Seventy-nine-year-old elder, identified only as George, sits by the fire at a demonstration by Mohawk members in Tyendinaga. George has been at the blockade near CN Railway tracks since it began February 6. ALEX FILIPEJPG, BI
Tyendinaga Mohawks said in social media interviews posted on YouTube they don’t believe they are breaching a court injunction served Tuesday by a sheriff that asks the demonstrators to cease and desist to allow the CN railway to open once again.
The demonstration east of Shannonville continued into its eighth day in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations efforts to stop a $6.6 billion Coastal Gaslink pipeline on their lands in northern British Columbia.
In the video, the local Mohawk’s contingent staging a demonstration along the CN Railway tracks at Wyman Road level crossing, said the injunction states there should be no “damage to the tracks or the mechanisms.”
“Nothing is damaged, nothing is blocked,” said the demonstrators who have declined to speak to mainstream media at the site since the political action started Feb. 6, including The Intelligencer.
The demonstration has forced Canadian National Rail and Via Rail to cancel hundreds of trains from travelling along the busiest railway corridor in the country.
In a statement Thursday, Via Rail said it is “cancelling all departures until Friday February 14 end of day on the Montreal-Toronto and Toronto-Ottawa routes in both directions.”
“As of 1:30 p.m. on February 12, 256 trains have been cancelled and at least 42,100 passengers have been affected. On the Prince Rupert-Prince Georges route, 30 passengers have been impacted,” Via commented in a statement e-mailed to The Intelligencer.
At the railway crossing in question east of Shannonville, Stephen John Ford, a lawyer and member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, said in a Youtube video he reviewed the court injunction filed by CN and said “from what I can tell here, there is nothing that seems on its face to violate the injunction.”
“What they’re [CN] saying is that there can be no obstruction of the tracks or any damage to any of their equipment including the tracks, switches or signals or of that nature,” Ford said.
“Other than the fact that there may be some people standing and being within the boundaries of the right-of-way claimed by CN, there is nothing that would violate in my view the injunction,” he said.
“This may well indeed be the galvanizing issue that brings First Nations people together in a common cause against the colonization that they suffered under for the last 152 years in this country,” he said.
“Support is always warranted, however, there are laws in this country. We don’t want to see people jailed,” Ford said. “And I think the Wet’suewt’en lead is the one to follow, peacefully. Peaceful resistance is the way to go. That’s what I see here.”
In a separate video, a local Mohawk resident noted the First Nations never ceded the land to Canadian National Railway and suggested the railway firm should be paying some kind of toll to Tyendinaga Mohawks for its use.
Thursday marked one week since Mohawk demonstrators occupied space beside a CN railway in Tyendinaga. As some members sat around a fire, others brought fresh firewood to keep them warm as Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold weather warning for Southern Ontario.
Wind chills near -31 were expected to begin overnight and continue on into Friday.
“We are looking at some very cold conditions throughout today and especially tonight and early Friday morning,” explained meteorologist Gerald Cheng from Environment Canada. “We are talking about windchill values reaching -31 overnight. And as people wake up early tomorrow morning, that is the kind of same windchill we are looking at.”
“When we are talking about windchill values of -21 and even lower, there is a risk to exposed skin possibly freezing in 10 to 30 minutes,” explained Cheng. “So in these conditions, we certainly advise people to dress warmly. Cover your fingers, hands, feet and even face so that your skin is not exposed for an extended period of time.”
“Certainly there is a high risk of frostbite and hypothermia as well if you’re outside for long periods of time without adequate clothing,” said Cheng. SOURCE
This story by Matt Hongoltz-Hetling is supported by the Pulitzer Center. It is the first in a two-part series.
Alex Saunders, 78, sits at his home in the military base town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. He says he’s had to adapt to a changing world, and that Canadian hydro-electricity projects supported by New England’s energy purchases are threatening the traditional way of life of the region’s Innu and Inuit. Photo by Michael G. Seamans/Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, Newfoundland — Amid the last 20 years of worsening impacts from climate change, environmentalists in Vermont and New Hampshire have scrambled to nudge state leadership toward ambitious renewable energy goals.
