Man Shot and Killed by RCMP during ‘Standoff’ on Frog Lake First Nation

ASIRT investigating rcmp shooting at Frog Lake reserve 

A man is dead after he was shot by RCMP during a ‘standoff’ at the Frog Lake First Nation reserve in Alberta.

According to media reports Elk Point RCMP attempted to arrest a man at a family member’s home on the reserve around 10 a.m., Thursday. A standoff followed that lasted for several hours despite attempts to establish contact by an RCMP negotiator. Late in the evening a confrontation occurred which resulted in officers discharging their firearms. The man was struck by gunfire and fatally wounded.

Investigators recovered a sawed-off firearm at the scene. No officers were injured and police said there was no concern for public safety.

The RCMP remains the lead investigating agency on the events leading up to the shooting. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) has been directed to investigate the circumstances around the death of the man and police conduct.

The RCMP would not comment further on the incident.

Frog Lake First Nation is located about 207 kilometres east of Edmonton.

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TransCanada to move materials, prep sites for Keystone XL

TransCanada stockpiling pipe south of Shaunavon for the Keystone XL pipeline, July 8, 2011. Photo By BRIAN ZINCHUK

PIERRE (AP) — The Keystone XL oil pipeline developer said in a letter this week to a Native American tribal chairman that the company will start moving materials and preparing construction sites for the project in Montana and South Dakota.

TransCanada Corp. said in the letter to Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier, of South Dakota, that the work would start in July and go through the fall. The chairman on Thursday tweeted copies of TransCanada’s message and his response on the tribe’s letterhead: “We will be waiting.”

Frazier wasn’t immediately available on Friday to comment to The Associated Press. Keystone XL faces intense resistance from environmental groups, Native American tribes and some landowners along the route.

The project would cost an estimated $8 billion. The 1,179-mile pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with lines to carry oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said in an email that the preparatory work will ramp up over the year to position TransCanada for construction in 2019. He said it would include moving pipe and equipment to start clearing activities to prepare for getting final permits and approvals for construction.

But the project faces legal hurdles. Nebraska landowners have filed a lawsuit challenging the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s decision to approve a route through the state.

A separate federal lawsuit brought by Montana landowners and environmental groups seeks to overturn President Donald Trump’s decision to grant a presidential permit for the project, which was necessary because it would cross the U.S.-Canadian border.

South Dakota’s Supreme Court in June dismissed an appeal from pipeline opponents — including the Cheyenne River Sioux — of a judge’s decision last year upholding regulators’ approval for the pipeline to cross the state.

By Associated Press

[SOURCE]

Indigenous pipeline protesters take over B.C. park, displace campers

An Indigenous group calling itself the Tiny House Warriors has moved into the North Thompson River Provincial Park near Clearwater, B.C., in an effort to block the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Group spokeswoman Kanahus Manuel says they are reclaiming an ancestral village their people were forced from many years ago, while at the same trying to prevent the expansion of the pipeline through their traditional territory.

Manuel says they have moved into the site and will be building tiny houses on the land in an action that has the approval of the hereditary chiefs of the Secwepemc First Nation.

She says Indigenous land defenders within the group will resist the construction of the pipeline through their territory.

A statement from the provincial Ministry of Environment says B.C. Parks is maintaining the closure of the area while efforts are made to respectfully resolve the situation and it is offering refunds to those who have booked campsites.

The ministry says it recognizes the right to engage in peaceful protest; however, it also recognizes that people, who simply want a camping experience are being inconvenienced.

Manuel responded by saying her people have been inconvenienced by colonialism for over 150 years.

“We were moved off of our lands. There are internationally protected rights which (say) Indigenous people can use and exclusively occupy their lands to maintain our culture, our language and our ways.”

She said no one from the provincial government has come to speak with them since the group cut off access to the main road into the camp.

Many of the locals support their action, she said, because they don’t want the pipeline expansion either.

Although some people have been shouting racist slogans from the vehicles, she added.

“We’ve had a few drive-by shoutings.”

The Canadian Press

[SOURCE]

Red Fawn Fallis Sentenced to 57 months in Federal prison

Red Fawn Fallis

Red Fawn Fallis has been sentenced for her role in a shooting incident during the Dakota Access pipeline protests.

