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Lights of rebellion shine at the Zapatista resistance festival

Giovanni Cattaruzza

Post image for Lights of rebellion shine at the Zapatista resistance festivalLast month, the Zapatistas organized the first World Festival of Rebellion and Resistance Against Capitalism. One participant shares his impressions.

San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

The mountains of Xochicuautla, which are waiting for the snow and for yet another Christmas here in Mexico, don’t know anything about us.

They don’t know anything about the thousands of people from all over the world who climbed up here in the cold.

The mountains of Xochicuautla ignore what democracy looks like, where Palestine or Valle di Susa is, what sort of thing an international airport is, or what so-called “sustainable capitalism” looks like.

They don’t know anything about mega-development projects, highways, garbage dumps, mines, GMO’s, transnational companies, militarization, and progress.

They are only mountains, they speak Nahuatl, and it’s kind of complicated to have a conversation with a mountain.

Rebuilding from below

On December 21, the first World Festival of Resistance and Rebellion Against Capitalism — “Where those from above destroy, those from below rebuild” — organized by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), was inaugurated in the San Francisco Xochicuautla community, municipality of Lerma, in the state of Mexico.

More than 2.000 Mexican activists, 500 international comrades from 48 different countries, and hundreds upon hundreds of indigenous community representatives started their journey throughout the country from these mountains.

The EZLN and the CNI invited all the people of the world here in Mexico in order to travel together to the southern-most point of the country and to discover the histories and struggles of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, and the challenges faced by all the political organizations that take the Zapatistas as a point of reference — from the anarchists of the Z.A.D. of Nantes, to the Sem Tierra of Brazil, on to the teachers of Oaxaca.

Once again, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation together with the indigenous communities of Chiapas decided to build a common project in cooperation with the anti-capitalist movements of the planet.

Once again, from the jungles of the south-east of Mexico, they thought globally. Inviting the people from all over the world to Chiapas in order to fight against capitalism together. According to the Zapatistas, global capitalism in the year 2015 reveals itself most clearly through mega-development projects and violent attacks to Mother Nature all over the world.

This journey can be summarized in one line: preguntando caminamos (“asking while walking”), as the Zapatistas say. It is a time to learn and to doubt ourselves.

We walked and dreamed together from Mexico City to the tropical rains of the State of Campeche, on to to the cold altiplano of the Caracol of Oventik, sharing political practices of resistance, knowing that, as Subcomandante Insurgente Moises said:

There is no single answer. There is no manual. There is no dogma. There is no creed. There are many answers, many ways, many forms. And each of us will see what we are able to do and learn from our own struggle and from other struggles.

“We give you 43 embraces”

During the so called “sharings” in Xochicuatla, Monclova and in the University of the Land (CIDECI) in San Cristobal de las Casas, we listened to hundreds of languages and political experiences of resistance, but most importantly we listened to the voices of the families of the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa to whom the EZLN gave its own seat during the festival.

We cried together and we embraced each other under the cold rain of Oventik, looking at the members of the Comandancia of the EZLN hugging one by one the fathers and the mothers of the 43, after hearing the voice of Subcomandante Moises pronouncing the following words:

And so, when this day or night comes, your missing ones will give you the same embrace that we Zapatistas now give to you. It is an embrace of caring, respect, and admiration. In addition, we give you 43 embraces, one for each of those who are absent from your lives.

In the next weeks the EZLN will communicate in detail some actions and proposals to the world.

According to the Zapatistas and to the individuals and organizations that attended this first World Festival of Resistance and Rebellion Against Capitalism, there is no more time to waste. The henchmen of global capitalism — big business, national governments and international organizations — are quelling all voices of dissent, attempting to destroy all forms of resistance wherever it pops up. Ayotzinapa is just another example of this mechanism that kills everyone who chooses to resist, from Turkey and Ferguson to Mexico.

Today is the time for unity of all those who want to fight capitalism and who do not recognize themselves in any political party.

The lights of rebellion and resistance

The night is dark as only the nights in Chiapas can be, here in the Caracol of Oventik. It is December 31, 2014, 21 years after the Zapatista uprising.

