Anishinaabe express solidarity with Elsipogtog, outrage over RCMP’s “excessive force”</h2>
by Jon Thompson
A group of 30 members of Iskatewizaagegan #39 First Nation (Shoal Lake 39) blockaded the TransCanada Highway west of Kenora for four hours on the afternoon of October 19.
The spontaneous grassroots action was taken in solidarity with Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick where RCMP officers descended on an anti-fracking blockade two days prior and clashes with demonstrators ensued.
Protests, sacred fires and actions have since sprung up across Canada to demonstrate support for Indigenous rights and consultation in Elsipogtog.
“It was the use of such an excessive force of the police, I think it has triggered a lot of anger in the communities,” said Iskatewizaagegan member Jim Mandamin who participated in Saturday’s highway closure. “The governments are going to have to accommodate us sooner or later. We don’t want to keep coming out here and doing this. Somewhere down the line, they’re going to have to come together and start talking to us as a people. We own this land, we take care of this land and when we take care of the land and when we take care of the water, it’s to everybody’s benefit.”
Rachel Green is a band member, currently residing in Winnipeg. She was sad to see the reaction of passing motorists after a lane of the highway was opened three hours into the blockade.
“Every time you hear stories of land claims issues, issues with regard to the water and us trying to protect the land and all the natural resources for future generations, they don’t understand that,” she lamented. “We’re trying to create awareness with all of our signs. We have people giving us the middle finger and swearing at us. We’re out here for them as well. It’s not just for our people. It’s for everybody.”
Shoal Lake 39 First Nation has been burning a sacred fire since the afternoon of October 18 and it’s not the first time its community members have taken to direct action.
A similar blockade was held in Jan. 2013 and snowmobile trails were blockaded in February 2012 as the First Nation has struggled with development in its traditional territory.
Although both senior levels of government have committed to funding highway twinning from the Manitoba border past the road accessing the community, talks with Ontario have been stalled since February. Mining exploration companies have also been turned away from operating in its traditional territory, due to unwillingness to pay a “permitting fee” to the First Nation.
Along with neighbouring Shoal Lake #40 First Nation, Iskatewizaagegan continues to apply pressure on Winnipeg over that city’s intention to increase its intake of water, which is piped in over 100 kilometres from an aquifer in Shoal Lake.
The International Joint Commission (IJC) has issued support for the First Nations’ claims that expanding territory served by Shoal Lake’s water to include the new Centreport Canada transport hub violates a 1917 agreement between Manitoba and Ontario.
In an October 17 release, Iskatewizaagegan Chief, Eli Mandamin expressed shock that actions in Elsipogtog occurred in such close proximity to a nine-day Canadian visit from a United Nations delegation, looking into Indigenous social and economic conditions.
“Our nation finds it amazing that only two days after the visit from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to investigate conditions in Canada, that Canada’s federal police force will resort to such armed violence against our relatives.”
Mandamin was not present at Saturday’s blockade.