According to media reports, Fallis, 39, was sentenced Wednesday to four years and nine months in federal prison.

Fallis, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, was accused of firing a handgun three times while resisting arrest on Oct. 27, 2016. No one was hurt.

She pleaded guilty Jan. 22 to civil disorder and illegal possession of a gun by a convicted felon. Prosecutors agreed to drop another weapons charge.

Prosecutors were recommending seven years in prison, though U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland could have gone as high as 15 years.

Fallis did not get credit for time served in a halfway house after she was arrested in January for violating her pretrial release agreement. Judge Hovland says he is recommending placement in Phoenix or Tucson, Ariz.

Fallis is also sentenced to three years of supervised probation after her release; including special conditions of drug and alcohol treatment and treatment for mental health issues.

The sentence can be appealed within 14 days of the judgement being signed.

Fallis’s arrest was one of 761 that authorities made during the height of the Dakota Access pipeline protests near Standing Rock, North Dakota in 2016 and 2017.

Spirit of the Buffalo camp aims to stop Enbridge pipeline at Canada-U.S. border

Protesters near Gretna, Man., are camping near the point where the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline crosses the border. (Patrick Foucault/Radio-Canada)

Spirit of the Buffalo camp set up Wednesday near Gretna, Man.

An Indigenous prayer camp has been set up near the Canada-U.S. border along the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline in an effort to stop construction of its replacement.

There were five people at the Spirit of Buffalo camp near Gretna, Man., 100 kilometres south of Winnipeg, shortly after noon Wednesday.

Geraldine McManus, a Dakota two-spirit person at the camp, says they can see the crews working on the pipeline on the U.S. side of the border, where the pipeline replacement received approval on June 28.

“We’re standing about 10, 15 feet away from them, so we’re putting ourselves right on the line,” McManus said. “We’re not letting them cross into Canada.”

Enbridge is replacing its Line 3 pipeline from Hardisty, Alta., to Superior, Wis. (The Canadian Press)

The Enbridge Line 3 replacement has received approvals in Canada and construction has begun in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Construction in Manitoba is anticipated to start in August and facilities construction in the right-of-way has already started, an Enbridge spokesperson said.

Enbridge officials say the pipeline, which was built in the 1960s, is deteriorating and needs to be replaced. Current capacity is 390,000 barrels per day, but the new 36-inch pipeline will restore it to its former capacity of 760,000 barrels per day, the company says.

The original 34-inch pipeline will be deactivated and left in place, which Enbridge says causes less damage than removing it.

Line 2 Maintenance

Company officials are aware of the protest camp, an emailed statement says.

“A number of individuals are observing our Line 2 maintenance work site near the Canada-U.S. border. Safety of our workers and others present near the site is our Number 1 priority,” says the email from an Enbridge spokesperson.

“Enbridge respects people’s right to express their views safely and in accordance with the law.”

McManus, who was part of the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2017, says the group arrived at their camp site at about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

“I just grabbed a group of people really fast and just said, ‘You know what? We can’t wait no more,'” she said.

The group, which is receiving support from the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition, has lit a sacred fire and there’s continuous prayer.

“What we’re doing right now is just holding space,” McManus said.

A farmer has told them they are near a firing range where people shoot toward the encampment, but they aren’t moving, McManus said: “They’re going to have to drag me off here and I don’t know how they’re going to be able to do that.”

The land they are on is Crown land and Indigenous land, she says, and Indigenous people have been given the task of protecting the part of the world they call Turtle Island.

“The earth that I walk on right here, this is my mother. I love her, I respect her and I’m going to protect her in any way that I have to,” McManus said.

The government needs to stop dealing with corporations that are destroying the water and the earth, McManus says.

“Politicians are pushing it through for the sake of money,” she said.

“What are we going to do with all that money when we have no more clean water, when Mother Earth is so polluted from these spills and all these leaks in these pipelines?”

Indigenous people fighting to protect the land have allies of every nationality, McManus says.

“We just all, as Canadians, need to get in front of this line,” she said.