Deaths, disappearances, repression and the threat of imprisonment will continue to challenge los de abajo also in the year we are entering. 2015 will be tough for them — but in the extreme darkness of the night, in the black hole of the capital in which we’re living, there are some lights of resistance.

The thousands of people who arrived here, in the mountains of Southeast Mexico, are here to share some of these little lights.

It’s funny to look at these little lights, here in Oventik, where the words of the EZLN — reaching us through the voice of Subcomandante Insurgente Moises — echo in the mountains:

Darkness becomes longer and heavier across the world, touching everyone. We knew it would be like this. We know it will be like this. We spent years, decades, centuries preparing ourselves. Our gaze is not limited to what is close-by. It does not see only today, nor only our own lands. Our gaze extends far in time and geography, and that determines how we think.

Each time something happens, it unites us in pain, but also in rage. Because now, as for some time already, we see lights being lit in many corners. They are lights of rebellion and resistance. Sometimes they are small, like ours. Sometimes they are big. Sometimes they take awhile. Sometimes they are only a spark that quickly goes out. Sometimes they go on and on without losing their glow in our memory.

And in all of these lights there is a bet that tomorrow will be very different.

The night is ours.

Giovanni Cattaruzza lives in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. He collaborates with the Human Rights Center Fray Bartolomè de las Casas-FrayBa and is a graduate of Latin American Studies at Leiden University. A great supporter of Genoa C.F.C, proudly NO-TAV, and in love with the continent of Pancho Villa, he writes articles about the struggles of indigenous communities and social movements in Latin America.

http://roarmag.org/2015/01/zapatista-festival-rebellion-resistance-capitalism/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Video from “Creating Strategies for Revolution” Panel talk

About the Event

Industrial civilization and capitalism are currently harming or killing billions of humans and countless nonhumans, and threaten to destroy all life on our planet. On August 27, Deep Green Resistance New York held a discussion on an appropriate and even necessary response: revolution. About fifty people attended to hear panelists including Jen Bilek & Frank Coughlin of DGR NY, Chris Hedges, Ted Rall, David Valle of OWS Zapatista Solidarity, Kiki Makandal of One Struggle NY, and Itzy Ramirez & Javier of Associated Indigenous Movement. The speakers addressed many aspects of revolution:

  • What Is Revolution?
  • The Role of Women in a Revolution
  • What Is a Culture of Resistance?
  • Destruction of and Role of Indigenous Cultures in a Revolution
  • How a Revolution Happens

Highlights

We need systemic change, not regime change. Many historically momentous events, such as the Indian independence movement and the success of the ANC in South Africa, are incorrectly termed revolutions even though the classes dominating and dominated didn’t actually change. For true revolution to occur, dominated classes need to overthrow the dominating classes and restructure society to eliminate exploitation.

We need to avoid sectarian interfeuding with those who could be allies. Many individuals and groups with different approaches or philosophies on some points can still work side by side to take down capitalism and civilization. We can sort out our differences after we defeat our common enemy and defuse the immediate threats of catastrophe. There are, of course, groups with whom we’ll decide we can’t work, but we should base those decisions on rational analysis of where we have fundamental differences vs where we can agree to disagree. We do have to be careful to avoid a neoliberal approach of hyperinclusivity and hyperindividualism. We should deliberately build anti-individualism, countering the dominant trend of privileging individual autonomy and identity at the expense of the group. It’s crucial to say “It is inappropriate to do certain things, regardless of your politics.”

Along those lines, a common pitfall for militant resistance movements is to embrace machismo and hypermasculinity. We must emulate the Zapatistas, consciously putting women in positions of power, challenging internal patriarchy, and changing deeply held cultural paterns and behaviors to increase participation of women. Deep Green Resistance, thanks to its code of conduct and interview process, is an example of a radical feminist organization creating safety for women to work alongside male allies.

