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17 June 2009


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First Peoples Festival in Peril

Is it possible for First Nations to hold a festival worthy of the name in Québec’s metropolis?

The Montreal Frist Peoples Festival asks the question a press release distriburted this morning as the Partenariat du Quartier des spectacles (the PQDS), a paramunicipal body that administers a major program in support of events in Montreal’s downtown core cultural district, decided to cut off all grants to the Festival for the year 2014.

The PQDS claims that the First Peoples Festival lacks sufficiently innovative programming. This is a surprising attack on the Montreal event that has very successfully and continually transformed itself over the years. Since it moved its activities to the Quartier des spectacles, it has offered a brand-new formula that richly highlights First Peoples culture, art and diversity.

First Peoples Festival is a First Nations’ multi-disciplinary festival, an event unique in its genre and presented yearly by the Terres en vues/Land Insights society for the last 24 years.

Last year, the festival succeeded in balancing its budget without a deficit although the very day its program was launched, June 18 2013, the PQDS announced a drastic $50 000 cut to the Festival’s budget. This year the festival was been hit with a great blow that could prove to be fatal.

The festival states that this new obstacle is a test of the commitment of city of Montreal and government stakeholders to make a place for First Nations culture in Quebec’s metropolis and to associate these with the many commemorations set for city’s 375th anniversary in 2017.

Festival organizers are demanding that those granting funds to the PQDS, the City of Montreal first and then the government of Québec, must take action without delay to reinstate a funding for First Peoples Festival within a structure that can allow it to develop and thrive.

Moreover, the festival is questioning the very way funding is delivered by the PQSD. Organizers believe that it is high time, as ethical choices, corruption and fair practices are in the spotlight in Montréal during the ongoing Charbonneau Commission, to review the governance of this paramunicipal body that oversees such important budgets.


Source: Land Insights


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March 3, 2014

DID in the News!

On Their Terms: A Digital Project to Give Inuit Say in Developers' Arctic Ambitions

BY Elisabeth Fraser

A new project in Canada’s north is attempting to bridge the digital divide facing Inuit communities. In doing so, it hopes to give them a say as developers move to take advantage of their resource-rich land.

Digital Indigenous Democracy (DID) is an effort to bring the community empowerment of new media technology into remote low-bandwidth indigenous communities in Nunavut, across Canada, and around the world,” says Norman Cohn, an award-winning Canadian filmmaker who is also the project co-director, with partner Zacharias Kunuk, an Inuk filmmaker.

The idea is to provide high-speed Internet access to Inuit living in northern communities, where extremely low bandwidth access makes surfing the net a slow and cumbersome task. “These people, who most need access to these networks, have the worst cost-per-bandwidth in the civilized world,” says Cohn.

Life in the Northern communities where Canada’s Inuit live can be challenging. Traditionally, the Inuit are a hunting society. However, nowadays both global warming and opposition from animal-rights groups are negatively affecting the hunt. There are high levels of poverty, substance abuse, and suicide. There is a housing shortage, and high levels of family violence, as well as chronic health problems like diabetes. The remote and vastly scattered locations of these villages carry distinct challenges as well, including sky-high prices on basic goods. Most places are hard to access from the south, accessible via boat during the summer, or by expensive flights year-round. And, despite federal investment to improve bandwidth access in these communities, the Internet remains very slow.

Just how slow is it? “Most people can remember how the Internet was when they first tried it out five or ten years ago, and how much faster it is now,” explains Cohn. “Use of the Internet we take for granted right now is only possible because our bandwidth has increased by hundreds of thousands of times, and at a low cost. Those speed increases have not impacted northern Inuit communities. Their Internet is among the slowest and most expensive … There is a digital divide, certainly in the Canadian North, as much as in Bangladesh.”

Canada’s Inuit are one of three Canadian Aboriginal groups (the others are the Métis and First Nations). They are somewhat unique amongst Indigenous peoples in North America, because they have negotiated a self-governing agreement with the federal government of Canada. Whereas Canadian and U.S. First-Nations people often live on government reserves and receive government assistance or a special tax status, Inuit are by and large self-sufficient.

