Tag Archives: Stewart Phillip

Taking “no” for an answer on pipelines

Image description: A banner reading "IDLE NO MORE - Unity - Sovereignty - Coast to coast to coast - Nipissing First Nation - UOI - WBAFN - NFN". The banner also features a closed fist clutching a large feather. In the background are dozens of people dressed for rainy cool weather. (Image credit: Michelle Caron/Wikipedia)

Image description: A banner reading “IDLE NO MORE – Unity – Sovereignty – Coast to coast to coast – Nipissing First Nation – UOI – WBAFN – NFN”. The banner also features a closed fist clutching a large feather. In the background are dozens of people dressed for rainy cool weather. (Image credit: Michelle Caron/Wikipedia)

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said something in reaction to the Trudeau government’s new pipeline review policy in late January that has rattled around in my head ever since. “What needs to be demonstrated,” Phillip said, in registering his disappointment with the policy, “is the federal government’s willingness to take no for an answer from First Nations…who are exercising their sovereign decision-making power.”

In many ways, this is the crux of the pipeline debate – at the intersection between Indigenous rights and energy policy, where we need to decide whether our stated principles or our obligations to corporate shareholders should take precedence. It’s vital to be mindful of the fact that the struggle against pipelines, as pivotal and momentous as it is for the climate justice movement, is also the latest front in a centuries-old Aboriginal struggle for the right to say “no” to settlers who want to exploit and despoil their land.

And let’s be clear – by and large, First Nations are saying “no” to pipelines, and they’re saying it firmly and unequivocally. Right across the country, Indigenous folks, both from the grassroots and from the leadership, are speaking out in the strongest possible terms against major proposed projects like Energy East, Northern Gateway, and Trans Mountain.

As these proposals reach their culmination, it’s becoming critical that the Canadian government affirms the right of First Nations to, as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples puts it, “free, prior, and informed consent” – or, in Phillip’s formulation, their right to say no and have that be the final word on the subject. Continue Reading

Unist’ot’en camp facing imminent RCMP raid – what is Stephen Harper thinking?

On Friday morning, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs received word that the RCMP had booked up hotel rooms in Smithers and Burns Lake, two communities in close proximity to the Unist’ot’en Camp.

The Unist’ot’en Camp, as you’ll recall, sent out an appeal late last month for assistance and support in the face of what they said was a looming raid by the Mounties on their territory. Now, it appears that that raid is imminent:

“It’s definitely going to come down,” Phillip told Vancouver Observer. “We don’t have precise numbers, but it very well could be more than 200 (officers), because this story is totally rippling across the country.” […]

“I don’t want to disclose names, but there have been top political leaders who have contacted senior levels of the RCMP again, attempting to persuade them to stand down,” said Phillip, who will be heading to the Unist’ot’en Camp on Sunday to support its residents and bear witness to any police action that may take place. 

To mount an operation of this size and begin to execute this plan, (RCMP) would have had to have approval at the highest levels, at that takes considerable time, and I suspect those decisions were made weeks ago.” [my bold]

Phillip has been drawing attention to the impending confrontation between the RCMP and Indigenous land defenders and pipeline resisters for months now. In February, he said that there was the potential for another crisis on the scale of Oka surrounding Northern Gateway and other controversial pipeline projects.

For their part, members of the Unist’ot’en Camp have made it clear that they intend to hold firm and not be moved by police intimidation. Just days ago, they issued a declaration signed by all five Unist’ot’en chiefs, enacted specifically “in response to increasing encroachment onto Unist’ot’en territory by the Crown and associated industry and RCMP”, reasserting their “unbroken, unextinguished and unceded right to govern and occupy these lands”.

As rumours swirl that the RCMP intends to charge the land defenders under the hyper-controversial anti-terrorist law Bill C-51, it’s hard to imagine how the situation could become more highly charged. Continue Reading

Oka, 25 years later (or, Indigenous land defence, 523 years later)

On July 11, 1990, a long-simmering dispute over a stand of pine trees escalated into a major stand-off between Indigenous land defenders and local and provincial police just outside of Oka, Quebec. Eventually, the Canadian army would be called in by a nervous provincial and federal government.

Throughout the 78-day standoff, the people of Kanesatake, who were trying to protect their land (including a burial ground) from being turned into a golf course, were vilified, slandered, attacked physically, dismissed, demonized, and denied the basics of life:

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon remembers seeing the SQ [Sûreté du Québec]  tactical squad moving in the morning of July 11.

“I thought, ‘They’re going to kill everybody up there,’” he said.

When he heard a police officer had died, he had one thought: “We’re going to pay for this one. This is not going to go under-answered.”

What happened next, Simon said, left his community traumatized.

“It was incredible. The SQ would not allow any food to come in to our territory. Our people were systematically searched illegally,” he said.

Ultimately, the mayor of Oka called off the proposed golf course and the dispute was seemingly resolved. The usual blue-ribbon government panel made recommendations which were ignored, and the media’s attention moved on.

Today, the typical “On this day in ___” stories recap the basic narrative as it was established at the time – a narrative which is resolutely ahistorical. The issue of the golf course and the pines is presented without context.

What goes unmentioned is that this indigenous burial ground was located where it was because for generations, white people in Oka wouldn’t allow indigenous bodies to be buried in their graveyard.

What goes unmentioned is that land which had been guaranteed to them by the French crown in the 1700s was covertly signed over to the government without their knowledge in the early 1800s, and never returned.

What goes unmentioned is hundreds of years of aggression both macro- and micro-, of the daily violence of settler colonialism, of the slow-motion genocide which has been perpetrated against Indigenous people.

What goes unmentioned is that Oka was just the latest – and most eye-catching – in a long tradition of Indigenous land defence. Continue Reading

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