The actual mechanics of revolution depend on a long process of building both non-violent and violent capacity. Ted Rall points out that true revolutions have, historically, always included violence because people with power and prividlege do not give it up voluntarily. Chris Hedges focuses on the final stage of successful revolutions, which typically depends on the foot soldiers of a regime refusing to protect the elite any longer, or to carry out their orders for repression. This non-violent non-participation is critical.

See more

Leigha Cohen edited video footage of the event into “A Progressive Voice.” Watch it below, and visit the Deep Green Resistance Youtube Channel for more videos from other DGR events.

We All Must Become Zapatistas

By Chris Hedges

Earth at Risk: Waziyatawin

blah blah

Calling All Defenders of the Land

For our second installment of our EARTH AT RISK film series, we welcome you to watch the interview with historian and anti-colonial activist, Waziyatawin.

Author of For Indigenous Eyes Only: A Decolonization Handbook as well as other books, Waziyatawin is a Dakota professor and activist from Pezihutazizi Otunwe in southwestern Minnesota. Her books are about indigenous resistance and decolonizing strategies. She is also the founder of Oyate Nipi Kte, a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery of Dakota traditional knowledge, sustainable ways of being, and Dakota liberation.

As an activist she was most notably arrested multiple times in 2007 protesting the Minnesota sesquicentennial celebration while raising awareness of broken treaties and colonial violence – including the hanging of 38 Dakota men during the Dakota War of 1862 (the largest mass execution in American history).

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This event is free and open to the public. For space accommodation please be sure to RSVP. If you have any questions, need directions, or need any further information, please contact us at newyork@deepgreenresistance.org

Wednesday, October 30th
7pm – 9pm

Bellevue Hospital
Room A-342
462 1st Avenue
(between East 26th/28th)

Practice First, Then Theory: The Zapatista Little School

By Kristin Bricker / CIP Americas Program

By Kristin Bricker / CIP Americas Program

The first night of my homestay during the Zapatista Little School, my guardian and her husband asked if their students had any questions.  My classmate and I both had experience working with the Zapatistas, so we politely limited ourselves to the safe questions that are generally acceptable when visiting rebel territory: questions about livestock, crops, local swimming holes, and anything else that doesn’t touch on sensitive information about the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).

My guardian’s husband patiently answered our mundane questions. Then he said, “Look, we entered into clandestinity in 1983, when the organization was just being formed. We walked hours at night to organize other towns, always at night so that the plantation owners wouldn’t get suspicious, and we went into the brush to train. My wife risked her life walking at night to bring bags of tostadas to the camps so that the insurgents would have food to eat during training. Now, do you have any other questions?”

My classmate and I looked at each other, our eyes seeming to say the same thing: “Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be at the Zapatista Little School.” Then our questions began in earnest, and our guardians and their neighbors enthusiastically answered every single one.

Setting the Record Straight

The Zapatistas made the decision to open up their homes to their long-time supporters and teach them about their past, present, errors, victories, and advances for several reasons. During the Little School, Zapatistas repeatedly said that they hoped their supporters could learn from their experiences.

“Self-governance… is possible. If we achieved it with just a few compañeros and compañeras, why not with thousands or millions?” asked a Zapatista woman from Oventik. “We hope you’ll tell us if our practice, our experience with self-governance is in some way useful for you.”

“Many people think that what we’re doing, our form of governance, is a utopia, a dream,” said another Zapatista in Oventik. “For us Zapatistas, it is a reality because we’ve been doing it… through daily practice over the past 19 years. And that is why we think that if we join together with millions of Mexicans, we can form our own governments.”

Years ago, a Zapatista told me that they often learn more from their mistakes than from their victories. In that spirit, the Little School curriculum includes brutally honest discussions about errors the Zapatistas have committed over the years. For example, the textbooks include a frank discussion about the demise of the Mut Vitz coffee cooperative in 2007. Even though the cooperative’s sudden, unexplained closure was felt throughout the United States and Europe when roasters suddenly found themselves without a source of Zapatista coffee, the Zapatistas had not explained the reasons for Mut Vitz’s downfall until now.

