Indigenous Environmental Activism-Spring 2015

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Freda Huson and Dini Ze Smolgelgem (Toghestiy): Unist'ot'en and Indigenous Environmental Activism

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015-03-20
Abstract: 

The Unis’tot’en (C’ihlts’ehkhyu / Big Frog Clan) are the original Wet’suwet’en Yintah Wewat Zenli distinct to the lands of the Wet’suwet’en. Dini Ze Toghestiy is a Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief of a very proud and strong people - the Likhts'amisyu, in so called British Columbia, Canada. Toghestiy discusses his memory of being raised by his grandparents, recalling being taken out on the land as a young man and heavily involved in his community’s feast hall, all the while learning from Elders, relatives and community mentors about his indigenous ways of being and knowing. Toghestiy received a double major University degree in Anthropology and First Nations Studies, focusing his research in Archeology. While working as an Ethnographer, he was called back by his people to represent his community, working on an ‘interest and study use plan’ for the Pacific Trails Pipeline project. In order to protect and defend his territory and its natural resources, he interviewed his territory’s hereditary chiefs. He supported their testimony with archival research and land based biological assessments, while examining the environmental assessments of the pipeline company. He recalls the day that all the Chiefs stated they would not allow the pipeline’s to be brought onto their communities. In 2006, his final report was delivered to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en people who then gave it to the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Agency.

Freda Huson, representative and spokesperson for the Unist'ot'en people was appointed by her hereditary chiefs. She recalls growing up on the land and learning her cultural ways from her family and community knowledge keepers. Freda discusses her community defending itself from mining and energy corporations seeking to extract her territory’s natural resources, stating the only way to defend the land, is by occupying the land. Freda talks about opening a cultural healing centre on her territory, so her people can become more connected with the land. Freda acknowledges how intergenerational trauma brought on by Colonialism destabilizes her people’s relationship to their cultural ways of living, stating “a lot of our people are suffering mentally because of the oppression that’s put upon our people from the residential schools and Ministry taking children out of their homes. They become totally disconnected from their culture.”

Document type: 
Video

Bob Weatherall, 'Indigenous Environmental Activism'

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015-03-12
Abstract: 

Bob Weatherall is a Gamilaraay man from St. George in South West Queensland, Australia, and is a descendant of the Himba tribe. Bob has been a prominent activist and spokesperson within Australia for over 40 years and has most specifically concentrated his advocacy of Aboriginal rights in the areas of land rights, repatriation and Aboriginal cultural policy.  He is the former chairperson of the Aboriginal Provisional Government and current Chairperson of the Centre for Indigenous Cultural Policy.

In Bob’s testimony, he discusses the issue of indigenous rights, environmental justice and activism, noting that Aboriginal people, or Aborigine’s as they are known in Australia, have had “to seek justice through the confines of the [Australian] governments of the day.” This marginalization limits Aborigine formal recognition by the Australian government, who often apply pressure to Aborigine’s to sign away their rights on “agreements of complicity.” Rights are afforded to government ministers and their representatives to be the spokesperson’s working with industry, enacting policies and legislation allowing corporations to use Aborigine land for financial benefit. Ironically, the Australian Prime Minister is also the head of Aboriginal Affairs.  Aborigines are subjected to Australian state laws, in which Aborigine’s have no jurisdictional rights, other than by title only. All state level legislation supersedes Aboriginal inherent rights. The Aborigine culture is one of the oldest Aboriginal cultures in the world and needs to be respected and revered, and as Bob says, “celebrated, promoted and noted, and basically protected and preserved, if they [the Australian federal government] were a mature society. But the Australian government has not reached that level of maturity yet.” Bob says it is vitally important for Aborigine people to uphold their laws, customs and rights; otherwise they are in contempt of their own obligation to fulfill those duties, especially when it comes to protecting land, water and natural resources. 

