In the first article, INUK grandmother, Beatrice Hunter shows true sacrifice, commitment, courage and heroism by going to jail for what she believes in. She is committed to her responsibility as protector and nurturer of future generations and as a Steward for Mother Earth. As one observer commented, “She wants to sustain the well-being of culture and hunting, fishing and gathering wealth, not just for her, but for many, many, many generations to come after her.” She could easily have told the judge that she would stay clear of the area and been released but she chose not to be assimilated nor intimidated. Let these words by her act as an inspiration for us all: “What’s the use in being free when you’re not really free? I choose not to be assimilated and oppressed”.
The second article highlights that the battle for inherent rights can be a long journey of sacrifice and hardship for indigenous Peoples. There are many examples of this across the world. Jackie Vautour and others from NB who were kicked off their land in 1969 are prime examples of such hardship and the length of the journey. The Government evicted residents to create a National Park. As an alternative, the Government could have consulted and even proposed that people live in their traditional way and continue their fishing and way of life as a further attraction within the Park. This happened in 1969 and was before the Court rulings like Sparrow and Delgamuukw which set a new tone. Now armed with these Supreme Court decisions and the more recent Tsilhqot’in Nation decision on Aboriginal title, Jackie Vautour and others are pursuing a further legal challenge.
The final article also highlights hardship and sacrifices. The Aborigines of Australia endured the humiliation of being cast as less than humans and more like monkeys. The land was considered “terra nullius” and could be claimed by others. In other words the Indigenous People did not exist so the land was for the taking. The journey for justice has been long for Indigenous Peoples everywhere but there is awakening happening. Indeed, prophecies in various Indigenous cultures such as the Anishinabe Eight Fire, The Eagle and Condor of South America and others that I have encountered across the globe all point to a turning point when all will unite.
It is people like grandmother Beatrice Hunter, Jackie Vautour, Indigenous Peoples in Australia, New Zealand and everywhere who are willing to sacrifice and endure a long and painful journey for justice that bring about change. A big Mi’kmaq victory shout to them….TAHOE!!!
Have a great week.
Inuk grandmother and land protector speaks out from Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.
“What’s the use in being free when you’re not really free? I choose not to be assimilated and oppressed”.
“What’s the use in being free when you’re not really free?” Beatrice Hunter said during a phone interview with The Independent
Beatrice Hunter, the Inuk grandmother and land protector who was incarcerated this week after refusing to promise a judge she would not go near the Muskrat Falls project site, says she wants to return home but cannot promise to obey the court order she says is at odds with ensuring her family and community’s safety and well-being.
In a phone interview with The Independent Friday from Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s, Hunter said she wants to be back with her family in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, but that she feels her best option at fighting for their safety is to continue resisting Muskrat Falls. Part of that, she says, is to refuse demands that she stays away from the project’s site.
Hunter faces civil and criminal charges for her role in the Indigenous-led occupation of the Muskrat Falls workers’ camp last fall.
On Monday she appeared before Supreme Court of N.L. Justice George Murphy after disobeying a court order and recognizance to stay more than one kilometre away from the site. On May 22, Hunter and others protested outside the project’s main gate alongside the Trans Labrador Highway after the entire community of Mud Lake was evacuated due to flooding.
Many, including residents of Mud Lake who are launching a class action lawsuit against Nalcor Energy, the crown corporation running the project, suspect the flood was caused by the Muskrat Falls facilities.
When Murphy asked Hunter if she would stay away from the site, Hunter said she couldn’t agree. She also told the judge she will be representing herself and pleading not-guilty to the charges of breaking a court injunction and mischief in excess of $5,000.
“I felt like I was being bullied into a corner because of what I believe,” she explained over the phone Friday. “I felt pressured in a corner and I was like, ‘No, you can’t do this! You can’t tell me where I can go and where I can’t go! I haven’t done anything wrong. I am a law-abiding citizen.”
Muskrat Falls resides on the traditional Innu lands of Nitassinan. In 2011 members of the Innu Nation voted in a referendum to the terms of an Impact and Benefits Agreement for the development of Muskrat Falls, a lengthy document that amounts to the relinquishment of Innu Indigenous and land rights in exchange for financial compensation, jobs on the project, and a share of profits from the sale of energy generated by the dam.