In the Little School textbooks, Roque, a former member of the cooperative and current member of the San Juan de la Libertad Autonomous Municipal Council in Oventik, reveals that mismanagement and corruption ultimately lead to Mut Vitz’s demise. The cooperative had hired an outside accountant who, for reasons unknown to the cooperative members, did not accurately declare Mut Vitz’s assets to Mexico’s tax agency, which allowed the government to freeze their bank account. As Mut Vitz underwent an internal audit to determine what money the cooperative had left outside of the frozen account to pay producers who had supplied coffee on credit pending its sale, the Oventik Good Government Council discovered that members of the Mut Vitz board of directors were stealing money from the cooperative. The Council issued an order to arrest the guilty parties and seized some of their assets to replace the money they had stolen.

The Zapatistas also hoped to use the Little School to set the record straight about the state of their movement. They read the news, and they told students that they know the corporate media reports that Zapatismo is a dying movement, that the Zapatistas have turned their guns over to the government, that Subcomandante Marcos died of lung cancer or was fired, that the Comandancia (the Zapatista military leadership) meets secretly with the “bad government” and accepts millions of pesos from it, and that the Zapatistas are closet communists, amongst other baseless claims.

Furthermore, the Zapatistas admit that there have been traitors, compañeros who left the organization and collaborated with the government. As one European activist said at the end of the Little School, “I think they realized that it had gotten to the point where Mexico’s security agencies knew more about how the Zapatistas’ government works than their own civil society supporters did, so they decided to let us in on what they’ve been up to.”

The Zapatistas’ civilian government is, after all, not clandestine, and non-Zapatista indigenous people routinely use its clinics, justice system, public transportation permits, and other services that they can’t seem to obtain through the Mexican government. Moreover, any non-Zapatista—be it the bad government or another indigenous organization—that wants to develop an infrastructure project that passes through Zapatista territory (roads or electricity, for example) must negotiate with the Zapatistas’ “good government” and therefore understands how it is structured. With the Little School, the Zapatistas have officially and for the record explained exactly how their government works.

Perhaps one of the Little School’s most important benefits for the Zapatistas occurred during its preparation. The Little School’s four textbooks, Autonomous Government part I and II, Women’s Participation in the Autonomous Government, and Autonomous Resistance, as well as the two DVDs that accompany the books, were all created by Zapatistas themselves. The textbooks are the result of Zapatistas from all five caracoles (Zapatista government centers) traveling to regions other than their own to collect testimonies and interview fellow Zapatistas about how they self-govern.

The Zapatistas’ bottom-up approach to government means that while all of the caracoles operate under the same basic principles and towards the same goals, their day-to-day operations sometimes differ drastically. For example, every caracol has a Good Government Board, the maximum governing body in the region. However, each caracol’s Board is structured differently. Many of the Zapatistas’ questions to their compañeros from other caracoles in the interview portion of the textbooks revolved around their experiences and what has worked and what has not.

For example, a Board member from Oventik asked former Board members from Morelia, “Are the twelve members of the [Morelia] Board able to do all of their work? Because in Caracol II [Oventik] there’s 28 of us, and sometimes we feel overwhelmed.” The Morelia Zapatistas’ response was that they, too, are overwhelmed, and they feel the need to restructure the Board, but they have been unable to come up with a better proposal thus far.

Governing from Below

When the Zapatistas rose up in arms in Chiapas on January 1, 1994, they knew they wanted freedom and autonomy. “But we didn’t have a guide or a plan to tell us how to do it,” a Zapatista education promoter explained to me. “For us, it’s practice first, then theory.”

While part of the EZLN drove rich landowners off of their plantations in the Chiapan countryside in the pre-dawn hours of New Year’s day, other contingents took seven major cities around the state. “All that we’ve accomplished was thanks to our weapons that opened up the path that we are walking down today,” explains a Zapatista from Oventik on a Little School DVD. “[Since then] everything that we have achieved, we have achieved without firing a single shot.”

