Report from CPT Aboriginal Justice Delegation

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

One of the things I’ve noticed in my work as outreach coordinator for Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is that the least well known project is CPT’s work with aboriginal peoples here in North America. So this spring I decided to spend time on the Aboriginal Justice team in order to support the team better and understand the struggles of our indigenous partners.

I just returned from Kenora, Ontario, home of one of Ontario’s major paper mills and supply town for many indigenous communities in the area. We also spent a week at Grassy Narrows, also known as (the reserve of the) Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabe.

During my time at Grassy Narrows, for the first time in my life I saw first hand the continuing effects of the 500-year history of colonization and genocide on this continent. It’s a testimony to the effectiveness of white settlement and ethnic cleansing; I had never come face to face with these realities before in a personal way.

I’ll share two particular stories with you from my trip so far. On Sunday I met Fred,* who grew up following the trap line with his family in the winter. As a child, the Canadian Mounties showed up to take him from his family to a residential school where he was beaten if he spoke his language. He watched other children who died in that place. Eventually he was able to return to his family and returned to hunting and fishing. Unfortunately, in the 1960’s, the Dryden Chemical Company dumped 9,000 kilos of mercury into the English river water system. Tom continued to fish from this lake. Today he has prominent signs of Minamata disease, with symptoms such as slurred speech, shaking hands and an unsteady walk.

Jay* was walking home from school one day on the reserve when a car pulled up beside him and asked if he wanted a ride home. But the car didn’t take him home. It took him to a foster home, and at age 13 he was put on national television as part of “Family Finder.” At age 14 he was paying rent. It wasn’t until his mid-twenties when he finally went back home to Grassy Narrows. Today he is part of the Ontario Process, a negotiation started in 2008 between the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and Grassy Narrows over the rights to log their land.

The Ontario Process came after many years of struggle by Grassy Narrows to end logging of their traditional lands. In December 2002, members of the community began a physical blockade of logging roads that CPT physically accompanied for a number of years. The struggle of Grassy Narrows gained a nation wide profile in Canada, culminating in a blockade of the Trans-Canadian highway in 2006 by members of the community. International organizations like Rain Forest Action Network and Amnesty International become involved. More for more on this struggle see the CPT Aboriginal Justice team video here:

In 2008, Abitibi-Bowater agreed to end their logging of Grassy Narrows traditional lands and the Ontario Process was begun with the purported goal of involving the Grassy Narrows community in decision making about their own land. This is the point where most organizations left and moved on to other hot-spots.

But the story is not over. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources continues to prioritize the interests of the logging industry. They have not included the community in the way that builds trust and MNR continues to push for logging business as usual rather then taking the treaty rights of Grassy Narrows seriously.

In this context, I’ve come to understand the importance of CPT’s nine year relationship with Grassy Narrows. While other organizations have moved on to next big thing, CPT has continued to come back to Kenora and Grassy Narrows, year after year, letting the community (and MNR) know that we are still supporting Grassy Narrows.

I’ll be sharing another report from our Aboriginal Justice delegation next week. You can look forward to stories of Judy de Silva and Chrissy Swain, Anishnabe women who have led the struggle against logging. Also, I’ll share about my experience learning to make deer leather. I’ll also include a link to photos from the delegation.