Canada: Aboriginals Gather for National Day of Action

The Assembly of First Nations has declared May 29, 2008 the second annual National Day of Action for Canada’s aboriginal people.

The day is being called “a time for First Nations and Canadians to stand together in the spirit of unity to demand the Federal Government deal honourably with First Nations Title and Rights.”

Events are planned across the country to address longstanding issues including health care, education, and housing, although court conditions will prevent many prominent First Nations leaders from participating in this year’s events.

UPDATE | 11:15am PST –

OTTAWA
– All was quiet and peaceful Thursday as thousands of Canadians raised
placards and hit the streets to mark the second annual aboriginal Day
of Action.

Police said there were no incidents reported at
Caledonia, Ont., where a land dispute erupted more than two years ago,
or further east in Deseronto, where protests during last year’s day of
action shut down Highway 401.

The Assembly of First Nations had urged participants to obey the law and focus attention on child poverty.

“It
has never been about blockades,” said Phil Fontaine, the assembly’s
national chief, as a relatively thin crowd of several hundred people
with flags and signs gathered in perfect spring weather before marching
to Parliament Hill. An afternoon rally of speeches and music was
expected to draw a few thousand participants.

Placards and banners asked: “Where is the Justice?” and demanded: “Make First Nations Poverty History Now.”

“It
has never been about shutting down the 401 or shutting down train
service,” Fontaine said. “It’s really an attempt on our part to reach
out to Canadians, to invite Canadians to join with us on this very
special day for our people.”

Although today’s events have been peaceful, several First Nations leaders have called for more radical actions in order to focus attention on key issues.

Frankie
Cote, 31, of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg nation about 130 km north of
Ottawa, says real change will take more than polite demonstrations.

“In
my opinion it’s going to take the plight of aboriginal peoples to get a
hell of a lot worse before it’s going to get better,” he said.

“Look
what happened in Oka in 1990. The Mohawk people had to stand up and
fight for their rights and actually cause chaos for . . . the Oka area.
And we got international recognition – whether that be bad publicity,
good publicity. It doesn’t matter: it was brought to the forefront.”

Cote
says he agrees “100 per cent” with Shawn Brant, the Mohawk protester
who led road and rail blockades last year at Deseronto, near Kingston,
Ont.

Brant says native leaders must be willing to take drastic
stands – and risk landing behind bars – to cause the sort of disruption
that forces governments to pay attention.

Brant is in jail
facing several charges, including assault with a weapon. His supporters
say they are trumped-up accusations made last month as the day of
action approached.

PREVIOUSLY | 10:00am PST

Thousands of aboriginal Canadians will gather in Ottawa and across the country Thursday for the second annual National Day of Action to draw attention to problems facing aboriginal people.

The day was declared by the Assembly of First Nations to focus on issues such as child poverty, access to safe drinking water, health care, education and housing.

A public gathering and rally were planned for 10 a.m. ET on Victoria Island in Ottawa, followed by a march to Parliament Hill and a rally at 1 p.m.

Last year, some demonstrators barricaded a major rail line and a highway in eastern Ontario. But organizers say action of that sort was not expected this year, and they’ve urged participants to stay on the right side of the law.

Alberta chiefs were meeting Monday to discuss solutions to the longstanding problems with housing and safe drinking water.

Rose Laboucan, grand chief of the Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council, said she wants people to understand the challenges the First Nations are facing.

“We’re not asking for the moon here. We’re just asking for adequate homes for our people, for the quality of life that everybody else has,” she said.

In northeastern Ontario, First Nations will be handing out information along the Trans-Canada Highway between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

Ontario Provincial Police will be helping to slow traffic down along Highway 17 for the campaign. Insp. Dave Ross, who is helping to co-ordinate the OPP’s response, said people can find out just where traffic slowdowns are across the province by going to the OPP’s web site.


Today
is the National Day of Action for aboriginal people across Canada, but
the celebrations started yesterday. The Ontario Court of Appeal
released seven First Nations prisoners of conscience who had been given
six months in prison and fined heavily for the crime of defending their
land against mining companies.

“Savour this,” said defence lawyer Julian Falconer. “Once in a while, out of the deep dark depths, comes justice.”

The
reasons for upholding the appeal against the contempt-of-court
sentences–the harshest that observers can remember–will be given
later.

Christie Blatchford is a passionate person, and I don’t usually like where her passion leads her, but she is simply bang on today. Her Globe & Mail article
(subscriber wall, unfortunately), from which the above information
comes, is a masterpiece of focussed anger against the system:
prosecutors, corporate land-rapists, the provincial government. “[I]n
the contest between the state and first nations,” she says, “the state
almost always wins.”

The National Day of Action is being held just a few days before Canada launches a long-overdue Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the traumatic legacy of its Residential Schools program, which affected thousands of First Nations children, over several decades, who were taken from their homes and subjected to horrific levels of abuse at the hands of administrators and officials.

OTTAWA (Reuters) – After decades of foot-dragging, Canada is finally about to take a close look at what one aboriginal leader calls “the single most disgraceful, harmful and racist act in our history”.

From the 1870s to the 1970s, around 150,000 native Indian children were forcibly removed from their parents and sent to distant residential schools, where many say they were abused mentally, physically and sexually.

Conditions in the schools — run by various churches on behalf of the government — were sometimes dire. Contemporary accounts suggest up to half the children in some institutions died of tuberculosis.

One prominent academic calls what happened a genocide, yet for many years few Canadians knew what had happened.

Now, for the first time, the mainstream population will be learning a lot more about what was done in its name.

As part of a C$1.9 billion ($1.9 billion) settlement between Ottawa and the 90,000 school survivors in May 2006 that ended years of law suits, a truth and reconciliation commission is set to start work on June 1.

The commission, which has a life span of five years, will travel across Canada and hold public hearings on the abuses.

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