Immediately following the uprising, the Zapatistas implemented autonomous government at the town level. Each town named its local authorities and formed an assembly. “But since we were at war, we kept losing local authorities,” explains Lorena, a health promoter from San Pedro de Michoacán in La Realidad. “There was disorder in the communities.” As a stopgap measure, the EZLN’s military leadership had to step up and fulfill roles that civilian authorities were unable to carry out during the chaos of the war.

The military leadership held consultations with civilian authorities, and together they decided to create autonomous municipalities in order to bring order and civilian governance to the rebel territory. In December 1994, the Zapatistas inaugurated 38 autonomous municipalities comprised of an undisclosed number of towns. Each autonomous municipality had its own municipal council named by the towns, allowing for increased coordination between towns and more formal organization of civilian affairs.

As solidarity activists began to arrive in Zapatista territory to donate money and labor, the EZLN’s command realized that some municipalities were receiving more support than other, more isolated ones. “At [the command’s] urging, the municipal councils met and began to hold assemblies to start to see how each municipality was doing, what support each was receiving, what projects were being carried out,” explains Doroteo, a former member of La Realidad’s Good Government Board.

In 1997, the Zapatistas formalized the assemblies of municipal councils by creating the Association of Autonomous Municipalities, comprised of representatives from each autonomous municipality. “With the association of municipalities, tasks and work in health, education, and commerce were overseen,” recalls Doroteo. “During that time a dry goods warehouse was created… with the idea of [economically] supporting the full-time workers in the [Zapatista] hospital in San José del Río.”

During the creation of the Association of Autonomous Municipalities, the Zapatistas formally redistributed the land they had taken over in the 1994 uprising. Landless Zapatistas left the communities in which they were born to settle on recuperated land they could finally call their own, fulfilling revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata’s creed, “The land belongs to those who work it.”

In 2003, the Zapatistas inaugurated the third level of their autonomous government, the five Good Government Boards, located in La Realidad, Oventik, La Garrucha, Morelia, and Roberto Barrios. However, the organization of higher levels of government does not mean that the Zapatistas are moving further away from direct democracy through local assemblies. On the contrary, all proposals must be approved by town assemblies.

Proposals can originate in town assemblies and work their way up the different levels of autonomous government if they affect more than just the town in which they originated. The proposals pass through the municipal councils, which then brings approved proposals to the Good Government Council, which then runs them by the command, which then sends the proposals back down through the five Good Government Boards, which send them to the municipal councils, which in turn send the proposals to the people at the town level for consultation and implementation.

The command can also create its own proposals and send them down through the three levels of civilian government to the town assemblies for consultation and approval. Therefore, even though the Good Government Boards are the highest level of the autonomous government, they have no authority to create laws. The Boards are limited to two main roles: to coordinate and promote work in their regions and to enforce and carry out Zapatista laws and mandates that have already been approved by the people.

Because the Zapatistas constructed their government from the bottom up, with people organizing themselves into community assemblies, which in turn organized municipal councils, which in turn organized the five Good Government Boards, every Caracol is different. All work to implement the Zapatistas’ demands: land, housing, health, education, work, food, justice, democracy, culture, independence, freedom, and peace. However, the Zapatistas’ progress in implementing those demands varies from Caracol to Caracol. Some Caracols, such as La Garrucha, have collective economic projects such as stores or cattle to fund political activities at each of the three levels of government; other Caracols like Oventik only have collective economic projects in some towns.

Likewise, methods and success in implementing the Zapatistas’ Revolutionary Women’s Law varies. Morelia, for example, struggles to find ways to promote women’s participation in the higher levels of autonomous government. However, Morelia is unique amongst the Caracols because its Honor and Justice Commission (the judicial system) has a special plan for dealing with rape that aims to reduce re-victimization and encourage women to report crimes.

Constant Progress

Many have referred to recent Zapatista mobilizations such as their December 21, 2012, silent march and the creation of the Little School as a Zapatista “resurgence.” The Little School left one thing very clear: this is not a resurgence, because the Zapatistas never went away. During the school, students learned about the seemingly endless new cooperatives, the Zapatistas’ experiments in collective governance that are always being fine-tuned, and how donations from supporters were invested in livestock and warehouses so that they would pay dividends that would provide a steady long-term budget for hospitals and clinics.

