Mohawk policy analyst Russ Diabo highlights Indigenous land defence struggles in Canada on global PBI webinar

Published by Brent Patterson on

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On October 30, Peace Brigades International entities convened defenders from Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Kenya and Canada for a webinar titled Police violence has no borders: Human rights, land defence and police impunity.

The video of that two-hour webinar can be watched here.

In his opening comments, long-time policy analyst Russ Diabo, a member of the Mohawk nation of Kahnawake, noted:

[When the British came] they assumed that they had the lands coast to coast in Canada. In 1876 they passed a federal law, a national law, called the Indian Act and they created a reserve system, Indian reserves, which are small pieces of land and the traditional territories were opened up to European settlement and occupation.

And that has been an issue across Canada for decades now, is basically Indigenous peoples wanting to see their stolen lands, territories and resources returned to them, at least a portion. That is what is behind most of the land conflicts in Canada.

When land defenders or water protectors object to a project or activity they are confronted when they leave the reserves, Indian reserves, usually with court injunctions followed by police action.

And in 1990 we saw in my own home community, the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, we saw the Canadian Army being brought in over a land conflict which is over 230 years old.

So, mostly land defenders have been criminalized from British Columbia through to Nova Scotia for defending and protecting their land rights.

Basically, as we say in Canada, there’s three parts to Canadian colonialism, there’s dispossession which creates dependency, and then when we fight against the dependency and the poverty we have been forced into under the Indian Act, then there is oppression which comes in the form of the courts and the police.

And right now, as I speak, we have Wet’suwet’en people opposing a natural gas pipeline, the CGL pipeline in what is now British Columbia. We have the Secwepemc people who have been opposing a Trans Mountain pipeline which Canada bought, so they are opposing a pipeline that is owned by Canada.

There have been arrests in both cases. In the Wet’suwet’en case their territory was invaded and they were forcibly removed in February of this year. The Secwepemc have seen arrests as well recently for opposing putting the pipeline under one of their salmon bearing rivers.

Right now, in Ontario, what is now called Ontario, the province, there’s Haudenosaunee land defenders at what they call 1492 Land Back Lane. They are surrounded by the police over lands that were stolen from them that they’ve occupied that was slated to be a housing development. They are opposing that housing development because it’s in what they call a red zone where 90 per cent of the lands promised them were taken and there are few lands left surrounding their community. That’s happening right now. There have been arrests there, rubber bullets shot at them.

Also, in Nova Scotia there’s Mi’kmaq fishermen going out on the water. Over 20 years ago the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that they have a Treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from their fishery. And for over 20 years the federal government didn’t do anything about it. So, this year the Mi’kmaq started going out and doing their own moderate livelihood Treaty fishery for lobster. And in response they have been attacked by mobs of white fishermen from the commercial fishing industry and the police stood by and did nothing. They’ve only made a few arrests now, but they let the mobs attack the Mi’kmaq on their wharves. And in fact, on the water they were chased by $1 million commercial fishing boats when the Mi’kmaq are using maybe a $10,000 boat.

The last thing I would say there has been a major national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women because so many Indigenous women have been murdered and gone missing in Canada. They released the report over a year ago and one of their conclusions is that Canada is committing genocide because its policies are designed to break up Indigenous families and particularly women and girls. And Canada has yet to respond to the recommendations of that report.

Diabo’s primary interventions can be watched at the very start of the webinar (transcribed above), then at 24:24, and then again near the end at 1:44:18.

To watch the who webinar, please click here.

Along with Diabo, it features Faith Kasina (Kenya), German Romero, Victor Moreno Mina (Colombia), Juan Carlos Arce (Nicaragua) and Jose Angel Llamas (Guatemala).

While translation was provided for the live webinar, the video includes speakers in Spanish without translation (though the moderation and questions are posed in English).

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