The Inuit of Southern Labrador, represented by the NunatuKavut Community Council, also claim the land around Muskrat Falls as their traditional territory. They are currently in negotiations with Canada for a comprehensive land claim agreement, and several of their members, including President and former Labrador MP Todd Russell, have defied the court injunction and protested on the site.
The Inuit of Nunatsiavut, who inhabit primarily the north coast of Labrador, have title to land into which the waters from Muskrat Falls and the Churchill River flow. Last year they launched a campaign in an attempt to address concerns around methylmercury contamination that was essentially the catalyst for the anti-Muskrat Falls movement that resulted in the eventual occupation.
Both NunatuKavut and Nunatsiavut have unsuccessfully challenged the project in courts, and members and beneficiaries of both Inuit groups have been arrested for resisting the project.
Upward of 60 people, most of them from Innu and Inuit communities downstream of Muskrat Falls, currently face civil and criminal charges related to protests against the dam.
Hunter told The Independent Friday that she now hopes to find a lawyer with a strong background in Aboriginal law who can help her, but that she has no idea of how to search for one while in custody.
Mud Lake flooding final straw
Protests against Muskrat Falls grew last October in the lead-up to the anticipated date of reservoir flooding. A peer-reviewed scientific study projected flooding the dam’s reservoir without clearing vegetation and topsoil would generate levels of methylmercury in fish and other country foods downstream that would be unsafe for human consumption.
The government and Nalcor said they would make efforts to minimize methylmercury impacts and compensate Indigenous communities for lost access to wild foods as a result of the dam.
Fearful at the prospect of losing an important source of traditional food and way of life, many in the Upper Lake Melville region, Rigolet, and other parts of Labrador began uniting in an effort to halt flooding until all environmental and human health concerns were addressed.
Members of the grassroots resistance accused Nalcor, Premier Dwight Ball, Indigenous leaders and other elected officials of failing to protect local people and communities from the imminent threats they say Muskat Falls poses, including concerns around the stability of the North Spur, which locals say is surrounded by sand and marine clay and cannot support a large hydro dam.
On Oct. 16 land protectors blockaded the project’s main gate, preventing workers from entering the site. That same day Nalcor applied for and was granted an injunction from Judge Murphy that prohibited people from trespassing on or blocking access to the site.
The following morning RCMP officers moved in and arrested eight land protectors who refused to end the blockade. They also arrested Emily Wolfrey, a young Inuk woman who obeyed police orders to stand in a “safe zone” to avoid arrest. Wolfrey shouted at the police after watching her father arrested. She was then singled out and violently arrested by multiple officers, one of whom recently won a provincial award for RCMP “Officer of the Year”.
The arrests prompted more to join the protests, and days later, with the added support of dozens of Innu from Sheshatshiu First Nation, the blockade was reinstated and maintained until Oct. 22.
That afternoon, as around 200 people rallied outside the main gate, a land protector cut the lock and dozens of people stormed the site. Around 50 of them made it 10 kilometres down an access road to the workers’ camp, which they occupied for four days, effectively forcing Premier Ball to meet with Indigenous leaders and accede to four demands set out by three hunger-striking Inuks to deal with the methylmercury issue.
Murphy granted Nalcor a second injunction on Oct. 24, however, naming more than 20 of the roughly 40 remaining land protectors on the site. Most or all of those people now face criminal charges related to that protest.
Many feel the government and Nalcor are not living up to their promises to keep people living downstream of the dam safe. Others, like Hunter, feel the project cannot be made safe due to the nature of the North Spur and the common negative impacts of large hydro developments. They want the project shut down altogether.
In the early morning hours of May 17 residents of Mud Lake, a remote community on the south shore of the Lower Churchill River, awoke to rapidly rising water levels and were airlifted to Happy Valley-Goose Bay in an emergency evacuation.
The destruction has devastated the community of about 60 people. Many have lost their homes and remain in shelter accommodations in Goose Bay.
No lives were lost in the flooding, but many residents of the community and Lower Happy Valley, which also resides in the Muskrat Falls flood zone, say the incident was a precursor to a much worse tragedy.
