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Report and personal reflections from the lawn of Queen’s Park – by Paul York (Toronto supporter)

Paul York lives in Toronto. He has been a key organizer for demonstrations and public speaking events in Toronto for both the Barrick Gold and Goldcorp community resistance and international solidarity campaigns. Paul is looking for others to help continue the Toronto-based organizing in solidarity with communities affected by Canadian mining companies around the world. To get involved in Toronto, or to re-publish his article, please contact Paul directly at: pyork_2002(at)hotmail.com

Report and personal reflections from the lawn of Queen’s Park – by Paul York (Toronto supporter)

Today, while all the press cameras and microphones were trained on speakers at the press conference with the KI, AAFN reps. and others, I noticed KI/AAFN lawyer Chris Reid off to the side speaking to a tall thin man in an expensive suit. NDP leader Howard Hampton was listening in as well. The man was a deputy minister to McGuinty and he appeared to be offering the KI a large sum of money. This is quite insulting if you consider that the KI FN are not willing to sell out – they are willing to go to jail to save the land from development; they are not motivated by greed. That the government continues to try to buy them out reveals its lack of moral integrity.

The government representative was patient in his entreaties but Reid, to his credit, was not biting; as long as drilling continues, offers to negotiate are in bad faith, he said. Reid became quite heated when the government rep. wanted to separate the cases, to treat them separately; Reid accused him of resorting to the tactic of divide and conquer (the preferred tactic of colonial government throughout history). Reid, and a KI rep who was present, would have none of it: AAFN has to be included in all talks and FN communities have the right to say no. The government rep said they could be at the table, but his promise was dubious and couched in provisional rhetoric that seemed insincere.

The talk resulted in an impasse as both men waited for the press conference to end and the FN reps to join the discussion with the government. The fact that the press was there in force added weight to the FN side. As I write (3:29 p.m. Tues. May 27, 2008), all parties are in Queen’s Park, presumably talking things out.

Grand Chief Phil Fontaine is among those in these talks, but it is worth noting that he has little credibility with the KI and AAFN due to the fact that he has signed an agreement with the government to allow mining and is paid by the government – which places him in a direct conflict of interest. One of the young men I spoke to called him the “white chief.” KI and AAFN reps say he doesn’t represent them. However, he was invited by KI in order to bring him on board, to give him the chance to do exercise some integrity. They’ve asked him to rip up his agreement with mining companies; to their knowledge he has yet to do so.

Representatives from Grassy Narrows – a community poisoned by mercury from paper mills which has shut down clearcutting in their area for the last five years through blockades – were also present at Tent City. They live in the wilderness not far from Big Trout Lake where the KI reside.

The only FN group resisting development that I did not see reps for at Tent City were the Mohawks of Tyendenaga. Bob Lovelace called for their inclusion in high-level talks, in solidarity with them. Shawn Brandt and the other Mohawk leaders in jail are political prisoners are par with the KI Six and Lovelace. Lovelace recognized this and has called for solidarity of all groups, and for the inclusion of Tyendenaga as an issue.

Meanwhile, the camp itself is very lively. The day before it began, there was a buzz of activity at the Steelworker’s Hall. I showed up ready to volunteer and found a workshop on resistance to mining in Latin American with Father Marcos of Peru and an another activist from El Salvador. Both had done extraordinary work with communities to resist toxic mine tailings and human rights violations by Canadian mining companies.

For the previous three weeks, from May 1st onward I’ve been privelaged to be a supporter of an international campaign of indigenous and campensino speakers here to contest Barrick Gold and Goldcorp (see http://protestbarrick.net/ and http://www.rightsaction.org/ to learn more).

The parallel to what is happening in Ontario and abroad is extraordinary: everywhere, all over the globe, indigenous and farmer communities are risking their lives and freedom to resist Canadian mining companies. In many places in the world they are being shot by these companies outright; however it is an illusion to think that much is different here. The only difference is that here the murder is more indirect, through disease caused by water contamination.

What is also common, globally, is the great spirit and resilience of communities who resist mining to protect the health and well-being of themselves, future generations, entire ecosystems and the Earth itself. Climate change, extraction industries and the toxicity of industrial societies has led to revival of Mother Earth religions the world over, with indigenous peoples leading the way. Christian groups are now profoundly influenced indigenous respect for the Earth, which has led to the Creation theologies of Matthew Fox and Thomas Berry (and others) and to coalitions between Christian activists and FN peoples.

Despite the efforts of mining companies and governments they’ve paid off to divide and conquer, these Christian and indigenous peoples and secular activists focused on human rights and environment are joining forces everywhere to oppose mining. The challenge is to ensure that no one group undermines the others through compromise – which historically has been the case.

After lunch yesterday – all prepared by a hardworking crew of young people (all dedicated volunteers) – we set up teepees at Queen’s Park under the watchful eye of QP security. There had been extensive liaison work between QP and activists, ensuring that everything was safe, orderly and peaceful. No raids or police disruption is expected and police presence is almost non-existent – not more than a half dozen visible at the steps of QP.

Present on the grounds are about 2 dozen volunteers, several Christian Peacemakers, the AAFN leadership, many KI people, twenty young people from Grassy Narrows who walked two weeks to get here. At the rally there was a large crowd (1000+), complete with drumming, banners (which we had painted day before) and many FN speakers – including the KI Six (temporarily out of jail).

The highlight of the rally, from my point of view, was recorded tape of Lovelace speaking – it is a very moving speech reminiscent of Martin Luther King Jr.’s calls for justice and non-violent resistance to oppression. I urge you read Lovelace’s writing – they are profound statements for social justice and the need for a spiritual rebirth of the entire world. Donny Morris, Sam McCay, Cecila Biggs and the other KI Six also spoke, as did AAFN co-chiefs, Paula Sherman and Muirelle LaPointe.

Between gigs washing dishes and running errands I listened to conversations and spoke with several FN folks from the three First nations present who are doing blockades and resistance (KI, AAFN, Grassy Narrows). They all spoke very quietly but firmly against the divide and rule tactics of colonialism, were critical of Grand Chief Phil Fontaine for making a deal with the mining companies (but not openly – only when I asked them directly), and injected their conversations with a lot humour. I was deeply impressed by their resolve and very disappointed in the greed, insincerity and dishonesty of the provincial government and mining execs as they continue to dispossess FN people and destroy their lands. I spoke with Cecelia Biggs, the only woman jailed thus far. She was quite humble and surprised and moved to see so much support.

From what I can see, resistance will deepen and continue and more leaders will go to jail before this over. The Ontario government does not appear to be acting in good faith by trying to separate cases and throw money at the situation. The strength to resist this depravity will come from the people in CCAMU, the AAFN and KI and Shabot communities and others who are willing to make personal sacrifices to protect the Earth for future generations – and from the hard work and efforts of hundreds of activists and volunteers who have put their lives on hold for this cause.

Meanwhile, at the tent city of “Mother Earth Protectors” spirits are high and there is great solidarity between many diverse peoples in support of indigenous sovereignty and land claims, and against industrial pollution of Ontario’s waterways and destructiveness of industrial mining. Despite the overwhelming odds against groups like KI and AAFN, I believe we will win the fight for justice because their spirit is strong, they have solidarity, and they cannot be bought despite the best efforts the pro-mining forces set against them.


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