Document type: 
Video

Kanahus Manuel, 'Indigenous Environmental Activism'

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015-02-27
Abstract: 

Indigenous environmental activist Kanahus Manuel is from the Secwepemc Nation in British Columbia, Canada. In her testimony Kanahus discusses the ongoing issue of resource extraction corporations creating large financial profits, while the territory's indigenous inhabitants receive no monetary compensation-even though the corporations themselves have no legal right or jurisdiction over these indigenous unceded territories. Kanahus talks about her inherent right to be a custodian of the land, both through physical proximity to it, and fighting for justice within the Canadian court system itself. Kanahus has long been a community leader and environmental activist, most notably outspoken about the Mt. Polley mining disaster, British Columbia’s largest mining disaster in history, occurring on August 14 2014. The mining operation’s tailings pond walls breached, spilling 25 million cubic meters of water and approximately 8 million cubic meters of toxic waste, jeopardizing or completely eliminating local area inhabitants. Wild salmon is the lifeblood of the Secwepemc people and wild salmon require fresh clean river and lake water. This unfortunate and completely unnecessary mining disaster threatens the very existence of the wild salmon, severely compromising the entire Secwepemc community plus the local wildlife that rely on the salmon for food. Kanahus draws a parallel between violent corporate resource extraction practices, and the ongoing rape and sexual abuse of Indigenous populations, stemming from patriarchal control actualized through the Indian residential school system. 

Document type: 
Video

Lyn Crompton, 'Indigenous Environmental Activism and the Law'

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015-03-30
Abstract: 

Lyn Crompton speaks candidly about the trauma of losing her twin sister at 4 years old, the difficult divide that event created in her family, and the long lived adversity she felt from her father for choosing to become a lawyer. Lyn discloses pivotal turning points in her first 15 years as a lawyer, opening up about the injustices and unfair treatment she witnessed in Canadian Courts towards aboriginal people and how these moments ultimately shaped her devotion to defending aboriginal people in court. She speaks of meeting George Manuel, then President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, and how their meeting would set in motion a lifelong path of working together and being friends. Manuel had said to Lyn, of her unwavering dedication to aboriginal justice, “you have commitment”. She reveals in her testimony that George became a lifelong friend and mentor and that when he spoke to her she “really paid attention”, knowing his intelligence and insight was something to be really respected and honoured, adding “he would be visionary and could see what I could not”. Lyn’s sharp legal defense expertise was surely a motivating factor for George when he asked her to accompany him and the other national aboriginal Chiefs and delegates on the ‘Constitution Express’. The Constitution Express was a train that travelled from Vancouver, British Columbia to Ottawa, Ontario in November 1980 as a reaction to the Federal Government’s plans to Patriate the Canadian Constitution, discovering that aboriginal people would lose all of their rights should this occur. After the Canadian Constitution Express, Manuel asked Lyn to be part of the team responsible for implementing the European Constitution Express. The European Constitution Express would eventually travel to the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, and then England in order to present the concerns and experiences of Aboriginal peoples across Canada to an international audience. Lyn discusses defending Robert Satiacum, Puyallup Washington’s tribal leader, against 142 charges brought by the United States Federal Government. He was eventually granted refugee status by the Canadian Immigration Appeal Board, only to be later overturned. Satiacum worked tirelessly throughout his life for aboriginal land claims and fishing rights, eventually facing federal racketeering charges back in the USA. Crompton discloses she received death threats during the period shortly after defending Satiacum and that this experience dramatically shaped how she viewed her role in Canadian and International Law.Lyn talks about taking on the role of co-counsel with Bruce Clark in 1991, defending the Lil’wat in their defense of protecting their unceded traditional territories from logging interests destroying their sacred land. Up to that point, the Lil’wat had been unsuccessful having their case of sovereignty heard in 13 Canadian courts. The case would ultimately be a cathartic process motivating Lyn to examine her life as an attorney, formally stating that aboriginal people were not able to have a fair trial in the colonialist Canadian Court system, due to a lack of judicial impartiality and the court’s sole interest in supporting and upholding government and corporate initiatives.Lyn discusses her role as counsel for Lil’wat woman, Loni Edwards, whose children were seized by the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development and placed in foster care, leading Lyn to her work with the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, International Legal Clinic submitting a petition on behalf of Loni Edwards to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).The topic of ‘Land Code’ is defined and examined from a legal and cultural perspective for aboriginal communities. These are specific agreements between First Nations and Canada which, if ratified by the community, turn administration of reserve lands over to the First Nation’s elected Council. Land Codes set out dozens of rules and procedures to streamline and standardize their decision making about reserve lands, and those decisions are then recognized by Canadian courts as authoritative. Lyn draws specifically on her expertise and experience working closely with the Lil’wat. On March 14 2015, the Líl’wat people voted against a Land Code proposed by their elected Chief and Council.