Cohn says the project is essential to help Inuit protect their rights in a new age of resource extraction. “The origins of this project are in the evolution of two enormous world developments. The one is the evolution of new media technology and its potential for social networking and political change, which we’ve seen in the Middle East,” Cohn says, referencing the Arab Spring. “And this intersects with the evolution of global warming, which has created an increase in natural resource development in the Canadian Arctic.”

Digital Indigenous Democracy has been financed and tested around a specific giant mining development (the “Mary River Project”) by the Baffinland company.

“If (the development) goes forward in its full capacity, it would be the largest mine ever in Canada,” says Cohn. DID was created in the context of Baffinland’s ongoing environmental review process, which involves consultation with local stakeholders. These talks have produced an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement, as required by law under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

“Our project was proposed and financed to test out this technology as a way of improving Inuit communities’ ability to participate in the decision-making process of such an enormous development that will impact these communities forever,” Cohn says. “So, we had a compelling technological concept for equal justice, but we also had a compelling urgent need for that project to take place as soon as possible.”

Started in April 2011 via Canada Media Fund financing, Digital Indigenous Democracy went live one year later, in April 2012. It runs on the ISUMA TV platform, created by Cohn and co. in 2008. The multimedia website features photographs and government information documents, as well as audio and video recordings, in English and in Indigenous languages like Inuktitut.

In addition to putting forward local content, in the form of radio programming, films and documentaries, and community news,DID has played an active part in the local consultations involving the Baffinland project. A series of radio call-in shows allowed locals to ask experts questions about the development, and Baffinland feedback collected via DID has been complied into a report, which will be presented in the next round of public hearings, tentatively scheduled to take place in mid-October.

Lloyd Lipsett is a human rights lawyer who has been participating in the public consultation process surrounding the Baffinland project. He took part in radio call-in shows the DID group organized in Igloolik, Nunavut, to answer questions and inform locals about the Baffinland project, in English and Inuktitut.

“If you want the people to be confident that the mine is benefitting them, they need to have the information to make that judgment. It’s important to recognize that the movement towards transparency in the (extractive industry) is really picking up steam,” says Lipsett, who notes the Canadian government has announced it will pass binding regulations ensuring mining companies have greater disclosure towards various levels of government, something the United States and European Union have already done.

Canadian constitutional law and international law now explicitly confirms Indigenous people have the right to be informed and consulted about any resource development that impacts their lands and their communities. According to Lispett, the new approach towards consultation offered by DID is a benefit to locals and developers alike.

Most human-rights interventions involving extraction projects happen after development has started, when things are perceived to be going badly. “Getting involved in public hearings before the project has taken place; you are taking a proactive approach,” says Lispett. “You’re dealing with all the different stakeholders, including the company itself. To talk to them in a proactive, forward-looking manner, is much more constructive then pointing your finger after, and saying, “You’re doing this wrong, you’re violating this right, or that right…We’re offering you suggestions as to how you can develop this mine in a way that is respectful to people.”

The economic stakes are significant, too."The wealth in the arctic is enormous,” says Cohn. “It’s sort of like the new Congo, but suddenly much more accessible than it ever was before. “The world has changed since King Leopold went into the Congo, but only if technology helps people take advantage of those changes. (DID) is the only way Indigenous people will get a real fair seat at the negotiating table, dividing up what everyone agrees are trillions of dollars.”

Frances Abele is a Professor of Public Policy and Public Administration at Carleton University. She is familiar with the project. She touts the community-building aspect of DID. “If you haven’t been to the North, it’s very hard to picture just how far apart everything is,” she says. “To allow people to speak to each other in real time is a really powerful change in order to have people talk about their common interests, and politics.”

“The local radio has been very, very, important for a long time, it’s the main way that people find out what’s going on, and they listen to that every day,” says Abele. “The genius of what Norman and Zacharias are doing is that they’ve been able to build on that network to create these communities.”

Mark Airut is the manager of the Igloolik radio station, now run by ISUMA since last May. He is Inuk, and echoes Abele’s praise for DID. “I think it’s really great, lots and lots of people are now following us, and now they listen to our radio all over the world,” he says. He says since ISUMA took over, the station’s workers have gone from being voluntary to paid staff, and many locals say ISUMA radio is now all they listen to. “We’re doing our best work on educational stuff,” says Airut. “It’s really successful.”