[SOURCE]

Saint-Charles man accused in Brady Francis’s death to enter plea in August

Brady Francis’s mom, Jessica Perley (left) and sister Sara Perley-Francis, attended Maurice Johnson’s first court appearance in Moncton Provincial Court on Tuesday. They’re hoping to get closure from Francis’s death. (Radio-Canada)

Plea postponed for Saint-Charles man accused in Brady Francis’s death

A 56-year-old Saint-Charles man charged after the hit-and-run death of Brady Francis will now enter a plea in late August.

Maurice Johnson, who is charged with failing to stop at the scene of an accident, was scheduled to make his first court appearance on Tuesday, but he was not present when the case was called in Moncton provincial court.

His lawyer, Gilles Lemieux, appeared on his behalf, and a new plea date was set for Aug. 21.

Johnson was issued a summons in late June, 115 days after the 22-year-old Francis, of Elsipogtog First Nation, was killed.

Family members said they would be back again in court on Aug. 21 to see the case through and to get closure.

“I just hope and wish that he just pleads guilty and just ends it,” Francis’s mother, Jessica Perley, said. “It’s gone on way too long.”

Francis was found dead by the side of the road in Saint-Charles, about 12 kilometres north of the reserve and about 100 kilometres north of Moncton.

It’s believed he was waiting for a ride home Feb. 24, when he was struck on Saint-Charles South Road.

“He was amazing, he was everything,” said Francis’s younger sister, Sara Perley-Francis.

Brady Francis was 22 when he was struck and killed Feb. 24 by a driver who left the scene. (Facebook photo)

Following Francis’s death, rallies and vigils were organized across the province, and people pleaded for the driver to come forward and confess.

Family members said they were overwhelmed by the support from their community and the number of people who showed up at the Moncton courthouse on Tuesday.

‘He didn’t deserve this’

“I really hope Brady’s family gets the justice they deserve,” said Keora Doucette, a friend of Francis.

“As we all know the justice system has failed us many times before, but I’m very positive there will be a really good outcome out of this, not just for the community but for Brady as well, because he didn’t deserve this.”

Keora Doucette was a friend of Brady Francis and said the justice system needs to do more for the Indigenous community. (Radio-Canada)

Doucette was referring to the Tina Fontaine case in Winnipeg. She was just 15 when her body was found in Winnipeg’s Red River, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks in August 2014.

There was also Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old who was shot on a rural Saskatchewan farmyard in August 2016.

“I pray to God that justice system will understand we have rights too,” Doucette said. “Our people are dying and nothing’s been done.”

4-month investigation

News of the charge was met with feelings of relief and vindication in the Elsipogtog community after a four-month investigation produced its first charge.

“With any investigation, it takes the time it takes to conduct a proper investigation,” Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh, media relations officer with the New Brunswick RCMP, said in an interview with CBC News after the charge was laid.

A sign at CC’s Entertainment Centre, where Francis worked, counted the days without a charge being laid after he was killed. (CBC)

“In this particular case, it was an exhaustive investigation. Our investigators spoke with several people and they reviewed quite a bit of evidence, and we believe the evidence gathered warrants the charge that [was] laid.”

Source: CBC News

Fishing boats converge on Nova Scotia harbour as part of effluent pipe protest

Fishing boats pass the Northern Pulp mill as concerned residents, fishermen and Indigenous groups protest the mill's plan to dump millions of litres of effluent daily into the Northumberland Strait in Pictou, N.S., on Friday, July 6, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

Fishing boats pass the Northern Pulp mill as concerned residents, fishermen and Indigenous groups protest the mill’s plan to dump millions of litres of effluent daily into the Northumberland Strait in Pictou, N.S., on Friday, July 6, 2018. (CP/Andrew Vaughan)

Dozens of fishing boats steamed towards a hulking pulp mill in northern Nova Scotia on Friday, marking the climax of a boisterous demonstration that saw more than 1,000 protesters call on the mill’s owners to scuttle a plan to dump millions of litres of effluent a day into the Northumberland Strait.

Chanting “No pipe, no way!” a long line of marchers streamed onto the pier of a sun-drenched marina in Pictou, which is directly across the town’s harbour from the massive Northern Pulp mill.

A fishermen’s group estimated that about 200 boats were part of the flotilla that sailed into the breezy, choppy harbour around 1 p.m., then circled back to the marina as a protest rally got underway.

Though the kraft pulp mill provides much-needed jobs for the town of about 3,000 residents, its pipeline plan has raised concerns about the impact on the lobster fishery, other seafood businesses and protected areas along the coast.