And a key component of meeting those goals has been Canadian hydropower, a cost-effective, reliable resource that is often billed as clean, green energy.
The New England ISO, which regulates New England’s electricity infrastructure, currently gets 1.4 Terawatt hours of electricity from damming projects from the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, some of which goes to New Hampshire. About a third of Vermont’s energy comes from Canadian hydro plants through the Highgate interconnection.
That’s enough to power about 400,000 New England homes. And even with the permitting failure of the proposed Northern Pass project — a 192-mile transmission line across New Hampshire that would have carried hydropower to southern New England — those numbers are expected only to increase.
But hundreds of miles to the north, indigenous residents say the “green” power purchased by New Englanders comes at a great cost to native communities’ local environment, livelihoods and their health.
“Think about what you’re buying here,” 78-year-old Alex Saunders said in his graveled voice last month, in his living room in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador. “You’re buying the misery from the local people of northern Canada. That’s not a good thing.”
Wearing dark-blue suspenders over a wrinkle-free dress shirt, Saunders sat in the living room of his neat, modern home; above his head, a wall-mounted harpoon spoke to his career as captain of a successful commercial fishing operation, while a soft divot on the surface of his balding head spoke to the dangers of growing up in a remote and rugged wilderness along the subarctic Labradorian coast.
The divot has been there since Saunders was 3, when he and his older brother were digging for mice outside their remote cabin in the woods. When an inadvertent swing of the mattock — a gardening tool shaped like a pick-axe — fractured his skull, his brother carried his bloody body inside; there, his mother poured kerosene over the wound, packed it with lichen and spiderwebs, and wrapped his head in a snug cap. Two days later, he regained consciousness.
By then — the 1940s — the forces of colonization had a long-established pattern of ripping apart First Nations communities in the region. His mother was orphaned at 6 when the Spanish flu decimated her Inuit village of Okak in 1918, and his father, of Innu and English descent, was orphaned at 7.
Thousands of children were separated from their families and forced to attend English-only residential schools, while Inuit and Innu were compelled to trade their independent, nomadic lifestyle for a wage-based economy and living in what Saunders calls “white people houses.”
To many Inuit, the damming projects along the Churchill River are just the latest — and in some ways the worst — expression of ongoing colonization of their people.
New England’s energy crisis
New England’s appetite for hydroelectricity has stimulated a juggernaut industry across the Northern border — 62% of the energy Canada produces is from hydropower, amounting to a $37 billion contribution to Canada’s GDP and 135,000 jobs, according to a 2015 report from the Canadian Hydropower Association.
Muskrat Falls Generating Facility in February 2019. Nalcor photo
Saunders’ hometown of Happy Valley-Goose Bay (Labrador’s largest city with 8,000 residents), lies where the mighty Churchill River flows into Lake Melville, the catchment area for Labrador’s largest watershed. At the eastern end of the lake, the waters flow into the Labrador Sea near the unforgiving tundra terrain of the Inuit — here, polar bears nose into tents, temperatures regularly reach 20 below, and the slightest miscalculation during travel can send dogs, sled and driver through rotten ice and into deadly waters.
The relentless flow of the Churchill is what produces most of New England’s Canadian hydroelectricity. About 170 miles upstream from Lake Melville, a large hydroelectric project — the Churchill Falls Generating Station — was built in 1970 as a partnership between state-owned provincial corporations. Capable of producing 5,428 megawatts of electricity, the Churchill Falls project is, even today, the second-largest hydro plant in Canada, and 10th-largest in the world.
Nalcor, a partner in the Churchill Falls project, is nearing completion on another hydroelectricity project on the same river, the 824-megawatt Muskrat Falls.
Located just 25 miles upriver of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Muskrat Falls features a new dam, which flooded 16 square miles of traditional Innu hunting grounds earlier this year.