The Mud Lake floods and their impact on locals “had a lot to do with my decision,” Hunter said over the phone Friday, explaining why she returned to the Muskrat Falls gate on May 22 to protest despite having promised to stay away from the site.
“What’s the use in being free when you’re not really free?” she said, alluding to constant fear she says she and many others will live with, even if they are obedient and and stop trying to use their bodies to blockade or occupy the site in what many land protectors and others have described as a last-resort act of self-defence.
“Please, keep fighting”
When Hunter told Murphy she couldn’t promise to stay away from Muskrat Falls, the judge ordered a recess, during which Hunter spoke with her 23-year-old son Scott Dicker, who also faces charges related to the protests.
“I know in my heart this is the right thing to do, so I can’t back down from it,” Dicker recently recalled his mother saying to him that day.
“When the recess was over we went back in [to the courtroom], and the judge asked again if she would keep the promise and she said no. And then the sheriff’s [officers] put her in cuffs and in the back room.”
A dramatic scene unfolded outside the courthouse when land protectors laid down on the pavement and blocked an RCMP van from taking Hunter into custody. Police threatened Hunter’s supporters with arrest and charges of obstruction if they continued their blockade.
Hunter was eventually taken away and will remain in custody until a subsequent hearing on June 9, or unless she concedes in the interim to stay away from Muskrat Falls.
Hours later land protectors and other supporters held a vigil outside the RCMP detachment, where they drummed and chanted outside the windows of the holding cells, one of which Hunter was in.
They reported seeing a hand reach up to the barred window from inside one of the cells and posted messages on social media that they knew it was Hunter’s.
On Friday Hunter confirmed it was in fact her hand.
“I needed that encouragement because even though they divided us physically…they didn’t divide us at all because we were still together in the same fight.”
Hunter then read a statement she prepared before the interview.
She cried as she praised her fellow land protectors and insisted their efforts were making a difference.
“Why else would they arrest me if they didn’t feel threatened? So please, keep fighting. We can do this together,” she said.
Hunter said when she was put aboard a plane with RCMP officers on Wednesday, she cried “because I was getting farther away from my family.”
She also said she wondered, “What if I go murdered or missing, like so many of our aboriginal women?”
Hunter said she spent one night in the Supreme Court of N.L. lock-up downtown St. John’s before being transferred to Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP), a maximum security men’s prison, on Thursday.
“My first thought was, ‘Even the Queen wants to keep her greedy claws on Labrador,’ she read from her statement. “The female inmates here, like others I’ve met on this crazy journey I’ve chosen, have been very kind and compassionate, unlike the cold-hearted Judge Murphy and Nalcor.”
Hunter and other female inmates are allegedly being kept at HMP due to overcrowding at the Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville.
Hunter said her decision to remain in prison and not comply with the order to stay away from Muskrat Falls is her way of resisting colonization in Labrador.
“I realized, after a lot of thought, which I now have time to do, that my part to play in this fight for Labrador lives is to not only show how fearless we are, but to invade their colonist system on their land,” she said.
“Remember, whatever we do, it keeps them accountable and that keeps Labrador lives safe.”
Hunter struggled throughout her statement, crying as she delivered her message.
“I miss my family, friends, and all Labrador Land Protectors very much. I am thankful, especially now, for our closeness. I miss and love you all, and know that I’m taking care of myself.”
Newfoundland prisons “colonial constructs”
Mokami Status of Women Council Executive Director Wendy Secord told The Independent Thursday that she is “very confused” about why Hunter was transferred out of Happy Valley-Goose Bay to St. John’s, “when at any minute she could decide to be right back in court and released.
“Her supports are all here, her family is here, she is not violent, and moving [her away from those things] — what’s going to be her state of mind? And how is this going to impact her well-being?”
Hunter’s sister Sabina is also worried. On Wednesday she told The Independent she thought Hunter’s transfer to the Island was “weird”.
“She’s not a violent person. I don’t understand. I believe the authorities are intimidating her, or lowering her motivation, or making her feel bad,” she said.
Sabina also said Hunter was crying when she spoke with their other sister on Wednesday, “so she’s obviously upset and stressed, and we feel the same way.”