Currently, Cohn estimates the project is two-thirds completed. “Our website will play at high speed in what will eventually be ten indigenous communities,” he says. ISUMA has been hooking people up since the spring, and will continue to do so during the fall.

Underlying the entire project is the principal of open data and transparency as a tool to combat inequality. “Indigenous people see these developments as the only chance they have to get out of poverty and into the 21st century,” says Cohn. “If all the people involved are sharing in the exploitation of the resources, then it’s not pejorative. If the people involved are being exploited, then its pejorative … Today, you cannot get away with that level of inequality unless it’s hidden from public view.”

Cohn believes DID can be a powerful tool to give Indigenous people their fair share of the pie. “If people have those tools, you cannot deny them those rights,” he says. “These communities are sitting on mountains of minerals, of gold, of uranium.” He sees a future for this project in Indigenous communities throughout the world, and notes it is in developer’s interest to properly inform and consult, or risk huge lawsuits down the road.

How much the Inuit will eventually profit from the Baffinland development remains to be seen, but Cohn is hopeful. “Indigenous people are not genetically impoverished,” he says. “If everyone owned the land they were living on, Inuit people could quite very well be rich,” he argues. “Why are Inuit peoples more like Palestinians than Saudi Arabians? In 2013, you can’t do that to people, unless you’re doing it in the dark.”

Elisabeth Fraser is a freelance Canadian journalist. She lives in Montreal.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.


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September 30, 2013

Everything you want to know about Cape Breton moose!

UINR–Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources– is releasing two new books on the importance of moose to the Mi’kmaq people at Membertou’s Heritage Park on Tuesday May 27 at 11:00 am.

“Tiam:This is our Story” is a children’s book written in English and Mi’kmaq that tells the story of moose in Unama’ki from the appearance of the first “spirit” moose to the present day.

Illustrated by Dozay and written by UINR’s Lisa Young and Clifford Paul, it is both entertaining and educational.

Funding was provided by Mi’kmaq–Nova Scotia–Canada Tripartite Forum’s Fund for Social and Economic Change.

“Tiam: Mi’kmaq Ecological Knowledge–Moose in Unama’ki” gathers traditional knowledge of moose and its importance to the culture and survival of Mi’kmaq people now and through the ages.

It also looks at the work of the Moose Working Group who have developed voluntary guidelines for Mi'kmaq moose harvesting.

Written by Nadine Lefort with Clifford Paul, Ernest Johnson and Charlie Dennis, the book features an illustrated look at every part of the moose that is traditionally used by the Mi’kmaq people, “The Whole Moose.”

Funding was provided by Nova Scotia Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Parks Canada, andMi’kmaq–Nova Scotia–Canada Tripartite Forum’s Fund for Social and Economic Change.

The book release will feature short readings in Mi’kmaq and English. Free copies of the books will be available (one per person) and there will be door prizes and snacks available.

UINR’s Executive Director explains why moose are so important to the organization, “For many years UINR has worked closely with groups like Parks Canada, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources,and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs on a moose management initiative that brings Mi’kmaq, Canadian, and Provincial governments together on co-management.

An important part of this initiative has been educating Nova Scotians and our Mi’kmaq communities on Mi’kmaq rights and responsibilities.

These booklets help educate children and adults on the cultural importance of moose to the Mi’kmaq people and the important role our traditional ways of management play in ensuring moose will be there to benefit all Nova Scotians for generations to come.”UINR is Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaq voice on natural resources and the environment.

Forestry, marine science research, species management, traditional Mi’kmaq knowledge, water quality monitoring, and environmental partnerships are among the organization’s responsibilities.

Representing the five Mi’kmaq communities in Unama’ki–(Eskasoni, Membertou, Potlotek, Wagmatcook and We’koqma’q) on natural resources issues, UINR contributes to an understanding and protection of Unama’ki’s ecosystem through research, monitoring, education, and management.

By integrating netukulimk (traditional Mi’kmaq management) with traditional and conventional ways of understanding, known as Two-Eyed Seeing, UINR takes the lead on best-management practices in Unama’ki.