The Innu, who had a governmentally recognized claim to the land, approved the project in exchange for terms including a cash payment of about $2 million a year, but Saunders said the land was also heavily used by other groups, including the Inuit and the Nunavut.
“Everyone had a connection to that area. Everyone knew it was a special place,” Saunders said. “That’s where the old trappers would walk up over the land, portage with the big canoes and 500-pound packs, they’d walk over the [expletive] mountain. That area was very well-used and revered by the people.”
Saunders, an Inuit elder, has devoted much of his time in recent years to passing on his cultural knowledge to a younger generation, in part by writing books about his life experiences. Like most people in his community, he is opposed to the dams on many grounds, but is most bothered by their effect on the local food supply.
The area around the Churchill and Lake Melville is full of First Nations people who have a deep connection to the land; that connection is nurtured through the procurement, and eating, of “country food.”
“Number one, I really like seal meat. And seal fat,” Saunders said. “Caribou is second. We ate ducks, geese, ptarmigan and the spruce (grouse). A lot of fish.”
In his boyhood cabin in the woods, his mother made shiva — cod liver, fried to extract some of the grease, and then made into a pate.
“We would have a barrel of shiva in our porch and we would have a barrel of blackberries,” he said. “Normally the berries would be froze, but the liver wouldn’t freeze because of the oil.”
He would take a handful of each, and mix them together — “like an ice cream treat.”
As a young adult, Saunders spent extended periods of winter fishing in Goose Bay with a friend.
“I certainly did that a lot in my drinking days,” he said. “We’d be here in town drunk for a week, or maybe 10 days. Get out of money and be just in the wrecks. Shaking, throwing up. So we’d get the (expletive) out of town, is what we’d do.”
They would walk for miles, and pitch a lakeside tent to sleep in. Every morning, they went to their fishing hole where, dressed in denim jeans and long underwear against subzero temperatures, they built a windbreak from blocks of snow.
“We’d sit by the hole for hours,” he recalled. “We’d fill these gunny sacks, fill them right up with smelt. Stay there until we had maybe eight or 10 of them full of three or 4,000 smelts. Then we’d come back to town. Then we’d sell them for 2 cents a smelt. Then we’d get drunk for another week. Then we’d go back out on the land again and do it all again.”
Though Saunders, who gave up drinking 40 years ago, still prefers country food, it is no longer a practical necessity for him. He made his fortune as a commercial fisherman — as captain of a small crew, he’s chased stocks of cod, crab, scallops and much more throughout northern waters that stretch from Newfoundland, to Greenland, to Scotland.
But as he worked, he began to notice a problem, first in the bitterest cold, and then in increasingly warm temperatures: His fingertips would get white and numb. And after the numbness, Saunders would be struck with “pain like the devil.”
On the advice of a doctor, Saunders sent a bit of his hair to be tested in a lab in Chicago. He soon learned that he was suffering from methylmercury poisoning.
Mercury is a naturally occurring substance, but once it enters lakes and rivers, it is absorbed by aquatic bacteria and transformed into methylmercury, which can damage the neurological system of humans.
Hydro-Quebec acknowledges the presence of the substance in some of its properties.
“In recently impounded hydroelectric reservoirs, the green parts of the terrestrial vegetation (i.e., the ground cover, leaves and moss) provide food for the bacteria that convert the inorganic mercury to methylmercury,” the company says on its website.
Researchers from Harvard University have found that Lake Melville’s patterns of water stratification, which are driven in part by its mix of fresh and salt water, may also concentrate the methylmercury, and magnify its effects.
As the toxic metal passes through the food chain, it accumulates in cod livers and smelt, as well as in the fatty tissues of other fish, seals and birds.
After concerns about methylmercury poisoning were first raised, both Nalcor and the Nunatsiavut Government tested local Inuit populations living downstream of the Churchill Falls dam, and both concluded that they have elevated levels of mercury in their systems. The more an Inuk relies on country food, the higher his or her levels of contamination.