Heather Jarvis, a Community Outreach Worker with the St. John’s Status of Women Council’s Safe Harbour Outreach Program, says Newfoundland’s prison system takes its toll on most who are subjected to it.
She says sending women to a maximum security men’s prison “is not a solution, it’s an incredibly dangerous attempt to continue a cycle of incarceration.”
Though Hunter is in a separate section of the prison with other women inmates, Jarvis says the “disconnection from family and supports and loved ones is always felt by people who are incarcerated.
“Prisons are colonial constructs,” she said. “They are a way that colonialism continues to isolate communities, tear apart families and punish people instead of healing relationships. We see that people are not supported, not gaining access to services…they’re being disconnected. Their mental health suffers from the isolation that is imposed while in prison.”
The cell she stayed in was “very dirty,” she said, explaining there were two other people in custody who were given a brief opportunity to walk around outside their cells.
“One of the prisoners had just come by my cell door and just stared at me,” she said. “And that’s when I realized what those Inuks that were taken from Labrador and put in cells on display for people to see, like an animal in the zoo — I knew exactly at that moment how they felt.”
Asked if she understood how the prison could affect her health if she chooses to stay, Hunter said she has endured worse personal traumas related to domestic partner violence and sexual abuse, and that “there’s nothing they can’t do to me that hasn’t already been done.”
“Right now, I can’t see me giving up,” she said, “because nobody cares for Labrador lives.”
On Thursday NDP leader Earle McCurdy told The Independent Hunter’s incarceration and the ongoing unrest in Labrador “stems from the approach of the previous provincial government, continued by the current government, and also by Nalcor, in that decisions were simply made…that this project was going ahead come hell or high water.
“Because the legitimate concerns weren’t taken properly into account in the first instance, as the juggernaut proceeded people stood up for what they believed in and then you end up with a crown corporation now that is still [pursuing] civil charges against people involved in that protest,” he said.
“Quite frankly I think that’s ridiculous and unnecessary. And there is quite an imbalance in court when you have the people, the defendants in this case, the land protectors, up against the lawyers that Nalcor is able to put at the table. It’s a mismatch to put it mildly.”
In in the lead-up to the sanctioning of Muskrat Falls former Premier Kathy Dunderdale and former Justice Minister Jerome Kennedy repeatedly deflected and downplayed questions from opposition members in the provincial legislature concerned that Indigenous communities in Labrador had not been adequately consulted.
Opposition parties also accused the PC government of not adequately following the recommendations by the Joint Review Panel, the independent body tasked with reviewing the environmental assessment and other aspects of the project ahead of sanction.
St. John’s lawyer and provincial NDP President Mark Gruchy took to Facebook Friday to comment on Hunter’s incarceration, arguing many are misdirecting their anger in targeting the justice system.
“It is important for people to focus on the origin of these problems and not lose sight of the big picture,” he said. “Nalcor chose to approach this major social problem by seeking an injunction. That may have been within their rights to do so, but they did not have to. They could have chosen other paths.
On Friday Labrador MP Yvonne Jones also pointed the finger at Nalcor, saying “there has been many summonses issued as it relates to the protection of the [Churchill] River [that] are based on the fact that Nalcor has taken civil action against those that protest.
“Once that civil injunction is breached, it then becomes a criminal matter,” she wrote. “I too, have asked that all of these charges be dropped through requests to Nalcor and the Province over the past few months.
“I am concerned about the level of unrest that continues in Labrador around the Muskrat Falls development and ask that the views and perspectives of all people be respected.”
Mi’kmaw lawyer and Indigenous scholar Pam Palmater told The Independent Friday she was “disgusted” to hear of Hunter’s incarceration, but “not surprised” because Hunter’s experience is like so many other Indigenous peoples’ across Canada.
“This is how federal and provincial governments have been treating Indigenous peoples – men, women and youth – for many decades,” she said. “The Office of the Correctional Investigator has called the over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples a crisis for many years. Even the Supreme Court of Canada in Gladue and Ipeelee decision instructed judges to find alternatives to prison for Indigenous peoples given the history of colonization. Yet, the incarceration rates have increased dramatically since those cases.”
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Jamie Snook also took to Facebook Friday to condemn Hunter’s incarceration.