Noeline Villebrun 'Aboriginal Rights in Canada'

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015-03-20
Abstract: 

Former Dene National Chief Noeline Villebrun is from the Copper Dene First Nation and was elected National Chief in 2003. Before becoming National Chief, Chief Villebrun was the Vice-President of the Native Women's Associtaion (NWT). She is commited to improving the lives of First Nations women. Chief Villebrun talks about Indian Residential Schools, Dene cultural history, the Indian Act and how First Nations communities can move forward together toward self-determination.

Document type: 
Video

Robert Yelton 'Squamish Nation Cultural Heritage'

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015-02-12
Abstract: 

Robert Yelton is a renowned carver and artist, best known for his work as lead visionary for the first Squamish totem pole to be placed in Stanley Park, Vancouver British Columbia. He has also worked extensively as a drug and alcohol counselor and is instrumental in maintaining and promoting traditional Squamish culture.

Document type: 
Video

Anushka Nagiir 'Indigenous Environmental Activism & the Law' - Session Two

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015-03-26
Abstract: 

Anushka Nagji, also known as  Anushka In-Repair, is a poet, law graduate and political activist.  Anushka, who identifies as a settler to so-called 'Canada', also identifies her family's lineage and heritage from Gujarat, India.  Anushka has been involved in many protests in solidarity with various First Nations peoples of Canada; including Mount Polley, Unist'ot'en Camp and is currently residing within the Nunavut territories.

Document type: 
Video

Lorna Munro 'Indigenous Environmental Activism in Australia'

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015-03-26
Abstract: 

Lorna Munro is a Wiradjuri poet, activist and multi disciplinary artist. She has been strongly influenced and nurtured by her activist parents and mentored by many other members of the Aboriginal Blak Power movement. An active member of her community since age 13, Lorna calls the Redfern/Waterloo areas of the inner city of Sydney home. She honours her teachers and elders by passing on what she was taught and is currently developing and facilitating art/poetry programs and tours interpreting the history of her local area with young people along with her work with the Red Room Comp

Document type: 
Video

Anushka Nagiir 'Indigenous Environmental Activism & the Law'

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015-03-06
Abstract: 

Anushka talks about her motivation and journey to become a lawyer and political and environmental activist. She briefly discusses her Indian ancestry and her parent’s journey from Budruk, India to East Africa, eventually settling in Dubai where Anushka was born. Anushka’s family immigrated to Canada, settling in Calgary, Alberta where other extended family members were living. She reveals what it felt like being an immigrant and that if it weren’t for her extended family in Calgary, her family would have felt much more isolated and marginalized. Anushka remembers the constant racism, inspiring a self-directed examination of Colonialism, social inequality, marginalization and systemic racism. Anushka received a Political Science degree, immersing herself in community outreach and social activism, eventually moving to British Columbia where her passion for social justice became more solidified. Anushka received her Law degree where once again she was inspired to look beyond the rhetoric taught in University, examining the disconnect between Aboriginal law and Canadian law, which disrespects and ignores constitutionally enshrined sovereign Aboriginal land rights and title. Anushka discusses her involvement with British Columbia indigenous communities and her decision to focus her legal representation supporting populations facing social stigma, systemic racism and oppression. Anushka discusses her involvement with the Secwepemc community where the Mt. Polley mining disaster occurred. This disaster was the largest environmental mining disaster in British Columbia’s history. Anushka joined forces with the Secwepemc Women’s Warrior Society, vocal opponents to mining and resource extraction corporations coming into their territory to steal resources and pollute the land.  

Document type: 
Video

Eric Ostrowidziki 'Indigenous Environmental Activism'

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2015-03-15
Abstract: 

Dr. Eric A. Ostrowidziki is a professor at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology teaching in english, and Indigenous Studies.  He is a member of the Abenanki First Nation in Quebec.

Document type: 
Video