The Little School’s lesson is clear: if the Zapatistas aren’t talking to the press, don’t commit the error of thinking that they are losing steam or have faded away. They are simply working extremely hard to advance their autonomy, and are too busy to get bogged down in countering the naysayers.

After all, their success is measured in their achievements and not their rhetoric. As one Zapatista man said at the end of a Little School class in Oventik, “We are demonstrating to the bad government that we don’t want it and we don’t need it, and it’s not necessary, for us to provide for ourselves.”

Kristin Bricker is a reporter in Mexico. She is a contributor to the CIP Americas Program www.cipamericas.org.

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Originally posted by CIP Americas here.

Walking the Walk

By Arij Riahi and Tim McSorley / The Dominion

By Arij Riahi and Tim McSorley / The Dominion

FORT MCMURRAY, AB—In the heart of Canada’s oil country, the booming town of Fort McMurray—casually dubbed Fort McMoney—is slowly becoming one of Alberta’s largest cities. From 2006 to 2012, the city grew by 53 per cent, going from a population of 47,705 to 72,994—far exceeding the growth of Alberta as a whole. This doesn’t count the “non-permanent residents” who are simply in town to work; including them, the population balloons to 112,215.

Nearby, however, Indigenous nations are struggling for cultural survival. The tar sands project continues to expand its destructive footprint on the traditional territories of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, among others. For them, opposition to the industrial project is not an environmental concern or a left-leaning pet project. It is a matter of human survival.

“I never did look at myself as a campaigner or an organizer, or an activist or an environmentalist. None of those things,” said Crystal Lameman, a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation who now works as the Alberta Climate and Energy Campaigner for the Sierra Club of Canada Prairie Chapter. “And I can say I still don’t look at myself that way. You know, it’s just doing what I need to for the sacrifices that our ancestors endured to ensure that we have that ability to utilize the land, to sustain ourselves.”

Lameman, a mother of two in her mid-30s, has been working since 2012 to raise awareness among members of her community, located in the heart of northern Alberta’s tar sands territory, about the necessity—and possibilities—of fighting back against the tar sands.

These thoughts are echoed a further 300 kilometres north, by Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN). Located on the shores of Lake Athabasca, fed by the Athabasca River and downstream from the majority of the tar sands development, the ACFN has also been fighting against the impact of industrial pollutants on its land.

For the past four years, the ACFN and the Keepers of the Athabasca (a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people fighting for the protection of the massive Athabasca watershed, which feeds into the Athabasca River) have organized the Healing Walk. It was started as a way to bridge the divide between activists and residents of the area—many of whom work for the tar sands—who are concerned but are not interested (or able) to engage in traditional protests. This year, on July 5, hundreds from across Canada, including dozens from the tar sands area, gathered to walk through the tar sands and witness its impacts.

“I am labeled by government officials and the industry that I am an eco-activist. I am not an eco-activist. I am a user of the land,” said Chief Adam at the Healing Walk. “Environmentalists like to see the beauty of the landscape. I was brought up in the bush. I utilize and survive off the land. You may go in the bush and look at the scenery…I go in the bush and harvest the meat, and harvest the fish and whatever else I have to to feed my family. That is the difference between you and I.”

peer-reviewed study released in 2010 by the Firelight Group Research Cooperative, which works with First Nations on community-based research projects, found that tar sands development has already severely limited access to First Nations’ traditional territory.

That link to the land is essential for Indigenous communities, said Lionel Lepine, a father of two who also lives in Fort Chipewyan. “One day, we’re going to be so damn rich [off the tar sands] that there will be nothing to buy. We’re going to be dead,” he said during a discussion at the Healing Walk. “And my poor great-great-grandchildren are going to suffer the consequences.”

Losing access to the land doesn’t only mean losing the the possibility of a subsistence way of life—including the ability to hunt or fish—but in some cases it means not even being sure what kind of development, or destruction, is taking place.