“Beatrice was practicing her right to non-violent civil disobedience and should never have been removed from Labrador, and placed in a men’s prison where her safety could be unnecessarily at risk,” he wrote.
“In the weeks and months ahead, I hope the justice system will take greater care, show more compassion, and be more culturally appropriate as people exercise their right to assemble peacefully in the spirit of protecting land, waters, and cultures in Labrador.”
Inuit leaders speak out
On Friday Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe also spoke out, saying in a statement that he was “saddened and shocked that a Labrador Inuk woman is being held at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s simply because she refused to obey an injunction against protesting near the Muskrat Falls site.
“She was detained for a minor offence, something that pales in comparison to the crime of having her locked up at a correctional facility for men, many of whom are violent offenders.”
Lampe went on to say provincial Justice Minister Andrew Parsons “should be ashamed of what has transpired here,” and that Hunter “should be either removed to a more appropriate facility or released.”
Nunatsiavut Director of Communications Bert Pomeroy did not respond to an email from The Independent asking if Nunatsiavut Government would be providing any legal or other support to Hunter.
On Friday the President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), Natan Obed, also issued a statement, supporting Nunatsiavut’s call for the “fair and humane treatment of Beatrice Hunter, who has not hurt anybody and should not be forced for any reason to spend time in a prison with violent offenders.
“I join Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe in calling on the province to overturn this decision,” Obed wrote.
Parsons has not spoken out about Hunter’s incarceration. On Thursday, after multiple requests for comment on the matter, Communications Director Amy Stoodley told The Independent the minister “is not available for comment.”
In April Hunter told The Independent that since Ball appointed himself minister of Labrador and Aboriginal affairs after winning the provincial election in 2015, “we have no one to turn to if we have any concerns; we have no voice.”
Ball did not respond to an interview request on Friday. He was in Ottawa, touting the Muskrat Falls project on national TV.
“With the Muskrat Falls project our province will be relying on 98 percent green energy,” he told CBC Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton.
In her statement Jones said she has “been asked to intervene to try to free Beatrice and gather information on her well being,” but that “as an MP, I am strictly forbidden to intervene in any judicial decision or cases before the courts.
“The judicial system is independent from the political system,” she said.
Opposite of reconciliation
Many Inuit in Labrador were sent to residential school, where they were deprived of their language and culture and often subjected to abuse.
Indigenous communities in Newfoundland and Labrador were omitted from the federal government’s 2008 apology and eventual settlement with residential school survivors and their families, but reached a $50 million settlement with Canada last year after launching a class action lawsuit.
Both Canada and this province have promised to implement the calls to action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, which contain among other things steps toward reforming education, health and justice systems to better protect Indigenous people from systemic discrimination and harm.
But critics say Muskrat Falls, from the way it was forced on local Indigenous communities, to its projected impacts, to the subsequent criminalization of Indigenous land protectors and the incarceration of Hunter, is antithetical to reconciliation.
Julie Bull, a NunatuKavut Inuk from Happy Valley-Goose Bay who teaches at the University of Toronto and is a Research Methods Specialist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, said if the province is working toward reconciliation with Indigenous communities in the province, “this is not it,” and that incarcerating Hunter for protecting her land, community and way of life is “taking steps backwards.
“We can’t expect people not to defend their land,” she told The Independent Friday, saying Hunter was “not doing anything violent and is not a threat to anybody, other than perhaps the government and Nalcor. But that doesn’t deserve being put in jail.”
Bull said reconciliation “is a verb, an action, and you’ve got to do the thing, not just talk about doing it or pushing the blame on others by saying we’re consulting with people. Because that will just go on for the next two years, the government will change, and then we’re back at square one.”
Bull said Newfoundland and Labrador is in a unique position to lead the provinces on reconciliation, beginning with releasing Hunter from prison.
“The way the provincial and federal governments are choosing to respond to Beatrice’s incarceration is disgraceful and unacceptable,” she said.
“Newfoundland and Labrador was the last province to join confederation — let’s be the first province decolonize,” Bull continued. “We can be leaders, not followers. We can choose differently and not make excuses. We all make mistakes but when we know better, we have a responsibility to do better. We can’t make the same mistake twice because the second time it’s a choice.”
