Criminalization of Mi’kmaq and Inuk land defenders asserting Indigenous sovereignty

Published by Brent Patterson on

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On January 7 of this year, heavily armed Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers raided a checkpoint that had been established on Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia in opposition to the construction of a fracked gas pipeline.

Now, almost a year later, The Guardian reports, “Canadian police were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia… The RCMP commanders also instructed officers to ‘use as much violence toward the gate as you want’…”

Following this news, Elizabeth Goodridge writes in The Nova Scotia Advocate, “Mere years ago we witnessed RCMP violence against Mi’kmaq land defenders in Kent County on behalf of a Texas fracking company. Before that federal fisheries officers waged war on the Mi’kmaq fishermen of Burnt Church, and in 1981 Quebec Provincial Police raided the Mi’kmaq community of Restigouche to stop it from exercising its treaty rights to fish.”

She adds, “Earlier this year RCMP blocked journalists as they arrested Alton Gas water protectors. Meanwhile, in Labrador Inuk elders and other land protectors who were arrested, continue to raise awareness of the risk of methylmercury poisoning of the water and food chain around Muskrat Falls and deadly flooding if the dam built on quick clay gives way.”

Overall, Goodridge comments, “Violence and incarceration of Indigenous land and water protectors in defense of corporate interest is the de facto response to land defenders asserting indigenous sovereignty.”

Peace Brigades International

The Peace Brigades International-North America Project visited the frontlines of numerous Indigenous struggles including Esgenoopetitj in 1999, where the Mi’kmaq challenged federal rules on their right to fish in Burnt Church, New Brunswick.

The PBI-North America Project also visited Nitassinan in December 1992 to report on the destructive impact of Hydro Quebec’s dams on the Innu people. You can read more about that at PBI and the Innu’s historic opposition to the SM-3 hydroelectric dam in Nitassinan.

Presently, Peace Brigades International field projects accompany Indigenous land defence struggles against mining, hydroelectric dams, logging, wind power and various other extractive megaprojects in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia.

United Nations and Indigenous rights

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz has stated, “Disregard of indigenous rights of traditional lands ownership breeds tensions, subsequent violence and criminalization, as indigenous peoples become trespassers or illegal occupants of their own lands.”

Tauli-Corpuz highlights, “Protecting indigenous land rights defenders is not only a human rights imperative – but also urgent to mitigating the climate crisis.”

UN Special Rapporteurs Leo Heller and Michel Forst have also expressed concern about the risks faced by land and environmental rights defenders opposed to mega-projects on their territory.

To read Elizabeth Goodridge’s article, please go to Lethal force revelations nothing new for Indigenous activists in Mi’kma’ki and Labrador.

Photo of Amanda Polchies of the Elsipogtog First Nation by Ossie Michelin.

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