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May 21, 2014

21 years of Televisón Serrana

On January 15th, Television Serrana (“Television of the mountains”) celebrated its 21st year of operation, from the highest mountain system in Cuba. Founded in 1993 by journalist and documentary filmmaker Daniel Diez Castillo, and supported by the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT), this community project seeks to reflect and defend the identity, human values and culture of the inhabitants of the Sierra Maestra mountain range. 

As a not-for-profit organization that seeks to promote the knowledge and use of audiovisual media for social, educational and cultural advancement, Television Serrana joined the Latin American Coordination of Film and Communication Indigenous Peoples (CLACPI) in late 90s, thanks to a partnership with the Center for Training and Filmmaking of Bolivia, CEFREC.

Commitment to the people of Sierra Maestra and their distinct identity, experiences, needs, customs, philosophy and worldview, as well as the ambition to produce solid and aesthetic documentaries that reveal a collective imagery, have always been the fundamental pillars of Television Serrana, as part of their aim to create a community initiative promoting popular participation in media and allowing the Serrano people to not only be spectators but complicit participants in the medium.

In a recent interview, Daniel Diez Castillo summed up the organization’s work: "Perhaps the one who helped us the most to understand how to make Serrana TV was Martí […] Martí talks about the need to bring passion and advocates for education into the mountains and remote areas to work at enabling the link between education and culture." 

This work is perfectly in synch with the aspirations of the indigenous producers at CLACPI, who join in celebrating a new year for Television Serrana.


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January 21, 2014

Inuit Cree Reconciliation Premiers!

Inuit Cree Reconciliation Premiers at the imaginaNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

Screened as part of the Meeting Points Documentary Program, Inuit Cree Reconciliation will be presented for the first time to audiences at the TIFF Bell Light Box on October 17, 2013.

imagineNATIVE describes Kunuk's and Diamond's work a:

"journey to the remote site where their ancestors once clashed to celebrate 200 years of peace. Elders recount dramatic stories of battles, heroes and peacemaking from two different cultural perspectives. Coupled with incredible footage and a fantastic soundtrack, the film depicts the modern complexities of two communities living together in Canada’s Far North and an age-old conflict between the Cree and Inuit that lasted more than a century."


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October 17, 2013

EU court rejects Inuit appeal against seal fur ban

Europe's top court on Thursday rejected an appeal by Inuit seal hunters and fur traders against an EU ban on products derived from the Arctic animals.

"The court dismisses the appeal in its entirety," the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice said in a final ruling issued after an appeal against a September 2011 decision from its general court.

That court had refused at the time to hear a challenge brought by 17 organisations, including Canada's largest Inuit group, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK).

The European Union ban, approved in 2009 under pressure from animal rights groups, includes an exemption for seal products derived from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and indigenous communities for subsistence.

But Canada's indigenous groups fear it will severely damage their traditional seal hunt.

The Canada-led campaign to lift the ban on the trade in seal fur and products was joined by the ITK as well as by Scottish suppliers of the sporran pouch made of seal pelt that is part of traditional Highland dress.

The ban has been highly effective in reducing the number of seals killed commercially, with 40,000 in 2011 against 354,000 in 2006.

Likewise the price of a pelt has dropped from about 90 euros ($118) to nine in the same timeframe.

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October 3, 2013

Baffinland Progress at Mary River

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation released yesterday a first progress report on the development of the Mary River mining project.

Baffinland first announced on September 13th that construction, or more accurately preparations for construction, would begin immediately.

This first step follows the corporation’s successful signing of the Mary River Agreement (Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement and Commercial Production Lease) with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association on September 9th. The project launch was also made possible by the Nunavut Impact Review Board approval given in December 2012, all be it as a “Early Revenue Phase” version of the original proposal.

On September 25th Baffinland made their inaugural charter flight carrying employees and cargo from the Kitchener-Waterloo airport to the Baffinland Mary River Project site.

Carrying cargo and a maximum of 119 passengers, Boeing 737s will began to fly weekly to and from Nunavut with cargo and passengers. These chartered flights are coordinated by Sarvaq Logistics, a logistics company headquartered in Iqaluit, and operated by Nolinor, a Quebec-based charter airline.