After years of pumping 70 million litres of treated wastewater daily into lagoons on the edge of the nearby Pictou Landing First Nation reserve, Northern Pulp wants to dump it directly into the strait.

The mill’s parent company, Paper Excellence based in Richmond, B.C., has said the mill and its 300 employees will be out of work unless it can build a pipeline that would meet all federal environmental standards: “The bottom line is no pipe equals no mill.”

Kathy Cloutier, a spokeswoman for Paper Excellence, said in a statement that of the 131 kraft mills operating in North America, about 20 per cent use a system like the one proposed for the mill at Abercrombie Point. The remaining 80 per cent use a system similar to the lagoon system now in use.

Cloutier said options are limited, as no other effluent systems are used in either the U.S. or Canada.

“Northern Pulp has thoroughly investigated treatment options available,” Cloutier said. “This $70-million project will considerably reduce the need for bleaching chemicals by 30 to 40 per cent to whiten the pulp as it progresses through the system.”

Nonetheless, Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul said her people’s fight against the mill isn’t over.

“There have been many people working tirelessly for years to bring this to the forefront,” she said after stepping from one of the fishing boats in the harbour.

“This is not going to end today. We will continue to be on this water because we have a duty to protect all that lives in the water.”

Concerned residents, fishermen and Indigenous groups protest a pulp mill’s plan to dump millions of litres of effluent daily into the Northumberland Strait in Pictou, N.S on Friday, July 6, 2018. (CP/Andrew Vaughan)

Pictou Mayor Jim Ryan told the crowd that the province’s decision to conduct a Class 1 environmental assessment wasn’t good enough. He wants a federal environmental assessment.

“The town of Pictou will continue to take the firm position that protection of the fishing industry is paramount,” he said, sunshine glinting off the large chain of office around his neck.

Earlier in the day, P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan issued a statement saying he had written to federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil to express his concerns about the potential impact on the ecosystem of the Northumberland Strait.

“Given the amount of time that has passed and fresh uncertainty about the Northern Pulp proposal, I believe there is now an opportunity to take a more fully collaborative approach,” the letter says.

Under provincial legislation passed in 2015, the mill has until 2020 to replace its current treatment plant in nearby Boat Harbour, and McNeil confirmed Thursday he is sticking with that deadline.

He said he didn’t know much about the protest, adding that he wasn’t surprised by the reaction to the pipeline proposal.

“Any time there’s a development, there will be those who have opposing views, and they are polarizing at times,” McNeil said after he shuffled his cabinet Thursday, appointing a new environment minister in the process.

Before the protest got underway in Pictou, Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the province should abandon its plans to conduct a Class 1 assessment and instead order a more stringent Class 2 assessment.

If that doesn’t happen, then the federal government should be approached to conduct a comprehensive review, he said.

“Either of these would accomplish the goal of having entirely trustworthy information in front of everybody,” Burrill said.

He also called attention the mill’s spotty environmental record as its ownership has changed hands several times since it opened in 1967.

The lagoons contain nearly 50 years worth of toxic waste, which former Nova Scotia environment minister Iain Rankin has called one of the worst cases of environmental racism in Canada.

In February, groups representing fishermen in Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and New Brunswick suspended further meetings with the mill after voicing frustration over its insistence on a pipe.

Earlier this month, the company said the proposed route of a pipeline would be changed to avoid potential ice damage. That means the company has delayed filing its environmental assessment with the province.

The mill generates over $200 million annually for the provincial economy by making 280,000 tonnes of kraft pulp annually, primarily for tissue, towel, toilet and photo copy paper.

The Canadian Press 

[SOURCE]

Palestinians call on Iroquois Nationals to Withdraw from Lacrosse Championships in Israel

  • Palestinians call on world-class Lacrosse team to deny Israel the opportunity to use the Iroquois national sport to cover up its escalating, violent ethnic cleansing throughout Palestinian ancestral lands.

By Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)

Dear Iroquois Nationals,

We are writing from occupied Palestine to urge your team to withdraw from the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships in Israel. We know what an important role this sport plays in Iroquois culture, Please allow us to explain our appeal.

