeg’s “Day Affirming Human Rights and Religious Diversity for All Canadians” with a round dance.

The event was held inside the Manitoba Legislative Building on December 10, a day dedicated to celebrating the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. While this day is typically marked in Canada with an eye to international human rights concerns, attention was focused on Canada this year because of a proposed bill before the Quebec National Assembly entitled “Bill 60: Charter affirming the values of state secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests,” known more simply as the “Charter of Values.”

The bill is controversial across Canada because of a provision to prohibit public employees from wearing “objects such as headgear, clothing, jewelry or other adornments which, by their conspicuous nature, overtly indicate a religious affiliation” while at work.

About 200 people crowded into the foyer of the Legislative Building to listen to speakers address Bill 60 from a variety of perspectives. Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, welcomed the audience, thanking them for coming out “to stand in solidarity with all other Canadians across the country, affirming our human rights for all Canadians, and our religious diversity.”

Art Miki, former president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, questioned the sincerity of Bill 60′s framers. “The Quebec government [says] that their goal is to defend equality between men and women and to encourage equality and harmonious relations amongst all people . . . the National Association of Japanese Canadians sees the values expressed in the proposed [Quebec] charter to be contrary to the values expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms . . . We want guarantees to the right of freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom to manifest one’s religion.”

John Harvard, a former journalist, Member of Parliament and Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba said that “This invidious piece of legislation has been moved in the name of secularism in a further attempt to exclude religious considerations from the area of government. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am a secularist and I say ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ ”

Rabbi Alan Green, senior rabbi at Congregation Shaary Zedek described the terminology of the bill as “Orwellian in effect if not in intent.” He continued: “Maintaining religious, ethnic and cultural traditions has always been respected and promoted in Canada. . . [The Quebec charter] represents nothing short of an attack on the open, inclusive, pluralistic Canada we have all known and loved these past many years.”

Bernice Cyr, executive director of the Native Women’s Transition Centre questioned the right of a government to restrict human rights, saying “Human rights are a foundational component of every person’s value in our country. The fact that other people are voting on them – it doesn’t even make sense . . . Rights are not not meant to be voted on. They are meant to [be upheld].”

Marie Lands, a social worker and advocate for aboriginal rights, said Bill 60 seemed all too familiar. “When I started paying attention to this particular bill, I find it quite appalling . . . because our aboriginal people know very well what that means. What it means is that it takes away everything of your identity, of your culture and of who you are and assimilates you into something that you don’t know who you are anymore. We have a whole nation that is struggling to try and reconnect to who they are and what they have lost in their whole lives.”

Dr. James Christie, director of the Ridd Institute for Religion & Global Policy at the University of Winnipeg, said that the bill is being driven by the political ambitions of Premier Pauline Marois. “She would be delighted if it failed before the Supreme Court of Canada in a challenge around the Canadian Bill of Human Rights or Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Why? Because Madame Marois doesn’t care about religion, yours or mine. Madame Marois cares about Madame Marois’ political agenda for Quebec. . . People of her own political stripe think that this is a wicked and intolerable thing. But Madame Marois doesn’t care because Madame Marois wants to drive a wedge between the people of Quebec and . . . the rest of Canada.”

The evening ended on an uplifting note, with short speeches by two members of Idle No More Winnipeg, and a round dance.

Holding a wreath of braided grasses, Michael Kannon asked the audience: “How long are you really going to be here?” and answered: “A long, long, long time. Canada is young. We’ve assembled this brief cross-section of who we really are as human beings in this place. For the next couple of hundred years this building is going to be alright but we’re going to be around to build it again. That’s how long we’re going to be here, all of us. I want each and every one of you to remember that. Such a long time we will be together in the future. So now, in this day and in this moment in 2013, we should start really looking at how do we treat each other. How do we share? How do we weave ourselves into that rhythm and braid that is Canada? . . . Our families and our children – how are they going to weave together in a nice balance? . . . That is what First Nations have been working for for thousands of years.”

Raising her hand drum high, Ko’ona Cochrane invited the audience to participate in a traditional round dance. “Behind this drum you see the four directions and you see all nations represented in the centre of this drum. No matter who you are, no matter what your belief, no matter where you are on the globe, you are represented on this drum. You are here on my ancestral lands; welcome to Treaty One. . . These are our homelands. We invite you here to share and to participate with us. We honour this round dance and we want to offer it to you and ask you to join us. The round dance is a spiritual dance. It’s a dance of reciprocity. We’re holding hands; your right hand is connected to the left hand of the person beside you. In our teachings we receive with our right and we give with our left. In order for you to be a whole and balanced human being you have to be always receiving and giving.”

The round dance, the singing and the speeches can be found in my video report.