Director of charter operations at Nolinor previously stated that this partnership might offer new charter opportunities for people traveling from the North suggesting that members of the public could even “crowd-source” flights by selling seats for flights online when the 737s are not in use with Baffinland.

But at this time no such initiatives have been taken.

Weekly jet service to and from the Mary River site began on September 26th. As for details on the actual work progress at the Mary River Site, Baffinland only states that the Mary River hard wall camp is in progress.

Baffinland’s October 1st, 2013 Progress photos are available here  


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October 2, 2013

Construction begins at Mary River

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. formally announces a decision to start construction on the Mary River Project in a release issued September 13th.

The construction decision was made possible as a result of the recently completed Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement (IIBA) and Commercial Production Lease (CPL), which were executed jointly with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association on September 6, 2013.

The Mary River Project has undergon an environmental impact assessment for the past 5 years, which culminated in a Nunavut Impact Review Board Project Certificate in December of 2012. The receipt of the Project Certificate allowed for the Class A Water License process to be completed with the Nunavut Water Board in July 2013. Collectively, these approvals along with the IIBA and CPL have given Baffinland the necessary permissions to began construction.

“Announcing a construction decision is a significant milestone in the evolution of the Mary River Project. Many years of environmental reviews and negotiations have led us to be able to reach this decision. Our work at Mary River and Milne Inlet will focus on construction activities that are currently approved through the environmental assessment process. As further approvals are obtained in the coming months our construction activities will encompass development required to achieve our Early Revenue Phase and allow for the eventual shipment of ore.” stated Tom Paddon, President and CEO of Baffinland.

In early 2013, Baffinland began mobilizing construction material, fuel, and equipment via sealift to facilitate construction activities.

Along with mobilization efforts, Baffinland has promissed to also offer extensive training and to undertake recruitment initiatives to allow for Inuit, particularly from the North Baffin communities, to participate in employment opportunities created by the Mary River Project.

Baffinland says it will now focus on completing the 2013 cargo and fuel sealift deliveries, as well as the construction of camp and fuel storage facilities, which will allow for construction activities to continue throughout late 2013 and into 2014.

Baffinland's full release can be read here


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October 2, 2013

QIA sends Nunngarut dam back to review board

Proposed hydroelectric project would disrupt historical trail, says Inuit association

Northern News Services


A proposed hydroelectric dam between Kimirrut and Iqaluit should be scrapped because it would sever a heritage route that has connected the communities for generations, according to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA).

The QIA's Community Lands and Resource Committee in Iqaluit is opposing Qulliq Energy Corporation's plan to develop a 25-metre hydroelectric dam at Nunngarut, approximately 20 kilometres southwest of Iqaluit. The site is partially located on Inuit-owned lands and within Katannilik Territorial Park.

The proposed development would threaten wildlife and disrupt the Kimirrut trail linking the community with Iqaluit, according to Simon Nattaq, QIA lands and resource committee chairperson in the capital.

“The initial plan to build a dam at Nunngarut was opposed by many in Kimmirut and Iqaluit as it is a place that is frequented by Kimmirummiut and Iqalummiut for fishing and hunting activities," Nattaq stated in a Sept. 25 news release. "Travelling between Iqaluit and Kimmirut would also be threatened as the lake at Nunngarut is the only viable route to cross. For these reasons, we have concluded that the impact on Inuit would be too great."

The corporation is proposing to build two hydroelectric dams, beginning with phase 1 at Qikirrijaarvik, approximately 40 kilometres south of Iqaluit, followed by phase 2 at the Nunngarut site, which would tap into the same grid. The project is in the midst of a review by the Nunavut Impact Review Board, after it completed screening in July.

Nunavut Tourism expressed concerns about potential damage to the popular tourist area, while supporting the corporation's search for greener energy, in a letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board in March.

"We want to encourage that the multiple uses of this area be considered and the project proceed in a manner that will allow these uses to co-exist, with minimized impacts on each other," states chief executive officer of Nunavut Tourism Colleen Dupuis in the letter.

On Sept. 18, the QIA called for the proposal to be returned to the review board for modification, including the removal of phase two of the phase-two dam, and encouraged the corporation to explore alternative sites for potential hydroelectric development in the region.

-- with files from Lyndsay Herman


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October 1, 2013