Nalcor and the Nunatsiavut Government, which represents the Inuit, disagree on the extent to which the dams affect mercury levels. Nalcor has implemented a monitoring program to track mercury in the environment and work with government agencies to, if necessary, modify public health recommendations for certain types of fish consumption.
The Nunatsiavut Government says the testing is not comprehensive enough. It also failed in a bid to compel Nalcor to spend a considerable sum to remove mercury-laden vegetation and cap wetlands before flooding Muskrat Falls in late August.
Many First Nations residents say that, after centuries of being forced to assimilate into Western culture, the hydroelectricity projects are now driving a wedge between themselves and their most important connection to the land — their food.
Saunders has no doubt that the increased methylmercury levels found in fish downstream of the Churchill Falls project contributed to his own diagnosis of “very high” levels of methylmercury.
“It must have, right? Where else would I get it from?” he said. “Primarily, I lived on food from this area.”
Saunders, who still gathers herbs to treat a variety of ills, decided to treat his mercury poisoning with an alternative medicine. In chelation therapy, a synthetic chemical called ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid is administered through an IV. The chemical attracts heavy metals from the bloodstream before exiting. Because it carries the risk of severe side effects, chelation is controversial in both the U.S. and Canada, but Saunders said it worked for him.
“I purged my system,” he said. “Now look at me. I’m going to be 79, and I can pass for 65 easy enough.”
Describing a dynamic that would be familiar to any rural resident who feels caught in the political gravity of urban population centers, Saunders says Labrador is marginalized within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Labrador has 70% of the province’s natural resources, but only about 6% of its population, which Saunders said results in Labrador’s needs being habitually overshadowed in the provincial House of Assembly.
Many in Happy Valley-Goose Bay see the marginalization of the Inuit in the state-backed Muskrat Falls project as just the latest example in an ongoing campaign of cultural genocide.
“I think it’s wicked,” said Jan Morrison, whose husband, a lifelong resident, introduced her to the Muskrat Falls area.
Morrison said eco-conscious New Englanders should be as thoughtful about their power as they are about their food.
“Do you think it’s OK to get green beans from China? Or do you think that is possibly a bad idea, for many reasons? Like, wake up. Just because it’s your power doesn’t mean you shouldn’t examine where it came from.”
Roberta Benefiel, a director with Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, has traveled to the Twin States, and throughout New England, several times to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of what the group calls “MegaDams.”
“It’s not just about methylmercury,” Benefiel said. “It’s about the natural flow of the river, and the loss of a valuable natural resource.”
Though Saunders is opposed to the dam, he’s done fighting it.
“I’m not going to make it the focal point of my life,” he said, “I won’t support it. And I don’t like it. But you’ve got to roll with the punches. I’m 78, going to be 79 years old. I’ve learned through my life’s journey that you’ve got to accept what comes your way. And you have to try to accommodate anything that’s happening and you have to adjust to it.”
Saunders has tried to shield his children from the worst impacts of colonization. A successful career on the seas has allowed him to provide significant support to his daughter Erin, now 35. Throughout her life, he taught her many traditional skills — to hunt seals in springtime, to collect eider eggs in summertime, to fish for smelt in the wintertime — but she never learned his grudging acceptance of the loss of Inuit culture.
And the generational impacts of colonization never seemed more impactful, or more literal, to Erin Saunders than when she, and various other Inuits opposed to the Muskrat Falls project, were thrown behind bars.
We live in a racist society, and outrage over each new incident won’t change it. Here are 12 things that will.
‘We are missing the point if this story becomes about Trudeau being unveiled as a racist.’ Photo by Sean Kilpatrick, the Canadian Press.
Yesterday, most Canadians likely saw a photograph of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in brownface while a teacher at a Vancouver private school in 2001.
I’m not in any way surprised by the image.
And we are missing the point if this story becomes about Trudeau being unveiled as “a racist.” Let’s take this opportunity to think more deeply about the situation and what allows it to be so.
North American society is quite focused on identifying people as “racists” or “not racists.” Being called racist is considered one of the worst labels you could apply to someone. And yet, we all live, breathe and swim in a soup of structural racism reinforcing racist beliefs.