Bull said given the threat Muskrat Falls poses to Innu and Inuit communities downstream, where people rely on a healthy supply of wild food for sustenance and to maintain strong connections with their cultures and ancestors, she understands why Hunter and others continue to resist the dam.
“A recent study that came out from Nunatsiavut Government says over 60 percent of their households have food insecurity, and now we’re looking at Muskrat Falls, which is going to be reducing their ability to get food even more so,” she said.
“There is a way to do things differently [that] requires a lot of people letting go of their ego and letting go of their own agendas, of which there are many in projects like Muskrat Falls. The people who assert all the power now are not the people who should be asserting the power. The people who live there—the land protectors, the Beatrice’s of the world, the people who are doing that work—somehow we have to figure out how those voices are the ones that are heard more than just money. Because we can’t feed our families on money. You can only buy what the Earth produces.”
Bull said in the wake of the Mud Lake flooding it’s apparent that change is urgently needed.
“Whether or not it’s Nalcor or Muskrat specifically [responsible for the flood], this is just the first year. What happens six months from now, and then a year from now? How much destruction has to happen before something actually changes? Do people have to die?”
Palmater celebrated Hunter’s convictions, saying her “concerns and voice should be lifted up for the world to hear and not treated like a political prisoner and a danger to society.
“Canada has long targeted Indigenous women for assimilation and elimination through scalping laws, forced sterilizations, sexual exploitation by police, theft of children into residential schools and foster homes, the rapes and deaths in residential schools, and the failure to stop the growing crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women and ongoing physical and sexual abuse by police and other government officials. The imprisonment of Beatrice who has not been convicted of a crime is yet another example of this.”
On Friday federal NDP Indigenous and Northern Affairs Critic Romeo Saganash took to Facebook to condemn Hunter’s incarceration, saying “no one should ever ever end up in prison for defending Land and Waters” and encouraging people to sign an online petition demanding Ball, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other federal politicians intervene and advocate for the immediate release of Hunter, the withdrawl of charges against land protectors, and the cancellation of the Muskrat Falls project.
“Please sign, and send a clear message to PM Trudeau that this is not what Reconciliation looks like,” Saganash wrote.
Assimilated and oppressed no more
Doreen Davis-Ward, an ordained Anglican Church minister who also faces charges related to the Muskrat Falls occupation and a friend of Hunter’s, said Wednesday that she is “not shocked by the level of negligence and evil that exists to complete [Muskrat Falls] at any cost, all in the name of the almighty dollar and ego.
“Jesus worked among the people to heal and protect, and paid the ultimate price as he died on the cross and arose to save us,” she continued. “Since that time, humanity continues to struggle with temptation and greed fighting each other for oil, land, water, reputation, et cetera.
“Most have learned nothing. But Beatrice Hunter is a beacon of hope, a shining example, an inspiration, not only to the Inuit, not only to Aboriginals and Labradorians, but also to humanity, showing us all what true sacrifice is to protect others. Showing with determination and undeniable strength the real purpose and value of humanity, love, respect, and peace for people and for Mother Earth.”
Land protector Kim Campbell-Mclean told The Independent Thursday that while she and others are “very concerned” about Hunter’s well-being, Hunter “is a very strong woman who knows full and well her decision.
“It goes to show her strength as an Inuk woman,” she said. “Culture plays one of the biggest roles in who we are. In our culture, which goes back since time immemorial, we have always been taught to stand our ground, to hold our values true without intimidation or fear that we might feel in today’s world, when it comes to our fishing and hunting and gathering rights, and our land use, and our natural laws and natural rights as Aboriginal people.”
Campbell-Mclean said Hunter is “caught between two worlds, of this corporate destruction of her homeland” and “wanting to sustain the well-being of culture and hunting, fishing and gathering wealth, not just for her, but for many, many, many generations to come after her.”
She emphasized that she “truly believes Beatrice knows what she is doing — she has made this conscious choice to make this stand against a colonial corrupt justice system that Inuit people and all Indigenous people of this province and this country have had to face for so long.”
Campbell-Mclean said Beatrice is “never alone” in the fight against Muskrat Falls, and that land protectors are working “24/7” to support her while she’s in custody.
