July 17, 2015

English Edition, No. 16

25th Anniversary of Oka Uprising

Redress for the First Nations Starts with
Official Recognition of their Political,
Hereditary and Treaty Rights

25th Anniversary of Oka Uprising
Redress for the First Nations Starts with Official Recognition of their
Political, Hereditary and Treaty Rights
- Diane Johnston

Second Anniversary of Lac-Mégantic Tragedy
Urgent Need for Redress and Renewal

Redress for the First Nations Starts with
Official Recognition of their Political,
Hereditary and Treaty Rights

July 11, 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the Oka uprising. The uprising began when the town council of Oka, Quebec, decided to unilaterally undertake an expansion of a local golf course as well as build residences on lands that the Mohawk of Kanesatake had traditionally used and laid claim to, including a sacred burial ground which contained the headstones of their ancestors.

In the face of the council decision, the Mohawk of Kanesatake stood up to affirm their rights. They barricaded a dirt road leading to the golf course and later refused to obey a Quebec court injunction that was imposed on them to take down their blockade. The government of Quebec then brought in the Quebec provincial police to try to intimidate the Mohawk.

Sign now posted on highway close to site of main barricade in 1990

Police organized a violent raid on July 11 in an attempt to take down the Mohawks' blockade by force. Tear gas was fired indiscriminately at groups of women and children. In the battle that followed between the police and the Mohawk, one police officer was killed. No one was ever accused or charged for his death, no weapon was found, and one reporter's subsequent investigation pointed to friendly fire.

One day later the government of Quebec asked for Canadian troops to be brought in against the Mohawk. About 800 members of the Royal 22nd Regiment encircled the Mohawks who armed themselves as best they could against the guns of the soldiers. About 2,500 Canadian troops were put on stand-by. Reporters complained that the army destroyed their film, and harassed media and observers who were also at times detained. In the meantime, Mohawk from other communities came to lend their support. Actions by other First Nations also took place across Canada to support the people of Kanesatake and Kahnawake and their demands.

In the next two months of defending their land the Mohawks suffered at least one casualty and many dozens were injured by the army and police including women, children and elders. Warrior and ironworker Ronald Cross was jailed for six years for standing up for the rights of the people at Oka. He died one month after his release. His jailing and subsequent death were a crime the people will not readily forget.

Mohawk resistance forces government ministers to meet with representatives of the Warriors, August 12, 1990

The Mohawk continued their resistance to violent attacks into September, 1990. Physical and psychological warfare was waged by the Canadian army throughout Mohawk territory and the latter throughout the Canadian media. The military along with Quebec provincial police occupied roughly half of Kahnawake territory. On September 18, the military and police launched an assault on Tekakwitha Island in Kahnawake first advancing towards the bridge connecting the mainland. Mohawks confronted 140 soldiers in a 7 hour standoff before the soldiers were airlifted out in military helicopters. Seventy-five Mohawk were injured, including children as young as five years old and Elders. After this resistance the military did not launch another raid into Kahnawake.

The Oka uprising made national and international headlines. It inspired indigenous peoples fighting for their rights around the world. Many observers feel that the Oka uprising was also a turning point in the struggle of First Nations and other indigenous peoples in Canada for their rights in the current period. It also brought into the consciousness of the people of Canada and Quebec the need for political and constitutional renewal that would establish a new and modern relationship between Canada, the First Nations and the nation of Quebec, which would be characterized by peaceful relations, mutual respect and the recognition of indigenous peoples' political, hereditary and treaty rights.

March commemorates 25th anniversary Oka uprising, symbolically occupying the
Oka Golf Course, July 11, 2015.

After 78 days of negotiations, the Mohawk were able to get the golf course expansion into their territory scrapped in exchange for taking down their barricade. The lands in question have not been ceded by the Mohawk nor has the Quebec or Canadian government acknowledged such lands as Mohawk territory. The Oka uprising also spawned the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1991, which brought to the fore the need for Canada to establish new, respectful relations with Aboriginal peoples.

On the 25th anniversary of the Oka Uprising, the Mohawk of Kanesatake held many events to commemorate their historic victory, including marching down the road which was blockaded, hosting a discussion by Idle No More, and a friendly lacrosse game among other activities. The people of Kanesatake also laid claim once again to the Pines (the disputed land), and unveiled a monument inscribed with the names of 125 children from Kanesatake who were forcefully sent to residential schools - to honour the victims and their families and as a reminder of the colonial legacy of the Canadian state whose racist policies then and today are being felt by the people of Kanesatake, other First Nations and indigenous peoples of Canada.

The spirit of the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Oka uprising highlighted once again the need for political and constitutional renewal that is very much needed to harmonize relations between First Nations, Canada and the nation of Quebec.

(With files from TML Daily and Warrior Publications)

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Second Anniversary of Lac-Mégantic Tragedy

Urgent Need for Redress and Renewal

March in Lac-Mégantic Saturday, July 4

July 6, 2015 marked the second anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, one of the worst train disasters in Canadian history.