As indigenous peoples, we have both seen our traditional lands colonized, our people ethnically cleansed and massacred by colonial settlers. This year marks 70 years of Israeli dispossession of Palestinians, which began with what we call the Nakba, or catastrophe. In the years surrounding Israel’s establishment on our homeland in 1948, pre and post-state Israeli forces premeditatively drove out the majority of the indigenous people of Palestine and destroyed more than 500 of our villages and towns.

For 70 years, Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid has denied our refugees, who constitute about two thirds of the Palestinian people worldwide, their inherent and UN-stipulated right to return to their homes of origin and lands.

The two Israeli venues hosting the World Lacrosse Championships stand on the ruins of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages.

The Wingate Institute was built on the lands of Khirbat al-Zababida, ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian inhabitants in 1948 as part of the attacks focused on clearing indigenous villages along the coast north of Tel Aviv. The ruins of the Palestinian village Bayyarat Hannun, which met the same fate, literally stand in the shadows of Netanya Stadium.

Like the Iroquois Confederacy and the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, we struggle daily for self-determination and against ongoing dispossession and colonization.

For decades, the Israeli government, which is sponsoring the Lacrosse championships, has worked tirelessly to expand its settlements in a deliberate plan to rob indigenous Palestinians of our lands and natural resources. It regularly and quite deliberately uses major sporting events to divert the world’s attention from its entrenched oppression of Palestinians.

Like you, our people have been divided geographically by artificial boundaries, and colonial controls over travel, residence and ownership of homes and lands. Israel’s apartheid wall and military checkpoints, its brutal siege of Palestinians in Gaza, its denial of the right to return for Palestinian refugees separate families and limit our ability to travel to, from and within our traditional lands.

Like you, we have seen settler-colonialism limit and attempt to erase or appropriate our traditions, culture, heritage and identity. Israel has stolen precious artifacts from occupied Palestinian lands and carried out systematic attacks on Palestinian culture, shutting down Palestinian cinemas and theatres, raiding and banning Palestinian cultural events.

Israel has also attackedimprisoned and killed Palestinian athletes and bombed and destroyed Palestinian stadiums. Earlier this year, Israel’s sports minister posted a videoof herself with fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, known for its vile racism, as they incited violence against Palestinians, chanting “May your village be burned” to the rival Palestinian team.

Like you, we have limited rights to oversee our own laws, rules, regulations and practices among our communities. Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza are subject to Israeli military rule, while Palestinians within Israel are faced with more than 60 racist laws that racially discriminate against them in all areas of life.

Like you, foreign police and military forces invade and occupy our communities, and we have both seen members of our communities detained, jailed and killed because of their refusal to surrender to the demands of external state policies and procedures. Currently, nearly 6000 Palestinian political prisoners, including close to 300 children, many arrested during terrifying night raids, are being held in Israeli prisons where torture is rampant.

But our resistance against colonial powers for our rights, like yours, knows no limits and will not be stopped by the violence and intimidation tactics of our oppressors.

Palestinians have long looked to the resistance over generations of the indigenous people of Turtle Island as an inspiration for our struggle, as we stood in solidarity with yours. From publications to solidarity statements, financial contributions and participation in demonstrations, including standoffs at Oka, Akwesasne and Ganienkeh, and indigenous struggles at Wounded Knee, Alcatraz and most recently Standing Rock, we have stood united with your struggles against state and corporate colonialism.

As part of our ongoing struggle for freedom, justice and equality, in 2005 Palestinian national and local community organizations issued a call to people of conscience throughout the world to engage in boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns to isolate Israel until it respects the rights of indigenous Palestinians. This call has grown into the global, Palestinian-led BDS movement, and urges cutting academic, cultural, sports, military and economic ties of complicity with Israel’s regime of oppression as the most effective means of standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

We recall actor Marlon Brando’s 1973 boycott of the Academy Awards, refusing the award for Best Actor in protest of Hollywood’s treatment of indigenous peoples and that year’s struggle at Wounded Knee. Brando later said it was possibly “unkind” of him to refuse the award, but he knew there was a larger issue at hand and that the powers that be would change only if forced to.

We are asking you to respect our nonviolent picket line by withdrawing from the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships, denying Israel the opportunity to use the national sport of the Iroquois to cover up its escalating, violent ethnic cleansing of Palestinians throughout our ancestral lands.

~ Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) July 4, 2018

[SOURCE]

Idle No More protesters delay Canada Day ceremony

A dozen protesters with Idle No More Kingston faced off with police in front of City Hall to express their dismay with Canada’s record of mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples. (Meghan Balogh/The Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network)

Protesters under the banner of Idle No More Kingston blocked the Canada Day People Parade on Sunday in front of City Hall.

Approximately one dozen protesters stood in the street as the parade approached, holding signs that read “151 years of genocide,” “settler colonialism is a crime,” “Justice for Colten,” and “Tina, Jon, Colten, Jordon, Lillian. Canada kills.”

One protester wore a British flag as a cape with the words “European colonialism” written across it.

Some members of the several-hundred-strong Canada Day Civic Ceremony crowd booed the protesters as they resisted police and refused to clear the roadway.

Kingston Police asked protesters to move several times before physically pushing them down the street, using officers on foot, on bicycle and on horseback.

Protester Krista Flute, who is very active in the Idle No More Kingston movement, was arrested at the scene.

Evelyna Ekoko-Kay is one of the protesters who took part in the demonstration in front of City Hall. She and a handful of others stayed after being removed from the ceremony site and handed out pamphlets to anyone interested on the corner afterward.

Ekoko-Kay said she is not Indigenous herself but is mixed race, with one parent an immigrant and the other a colonist. She said she stands in solidarity with Indigenous people in Canada.

“I think it’s important that non-Indigenous people align ourselves with Indigenous struggle,” she said.

“Canada is a nation founded on the genocide of Indigenous people, and it’s an ongoing genocide. In this case, genocide is in the form of residential schools, in the form of the ’60s scoop when children were taken from their homes and put in foster care and separated from their culture. It’s ongoing now, and in fact today, Indigenous youth are taken at a higher rate than they were at the height of the residential school system, to the point where over 50 per cent of children in foster care are Indigenous, even though that’s only about eight per cent of the population.”

According to Ekoko-Kay, 47 per cent of boys and 50 per cent of girls in juvenile detention are Indigenous.

“Indigenous people are being killed every day, whether we’re talking about missing and murdered Indigenous women, people killed by police or white vigilantes. Their killers are consistently acquitted.”

Ekoko-Kay said she feels people need to hear the message of Indigenous people who have been marginalized, especially on Canada Day.

“When people celebrate Canada Day, whether or not they are doing it maliciously or whether or not they believe that Indigenous people deserve this, they are still helping to uphold that state and helping to celebrate it, and erase the realities of settler colonialism, which is an ongoing problem,” Ekoko-Kay said. “We wanted to create a counternarrative at this protest, this rally, because otherwise the only voices being heard are those that agree with the state and are wiling to fall in line. If that’s the case, then no one will ever know about any of these things, and that’s not acceptable. People’s lives are being taken every day. There’s no time to wait.

“If we don’t take a stand, even if we’re just a small group of people, then nothing will ever change.”

mbalogh@postmedia.com

Indigenous Mexicans spurn Presidential vote with blockades, bulldozers

Members of the Supreme Indigenous Council block the entry to their community to avoid the installation of polling stations for Mexico’s general election in the indigenous Purepecha town of Zirahuen. Reuters

NAHUATZEN, Mexico – Mexican voters will stream to the polls this Sunday in a pivotal presidential contest, but leaders representing tens of thousands of indigenous people have vowed to block voting in their communities to protest a system they say has failed them.

Polls say Mexico is on the verge of electing its first leftist anti-establishment president in modern history, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. But the prospect of change has failed to resonate with inhabitants of small towns nestled in the lush, wooded countryside of southwestern Michoacan state.

Residents here have destroyed campaign signs and set up blockades to prevent the government from delivering ballots. Election officials have declared 16 towns here “unviable,” and will not likely risk confrontation to force polling stations to open.

Among the no-go zones is the impoverished hamlet of Nahuatzen, where Purepecha indigenous locals grow avocados and eke out a living on tiny plots. On Thursday, several dozen men, some in cowboy hats, stood vigil near the town’s entrance. They had laid a tree trunk across the road to stop outsiders from entering.