In late June, the Alberta government reported that an oil spill had taken place at the Primrose tar sands operation of Canadian Natural Resource Limited. The operations are located in the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR) in Cold Lake, Alberta, in Beaver Lake Cree Nation territory.

Lameman went to the site after getting news of the spill, but was initially rebuffed. Officials at CLAWR later changed their position and promised Lameman she could enter the area if the oil company agreed to let her in. Her calls to the company were not returned, she said. It took pressure from journalists and an eventual leak from an anonymous government scientist for the full extent of the spill to be revealed publicly in the Toronto Star in mid-July, including that 4,500 barrels of bitumen had so far been cleaned up from four different sites.

“To me, the response I got is a slap in the face of what it means to be in direct violation of our inherent constitutionally protected treaty rights,” she said. “It was really, really hard to actually feel that and experience that, and it’s not something I ever want to have to experience again, but I’m sure I will.”

Many Indigenous communities across the country are subject to such a disproportionate quantity of pollution that they have become infamous toxic hotspots. In Fort Chipewyan, cases of rare untreatable cancers have been documented since the early 2000s. But people living in the communities have been feeling the impacts long before any studies were commissioned.

“Given what’s going on over there—all the pollution—we call our town ground zero, because ultimately we feel the impacts of tar sands development first and foremost, and our people are dying,” Lepine said during the Healing Walk. “You know, I come from a town which only contains 1,200 people. And the cancer rate there is sky high in the last 10 years, beyond belief. The elders knew about this 40 years ago. When industry first came in, the impacts on our lands became pretty obvious, and as industry came in people started to die.”

For years, First Nations people, scientists, doctors and environmentalists have raised the alarm about the health impacts of the tar sands. It was only this past winter, however, that an investigation into the health concerns of First Nations communities living downstream, such as the Athabasca Chipewyan, was finally announced. The study will be led by the University of Calgary, with federal and provincial funding. The investigation follows a 2009 report, by Alberta Health Services, that showed higher rates of cancer in the community than is found in the rest of the Alberta population.

Since January, two separate reports have found Alberta’s lakes and groundwater are being polluted more than previously realized. The first, from Queen’s University and Environment Canada, showed high levels of carcinogens created by the tar sands extraction process in lakes up to 90 kilometres from tar sands extraction sites. The second, produced by 19 scientists from both the federal and provincial governments, confirmed ongoing seepage from tailings ponds into groundwater.

Tar sands impacts aren’t just felt in northern Alberta, but at every stage of the refining process, including in the southernmost reaches of the country. In Sarnia, Ontario, over 60 petrochemical facilities are concentrated in a 25-kilometre radius. At least three of these refineries, including Suncor and Imperial Oil who are active in Fort McMurray, process tar sands bitumen. The area is known as Canada’s Chemical Valley. It is also the home of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

“Growing up in this community, I experienced a lot of health issues, including asthma attacks, skin issues,” said Vanessa Gray, a youth organizer and member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation who also spoke at the Healing Walk. “There’s a lot of cancer in my family where I grew up, [we were] going to a lot of funerals…it happened all the time.”

Gray’s concerns are well documented. In 2011, the World Health Organization described Sarnia’s air quality as the worst in Canada. Studies have also found alarmingly high rates of cancer, respiratory illnesses and reproductive disorders in the area, as cited in a 2007 report from Ecojustice.

For many Indigenous communities, the fight against the tar sands is a fight for their quality of life. “We’re all human beings first and foremost. We all drink water. So this involves everyone,” stressed Crystal Lameman. “This isn’t about race, colour or creed, this is about our lives.”

Ultimately, it is about the future. “I’m so worried about my kids,” said Lepine. “You know from the words of our elders, they’re our future, let’s support them. Let’s keep them alive, Let’s keep our kids alive. Let’s fight these guys. Let’s fight them harder, let’s take the gloves off.”

Arij Riahi is a legally-trained writer based in Montreal. Arij is at www.twitter.com/arijactually. Tim McSorley is an editor with the Media Co-op and freelance journalist living in Montreal.

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Originally posted by The Dominion here.

