Extension of The National Dream railway has implications for Indigenous land defenders opposing megaproject in Mexico

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: The Last Spike completed the CPR railroad in 1885.

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) company was integral to the colonization of Indigenous lands and the creation of the country called Canada.

The National Dream refers to the construction of the CPR railway from Central Canada (Ontario) to British Columbia. The first spike was hammered at Bonfield (near Sudbury, Ontario) in 1881. The ceremonial Final Spike was driven by CPR director Donald Smith on November 7, 1885, in Craigellachie (near Revelstoke, British Columbia).

In ‘The railways got very wealthy on our land’: How rail’s colonial past made it a target for blockades (The Globe and Mail, March 2020), Eric Andrew-Gee writes: “While rail interruptions [in solidarity with Wet’suwe’ten land defenders following the RCMP C-IRG raid in February 2020] have roiled Canada’s economy for nearly a month, the link between railways and the removal of Indigenous land is at the root of Canada’s national story.”

Photo: RCMP C-IRG raid on Wet’suwet’en territory, February 2020.

Photo: Solidarity blockade of CPR rail line at Chase, British Columbia, February 2020.

Andrew-Gee adds: “Construction of the CP railway was seen as essential to the growth and defence of the country in the years after Confederation – but First Nations sometimes stood in the way. Roughly 5,000 Indigenous people were expelled from the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan in the 1880s alone to make way for the CPR. One tactic used by local Indian agents against recalcitrant bands was to withhold rations [food].”

And in Uncovered tracks: The bloody legacy of Canada’s railways (National Observer, December 2020), Joe Bongiorno commented: “Although the railway has always been a private corporation, it was — and remains — a wrought iron symbol of Confederation. But for First Nations peoples, Canada’s railways are vehicles for expropriation.”

Bongiorno adds: “To those who feel excluded from the grand designs of Macdonald’s dream, railways, pipelines and future infrastructure projects may erode what remains of their nations within Canada, rather than bind them all together.”

It has also been documented that the CPR was instrumental in the suppression of Métis and Cree peoples during the North-West Rebellion (that included the Battle of Batoche in 1885) by Canadian militia and the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP).

CBC has noted: “On March 19, 1885, [Métis leader Louis] Riel formed a provisional government and armed force, centred in the small Saskatchewan town of Batoche. The strategy was to gain the Canadian governments attention regarding a list of grievances in the Saskatchewan Valley about land rights and political power. A week later, about 100 North West Mounted Police and volunteers marched towards Batoche. [Canadian prime minister John A.] Macdonald also mobilized a militia and used the fledgling railway to quickly transport troops west. The quick mobilization of federal troops marked the beginning of the end of the Rebellion.”

Photo: The Battle of Batoche, May 1885.

Riel was hung at the NWMP Depot in Regina, Saskatchewan on November 16, 1885, a week after the ceremonial driving of The Last Spike on November 7, 1885, in British Columbia. The present-day RCMP (including members of the C-IRG) are still trained at the Depot near the spot where Riel was hung by the Canadian state.

The CPR in Mexico

Now the CPR (rebranded as the CPKC in April 2023) may be implicated in a controversial megaproject in Mexico that has seen the suppression of Indigenous rights.

CPKC photo: “The final spike. On April 14, 2023 in Kansas City, Mo., we connected a continent, driving the ceremonial Final Spike celebrating the creation of CPKC, the first and only single-line transnational railroad linking Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.”

Mexico News Daily has explained: “The so-called Interoceanic Corridor will include 10 new industrial parks across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec — the narrow ‘waist’ of southern Mexico between Salina Cruz, Oaxaca and Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.”

That article adds: “Another key component of [Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador] AMLO’s industrial strategy for southern Mexico is a 300-km transoceanic freight rail line that would link the proposed industrial parks.”

Radio Fórmula has also reported: “The Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) will seek to be a strategic partner and offer connections to North America with two of the flagship infrastructure projects of Q4: the Trans-Isthmus Corridor and the Mayan Train.”

It further notes: “According to its president in Mexico, Óscar del Cueto, who announced the recent integration of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern, stressed that this new measure will allow the company to make ‘seamless’ connections between the ports of Mexico, those of the eastern United States and all of Canada.”

Bnamericas also reported in May: “Following a meeting [pictured below] between President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, US officials and CPKC executives in Mexico City, the government unveiled that it invited the company to participate in the 1,500km Maya train that will connect five states in the southeast and to the rehabilitation of the 300km Tehuantepec isthmus rail corridor between Oaxaca and Veracruz states.”

Significantly though, Proceso further notes: “During its three-day tour, the Civilian Observation Mission recorded human rights violations, framed in the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus megaproject, against members of indigenous peoples and communities, most of which involve the Navy and the National Guard.”

This week, La Jornada reported: “The most worrying thing, [the civilian observation mission] said, is that there has been an increase in attacks this year and the integrity of defenders who resist this mega-project is at risk.”

The Observation Mission also says: “Among the authorities responsible for the human rights violations identified during the mission are the National Guard, the Navy, the Sedena [the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense], [and] the State Police…” As PBI-Canada has previously documented, Canada has exported more than $18.8 million in “military goods” to security forces in Mexico over the past five years.

We continue to follow this with concern.

Further reading: PBI-Mexico helps document abuses against Indigenous territorial defenders opposed to Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus project (July 29, 2023).

Video: PBI-Mexico speaks at the observation mission media conference, July 27.

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