Two years ago, in late evening of July 5, a freight train comprised of five locomotives and 72 tanker cars unsuited for the type of crude oil they carried was left unattended for the night in Nantes, in Quebec's Eastern Townships. At about 1:00 am on July 6, the train started to roll down the slope towards the town of Lac-Mégantic. Shortly thereafter, 63 of the tanker cars derailed in downtown Lac-Mégantic, spilling their contents. This caused a series of fires and explosions of catastrophic proportion. Forty-seven people were killed and many other were injured. Downtown Lac-Mégantic was destroyed. The Chaudière River and the lake itself were heavily contaminated by the crude oil spill. To this day, many Lac-Mégantic residents continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders related to the tragedy.

On this occasion, Chantier Politique warmly salutes the Lac-Mégantic community rebuilding its life, particularly the relatives and friends of those who lost their lives, and pays tribute to all the first responders who, often at the risk of their own lives, heroically came to the aid of residents and who continue to provide all possible assistance to the community.

The Lac-Mégantic rail tragedy was followed by many other derailments, in a number of locations across North America. These other accidents did not cause any deaths simply because the derailments, explosions and fires occurred just after the trains had crossed through communities, however they remain a tragic symbol of the continuing lack of control the people exercise over the economy and the economic decisions that affect them. This is the crucial problem that must be resolved so that other such tragedies can be avoided.

This tragedy raises the urgent need for redress and renewal.

In this vein, a class action suit was filed in 2013 by three Lac-Mégantic residents on behalf of the victims of the tragedy, which approximately 3,000 people have signed on to, against the companies and their directors responsible for the disaster, from the rail carrier transporting the cars that derailed, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) and its parent company Rail World, Inc., to the oil companies shipping their product.

The suit is presently suspended as it has been incorporated into the MMA bankruptcy proceedings in Quebec Superior Court. A settlement was recently reached for $431 million, in which the parties referred to in the suit have agreed to pay compensatory amounts to the victims and governments in exchange for a guarantee that any ongoing and future lawsuits will be stopped. This amount is very paltry considering that decontamination costs as a result of the tragedy have been estimated at $500 million. The authors of the class action suit and the families who sued the companies and their directors in the United States have been incorporated as creditors. Despite being critical of the compensatory amounts and their distribution, they voted in favour of the resolution because class action settlements can take decades and this only adds to residents' anxieties. In June, Canadian Pacific, which is covered by the class action suit, appealed in court to declare the settlement illegal under the false pretext that railways come under federal jurisdiction, therefore the Quebec Court has no jurisdiction in this case. It also claims it has nothing to do with the disaster although the transport of the Dakota shale oil had been entrusted to it and in turn subcontracted to the MMA. The judge ruled against CP's appeal on Monday, July 13. All parties are now asking CP to cease its maneuvers to ensure that the victims receive their compensation. The petitioners estimate that about $200 million will be set aside for them.

The Lac-Mégantic tragedy also illustrates the urgent need of a new direction for the economy and political renewal with regard to economic decisions that affect the people. The immediate demand that arises from Lac-Mégantic, which was expressed again on Saturday, July 4 by a march of 150 people, is that the resumption of crude oil transportation through downtown Lac-Mégantic, scheduled for early 2016, must be canceled. Residents, like the residents of surrounding communities, are demanding that railway bypass roads be built to prevent these trains from carrying hazardous materials through the city center. This demand echoes similar demands made elsewhere, including in the Sorel region, against the invasion of their communities by rail and sea transport of oil from the tar sands and other hazardous materials. This was all being done in complete secrecy until recently when public protests highlighted the whole affair. Similar demands have also been made across Canada, particularly on the issue of oil and gas pipeline construction. This demand must be met because public safety and the public interest are not negotiable. In the words of one protestor marching on Saturday, there needs to be a "radical change" in the dealings with communities, otherwise all talk about their future is but a cruel deception.

In this respect, the measures taken by the Harper government following the tragedy are also not serious. It is the Harper government, and before that successive Liberal governments, which allowed the rail industry to regulate itself, reduce the number of workers at will, and let the tracks fall into a state unfit for transportation. The Harper government's response to the tragedy was to deny its responsibility and strengthen the self-regulatory system, demanding more industry reports on its so-called security measures, which the government approves with its seal. Furthermore, whenever the workers have taken action to seek safe and healthy working conditions, the government has criminalized them through special legislation, thus assisting the big railway companies to aggravate their working conditions. This paves the way for tragedies and forcing governments to be accountable for their irresponsible activities in the service of monopoly right is at the heart of the actions of workers and communities at present.

Finally, the criminal prosecution against three MMA employees, including the driver of the train that derailed, must be abandoned because this is merely an issue of looking for scapegoats rather than going after those who use their position of power and privilege to impose their quest for profits on others.

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