 

Epic Two Row Wampum Campaign Sets Sail for NYC

Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign

“As long as the grass is green, as long as the waters flow downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.”

Last Sunday, July 28th, hundreds of indigenous and ally paddlers and their supporters gathered at the boat launch in Rensselaer in the pouring rain for a rousing send off for an epic 13-day canoe trip down the Hudson River.

The symbolic “enactment” is a focal point of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign – a state-wide education and advocacy campaign to mark the 400th anniversary of the first agreement between the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Europeans. The Two Row Treaty outlines a mutual commitment to friendship, peace between peoples, and living in parallel forever. The Haudenosaunee have increasingly emphasized that protecting Mother Earth is a fundamental prerequisite for this continuing friendship.

Consisting of canoes (representing the Haudenosaunee) and ships (representing Europeans), more than 200 indigenous and ally paddlers began sailing side-by-side starting near Albany, NY and ending in New York City on August 10th. Along the 13-day route will be many stops for educational and cultural events featuring Haudenosaunee leaders as speakers. Check out the upcoming events in New York City:

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Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Inwood Hill Park
6:00pm – 8:30pm

Poetry and Spoken Word: Two Rows and More

Come hear powerful and inspiring words…

Special guest readers include Janet Rogers (Mohawk)*, Daygot Leeyos (Oneida) and Suzan Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee).

There will also be an opportunity for open mic time. Free and open to the public.

The public is also invited to greet the paddlers as they land at Inwood Hill about 5 pm that afternoon.

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Friday, August 9th, 2013
Pier 96 (57th St. on West side of Manhattan)
10:00am

Enactment Arrives in New York City

Launching from Inwood Hill Park, the enactment will land at Pier 96 at 10:00am, being welcomed by the Dutch Consul General and other dignitaries.

At 11:30am there will be a march to the United Nations for a greeting from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at 1:30pm.

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Saturday, August 10th, 2013
Brookfield Place/World Financial Center, West of World Trade Center
11am – 5pm

New York City Two Row Festival

Join the Onondaga Nation, Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, American Indian Community House and the American Indian Law Alliance for a historic commemoration to mark the 400 year anniversary of the Two Row Wampum, the oldest treaty between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch.

This day-long festival will feature world-class Native singers, dancers, speakers, performers, and artists. We will be honoring paddlers and riders who have just completed a journey down the Hudson to bring the Two Row’s messages of sovereignty and solidarity to life.

Free and open to the public, all children and Elders welcome! This location is handicap accessible.

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For all of the latest updates follow the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign on Facebook.

Proud Not Primitive

A new short film showing the richness of tribal peoples’ lives has been released as part of the Proud Not Primitive campaign in India.

The 30-second short aims to challenge prevailing preconceptions that tribal peoples are poor, ‘backwards’ or ‘primitive’, which are deeply engrained amongst representatives of the government, industry and the media.

The film’s provocative message ‘No poverty, no bombs, no pollution, no corruption, no prisons, no caste system – and people call them primitive?’ shows tribal peoples who have every reason to be proud of their ways of life.

The film features the Dongria Kondh and Baiga in India, Awá, Waiapi and Enawene Nawe tribes in Brazil and the Bushmen in Botswana.

Selvi, a Korumba woman from Tamil Nadu, told Survival, ‘If I have land, I can grow food. We’re not very interested in money because it brings bad things. If I have land, I can have a good life. I want our forest for air, water, and firewood’.

Davi Kopenawa, a spokesperson of the Yanomami tribe in Brazil said, ‘We are not poor or primitive. We are very rich. Rich in our culture, our language and our land. We don’t need money or possessions. What we need is respect: respect for our culture and respect for our land rights.’

Around the world, tribal peoples living on their own lands with the freedom to make their own choices about their lives are thriving. In contrast, tribal peoples who have been pushed off their land or no longer have access to its resources are often condemned to become the poorest of the poor, living at the edges of society.

Survival International has called on hundreds of followers of the Proud Not Primitive campaign to spread the word by tweeting, blogging and sharing the video amongst colleagues, family and friends.

From Survival International: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/9382