Campbell-Mclean also said she feels the fight against Muskrat Falls, of which Hunter is a significant part, is a pathway to healing for Inuit in Labrador.
“There was a prophecy from the Okak Bay region elder system, that when the Inuit drum has come back to Labrador the social ills brought on by historical trauma would begin to abate. That has been true,” she said, recalling events in the lead-up to and during last year’s occupation of Muskrat Falls.
Campbell-Mclean said elements of the elders’ prophesy have been evident in the “uprising that came with the land protectors, who fought against the Muskrat Falls project.
“We had two beautiful young ladies drum dance for us and lead the way. And in on site, the qulliq was lit, so all I can say is that this prophesy of the elders is coming true. And I believe that the elders are guiding Beatrice, and they are protecting her. She is very spiritual and she has that connection to them.”
During the interview from Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, Hunter said “the people of Labrador have been oppressed by the British colonists since the 1700s,” the consequences of which have “been passed down from generation to generation.
“I know because I’ve been colonized. I’ve been assimilated. I know I was,” she continued. “Until I occupied that gate last year in Muskrat Falls, I didn’t realize how assimilated I was. Oppressed, assimilated. But now, now I choose not to be. And I’m hoping Labrador people realize and open their eyes that they’re oppressed people.”
Supporters of Beatrice Hunter have planned a rally outside Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s Saturday at 1 p.m.
Disclosure: This author was named on the Oct. 24 Supreme Court injunction initiated by Nalcor Energy and faces one civil and two criminal charges for being physically present on the Muskrat Falls site
Lawsuit threatens to shut down Kouchibouguac National Park
CBC – By Gabrielle Fahmy
Claimed filed on behalf of more than 100 families states their expropriation infringed on indigeneous rights
A lawsuit filed this month with the Court of Queen’s Bench against the federal government is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the operation of Kouchibouguac National Park.
In 1969-70, an estimated 1,200 people of Mi’kmaq and Metis Acadian origin saw their homes bulldozed to the ground, as 10 Acadian villages were destroyed to create the national park.
The statement of claim is filed on behalf of more than a hundred families represented by Jackie Vautour, who returned to the park two years after the expropriation and has fought for his right to live off the land ever since.
The claim calls the removal of the families who lived in Kouchibouguac an illegal act, that infringed on Indigenous rights.
It states Canada, and the province of New Brunswick, have breached their constitutional duties to Indigenous people by expropriating the land from an estimated 280 families without consent or consultation, and asks for damages for the harm caused.
It seeks Indigenous title for Kouchibouguac, which could mean the end of the park, allowing the displaced families to return to the land, and resume fishing and hunting there.
Michael Swinwood, the Ottawa lawyer representing the families, called this an extremely important case.
“All of the people and their families have suffered greatly since the expropriation,” said Swinwood. “There’s been a lot of heartache over this.”
Swinwood said Indigenous law has changed significantly in Canada in recent years.
In 2014, in what’s considered a historic ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided to give aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in British Columbia to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation.
Swinwood said the B.C. case defined new standards for Indigenous law and he will rely on those legal principles to fight for Kouchibouguac.
“It basically suggests that any claim for indigenous title or indigenous rights is no longer just decided by the Common Law,” he said.
Vautour, now 88, still lives in a rundown home in the middle of the park.
He has taken on a series of legal battles in New Brunswick court, including the unsuccessful challenge of the expropriation.
He has been convicted for fishing illegally in the park, a decision he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
‘On Friday, in The Uluru Statement from the Heart, a majority rejected symbolic constitutional recognition and asserted their unextinguished sovereignty.’ Photograph: Lucy Hughes Jones/AAP
Time has long worked against Indigenous peoples. The English-speaking epochs of the last 200 years – the Pax Britannica and American Century – share the same dramatic opening scene: a global coup displacing millions of people and thousands of societies from the Mi’kmaq in New Foundland to the Māori in New Zealand.
Property, sovereignty and even history itself are said to originate with these Anglo-Saxon triumphs. History and time are appropriated as the sole possessions of the white men who inherited the earth. For the ruling class, their passage marks the steady advance of civilization, modernity and progress. Rapturous booms and tumultuous busts are punctuated by bloody wars recast as heroic conquests. All throughout the land, alabaster monuments memorialize these triumphs and tragedies.