The reason for the crisis is that Trudeau’s image is one of a “good person” who identifies as feminist, welcomes immigrants, and preaches reconciliation. So his defenders rush to say he’s not a “racist,” because this is impossible for someone who is a “good person.”
The problem is that this dichotomization of racist and not racist with good and bad causes huge barriers to very important conversations that must happen about how our whole society is racist, and we have all been taught, and likely think and express, racist feelings and ideas.
We are constantly exposed to films, shows, books, ads, magazines, etc. that portray racialized people in two-dimensional ways, usually because people in positions of power in the institutions that produce them are unlikely to be themselves racialized.
And growing up as a cisgender, straight, able-bodied white male who was the son of a prime minister is pretty much the epitome of privilege. This by definition means Trudeau is probably the least surprising person to have engaged in something so insensitive.
This is not a means to excuse Trudeau’s white privilege or ignorance. Rather, it’s an important reflection of the society we live in, which has been intentionally created by those people in positions of power. Trudeau’s actions are a symptom of a much more dangerous disease.
Talking about Trudeau being exposed as a racist completely misses the point. Instead, we need a conversation about the structural and interpersonal racism that exists in this country, impacting the lives of racialized, especially Black and Indigenous people.
And while we’re at it, let’s talk about the structural white privilege that allows such actions, as it holds an implicit entitlement to the lives, culture, land and bodies of racialized people. (See: All of history).
In case it’s unclear where to begin, here are some things we can start to address to support the approximately 20 per cent of the Canadian population that is racialized.
Disproportionate policing of racialized communities leading to criminalization.
Disproportionately harsh sentencing for Black and Indigenous people.
Disproportionate rates of Black and Indigenous children apprehended from their families. The last two contribute to ongoing intergenerational trauma through family separation.
Immigration policies that keep migrants, especially Latinx, Black and Filipino, working in low-wage, precarious jobs with limited pathways to permanent immigration status and therefore “membership rights” in our country.
Political spaces that continue to be disproportionately white and male, thereby shaping policies impacting the lives of racialized people through privileged lenses that don’t actually reflect our country.
Media spaces that continue to be disproportionately white and male, especially in management, shaping the narratives we hear, often reinforcing harmful stereotypes and perpetuating interpersonal and structural biases.
Barriers to employment, such as a lower likelihood of being interviewed if you have an “ethnic” sounding name, requirements of “Canadian experience” or barriers to career advancement because you don’t look like or sound like the people at the top.
Corporate boardrooms that are disproportionately white and male, and powerful special interest groups that lobby to maintain the status quo or further entrench economic systems that disproportionately benefit white people.
Health care spaces rampant with implicit bias that endangers the lives of racialized people (among various groups) who may not feel they can trust providers or systems to heal or care for them as they do for others.
Economic policies that continue to worsen income inequality through corporate and personal tax policies that benefit the wealthiest among us, who due to the history of this country, are disproportionately white.
Relationships with Indigenous communities that claim to be built on reconciliation while not engaging with them as equal partners deserving of rights over their land and lives, dignity, and basic services like clean water.
Barriers to higher education due to increasing tuition rates that disproportionately exclude racialized people from entering halls of power and professions such as medicine and law, continuing the cycle.
Power begets power. Structural racism in our society is not an accident. Any cursory look at the history of colonization, cultural genocide of Indigenous people, restriction of immigration for “certain groups,” and active efforts to criminalize certain communities demonstrates this. MORE
MaryAnn Mihychuk, Chair of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, speaks in the House of Commons about their report on Indigenous suicides on June 19, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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A new report on Indigenous suicide in Canada has generated the most comprehensive picture of the crisis to date, despite health authorities continuing not to collect data about the problem.
While comprehensive, the report acknowledges there are limitations to the findings that likely result in underestimations of the actual rates. The report’s analysis includes a number of socio-economic factors, as well as comparative differences based on age, sex and location — on or off reserve.
The lead researcher of the report, Mohan Kumar, said he wants readers to remember that for each of the numbers in the report “there is a person behind them, and their deaths meant an incredible loss to family, friends, community and the society at large.”
He also contextualizes the findings in light of existing research that shows how aspects of colonization contribute to the Indigenous suicide crisis. So that the high rates, he says, shouldn’t be taken as indicative of personal, community or cultural failings.
Canada doesn’t track suicides specifically by Indigenous identity, and the process that Kumar and co-researcher Michael Tjepkema used to overcome this is important to look at, as are the limitations inherent to these findings. The findings are estimations not full counts, as they’re based on only a sample portion of the full population, and there are some population groups not surveyed.
But as Indigenous researchers Roland Chrisjohn and Shaunessy McKay wrote in Dying To Please You: Indigenous Suicide in Contemporary Canada, their 2017 book on the suicide crisis, discourse about the problem and solutions is often unhelpful and not evidence-based: “It sounds like drumbeats of a PR bandwagon, like Native people are being recruited to a mainstream viewpoint rather than being convinced with real data; with all parties repeating a mantra over and over again until they parrot it without any real understanding.”
Thus, the Statistics Canada report’s contributions in terms of new, fuller data analysis are important.
The report’s central finding — that First Nations people die by suicide at three times the rate of non-Indigenous Canadians, Inuit at nine times the rate, and Métis at two times — illustrates a crisis but is not likely to surprise those familiar with previous statistics. For those unfamiliar, it puts Inuit among the people with the highest rates of suicide anywhere in the world.
A Statistics Canada report found that Indigenous people die by suicide at a rate three times as high as non-Indigenous Canadians. But the report acknowledges there are limitations to the findings that likely result in underestimations of actual rates
The report examines each of the three groups separately, and is based on 2011 populations, when the census had 851,560 people self-identify as First Nations, 59,445 as Inuit and 451,795 as Métis .
The report estimates that there were 1,845 total deaths by suicide of the Indigenous population in Canada from May 10, 2011, through Dec. 31, 2016. This total consists of 1,180 First Nations people, 250 Inuit and 415 Métis.
Looking at it side by side with murder data can help contextualize the scale of the problem.
For the five years since StatCan started tracking homicides by Indigenous identity, there have been 710 recorded Indigenous victims of homicide. The number of estimated suicides from the StatCan report is approximately two and a half times larger, though it applies to a slightly longer period.
For the Kanien’kéha:ka (Mohawk) of Kanehsatà:ke, the return of stolen land – fraudulently sold first by a religious order and then by the municipality of Oka, Quebec and the Government of Canada – has been at the heart of their demands for 300 years. Mohawk resistance to the ongoing theft of Kanien’kéha:ka homelands is well-known. Most notably, in the summer of 1990, during the so-called “Oka Crisis,” Mohawks defended a forested area known as the Pines from development. Since then, community members like Ellen Gabriel (Katsi’tsakwas, Turtle Clan) have continued to protect the Pines and call on all levels of settler government – municipal, provincial, and federal – to return the land.
So when news broke in July that a developer was going to gift 60 hectares of land, including the Pines, to the community, many people declared it a win for the Mohawks. The developer – Gregoire Gollin – said that he is making the gift “in the spirit of reconciliation.” What’s more, Gollin has stated that he’s willing to sell an additional 150 hectares of the disputed land to the Government of Canada to then transfer back to the community.
On the surface, this story seems to offer a model for what reconciliation in Canada could look like. Stolen land is being returned.
But the devil is always in the details.
Gollin’s “reconciliation” comes with strings attached. His “gift” to the Mohawk does not actually return the land to the community, and his promises to stop development on disputed land is contingent on the federal government compensating him for land he fraudulently purchased with no guarantee that the land will be returned to the Mohawks.
More information, and a longer view of colonization at Kanehsatà:ke, reveals that Gollin is not unselfishly contributing to reconciliation but is rather continuing accumulation by dispossession. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ellen Gabriel to shed more light on the situation. MORE