For Indigenous peoples, the same dates, statues and eras mark massacres, epidemics and expulsions. Generations rue the insidious devastation of occupation. Songs and stories reverberate to the rhythms and dreams of a halcyon freedom receding into legend as our last elders who bore witness pass onto the next world.
The history of the English-speaking world, brought crashing down upon Aboriginal peoples is a shared nightmare lurking in the collective subconscious of the survivors. From reservations, ghettoes and schools where the first peoples of these lands were sent to assimilate or die, we look out upon a world built on the premise that in it we have no place.
Nowhere is this history more palpable than Australia. The First Nations under the Southern Cross and the Emu in the Sky have called the Australian continent home for more than 60,000 years, making them one of the world’s longest-standing cultural groups with an unbroken connection to their ancestral lands.
In Australia, unlike the rest of the Commonwealth and the United States, treaties were never signed between First Nations and the Crown. Instead, the British – seasoned colonizers by this point in time – wrote off Aboriginal peoples as savage wanderers who did not have sufficient humanity to merit title to their homelands. The entire continent was expropriated under the doctrine of terra nullius – a legal principle that said Indigenous territories were empty and free for the taking.
Despite Australia’s relentless disavowal of Indigenous presence, Aboriginal peoples never gave up hope. A sign in front of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in 1972 on lawns facing Canberra parliament reads: Sovereignty never ceded. Through decades and even centuries of survival and struggle, the first Australians have won remarkable victories recognizing their personhood, land rights and right to self-determination in the face of a profound history of dehumanization.
Yet the stubborn and punitive Australian state continues to deny their rightful and enduring sovereignty.
Last week over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders gathered at the community of Mutitjulu situated at the eastern base of the sacred Uluru rock formation. There, in a community that still bears the scars of the controversial and punitive 2007 Northern Territory Intervention when soldiers invaded aboriginal communities, delegates worked long into the night to chart a path forward for aboriginal peoples in Australia. On Friday, in The Uluru Statement from the Heart, a majority rejected symbolic constitutional recognition and asserted their unextinguished sovereignty.
“This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors.” The statement continues, “This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.”
While a great political fight lies ahead, the Uluru referendum and statement mark a historic moment – not just for Australia, but also for Indigenous peoples and the planet. After decades of struggle and advances won in small and often unnoticed increments, Indigenous sovereignty has arrived in full bloom as a global aspiration and force for human good.
It protects the lands, waters and natural resources that all living things require to survive. In December 2012, First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples across Canada launched the ongoing Idle No More movement to protect the environment and assert Indigenous sovereignty.
In 2014, the Te Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry of the Waitangi Tribunal in Aotearoa/New Zealand – a truth and justice-seeking commission founded in direct response to the 1970s Māori Renaissance – found that the Ngāpuhi iwi, the largest tribe in New Zealand, never gave up their sovereignty.
This year, in a path-breaking Waitangi treaty settlement, the Whanganui iwi won a 140-year battle to recognize the legal personhood of their ancestral Whanganui River. And in the United States, an Indigenous coalition led by the Standing Rock Sioux spearheaded a captivating global movement to assert their Indigenous and treaty rights against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The powerful and prayerful Indigenous demand for sovereignty in the name of water that gave birth to life and land that provides for people has encircled the world from Standing Rock to Uluru.
“The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line,” wrote WEB Du Bois in an address To the Nations of the World adopted by the 57 delegates attending the First Pan-African Conference in London in 1900. At Uluru and beyond, Indigenous peoples have insisted that the problems of the Twenty First Century will be the problems of sovereignty and the environment.
As the American superpower convulses in a self-inflicted crisis of greatness and greed, many, with good reason, have declared this the Chinese century. But in the wake of Standing Rock and Uluru, with rallying cries of Tino Rangatiratanga and Mni Wiconi, when we envision a planet that is left better rather than blighted for generations after us, this may also be the Indigenous century.
As humanity faces global crises of state and environment that demand new, creative and compassionate coalitions and ideas to rescue our planet and species from the precipice of disaster, the Indigenous century is just in time.