“The politicians haven’t done anything besides enrich themselves and they’ve left us behind,” said Antonio Arriola, a member of a recently-created indigenous council that has petitioned the Mexican government for autonomy.

After word spread on Friday that local party bosses may try to deliver ballots in their personal cars, indigenous leaders said they would use bulldozers to dig a trench in the main road to strengthen their blockade, a tactic already employed in a nearby town.

Arriola and other local leaders grudgingly acknowledged some common ground with Lopez Obrador, the 64-year-old former Mexico City mayor who got his start in politics decades ago advocating for indigenous rights.

But Arriola said the Purepecha have learned the hard way not to pin their hopes on promises coming from politicians, even ones that purport to have their best interests in mind.

“Our roads, schools and health care have been in the gutter for more than 40 years,” he said.

Nahuatzen is part of a growing movement among Mexico’s indigenous communities, who are seeking self-rule and turning their backs on mainstream elections.

Dissent in Michoacan ignited seven years ago, ahead of the 2012 presidential election, when just one jurisdiction, the municipality of Cheran, opted out of voting. This year, the boycott spread to six additional municipalities affecting dozens of polling stations across the 16 towns, home to at least 50,000 voters.

Agitation has likewise spread to traditional Maya communities in the southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Guerrero.

Indigenous leaders in at least six towns and small cities in those states are also pledging to block balloting on Sunday. That could impact tens of thousands more voters.

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Residents block the access to their community to avoid the installation of polling stations for Mexico’s general election in the indigenous Purepecha town of Nahuatzen. Reuters

Electoral authorities may set up polling stations outside towns that have rejected them, allowing those who want to vote to do so, said Erika Barcenas, a lawyer based in Morelia, Michoacan’s capital, who advises communities that want more autonomy.

“But I think the view of the majority is a more global rejection, a rejection of political parties and of the kind of democracy we have right now,” she said.

The growing complaints of indigenous Mexicans appear to track a broader restlessness in the country, where widespread political corruption, drug violence and entrenched poverty have fueled discontent.

Support for democracy among Mexicans plummeted from slightly more than 70 percent in 2004 to just under half last year, according to data from the Latin America Public Opinion Project.

Never conquered

Resistance to far-away masters goes back centuries for the Purepecha of Michoacan. Known for their fierce independence and closely guarded metal-smelting skills before the Spanish conquest of 1521, they were one of the few kingdoms in central Mexico that Aztec armies never subdued, despite repeated attempts.

On a federal highway near the town of Zirahuen, about 22 miles (35 km) southeast of Nahuatzen, several hundred locals set up another blockade with a big yellow truck, cutting off transit in both directions.

Many in the crowd said they were determined to repel any attempt by election authorities to deliver ballots or set up polling stations.

As of Friday evening, authorities had made no such efforts.

Young indigenous men in baseball caps walked down long lines of idled vehicles, telling drivers if they wanted to pass they must remove any visible campaign advertising. In a couple of instances they peeled political party stickers from windshields.

But the cradle of Michoacan’s movement is Cheran, home to 18,000 mostly Purepecha residents. The municipality proudly displays it indigenous heritage on its police vehicles, where the town’s name is written in the indigenous language, rather than Spanish.

Anger over widespread illegal logging believed to be organized by drug gangs sparked the unrest in Cheran. Outraged residents expelled their mayor and the local police force, whom they accused of being complicit. In 2012, citizens began to set up a new governing council based on indigenous customs.

During mid-term elections in 2015, 11 polling stations in four more municipalities joined Cheran in blocking balloting.

Pedro Chavez, president of Cheran’s indigenous governing council, said he is pleased that the movement has expanded yet again during this presidential election year.

“We can be an inspiration for free self-determination and a lesson about the rights of native peoples,” said Chavez, speaking outside his nearly-completed traditional wood-plank home.

The rights of Mexico’s indigenous poor last commanded the nation’s attention just after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994 and the Zapatista National Liberation Army issued a “declaration of war” against the government.

A 12-day battle ensued, claiming at least 140 lives.

“Free determination (for indigenous communities) is something that’s now being discussed for the first time since the Zapatista revolt,” said Barcenas, the attorney.

Some election officials say a solution to rising resistance among indigenous communities lies in more local control over public finance.

“We think the crux of their struggle is the push for direct funding to address the marginalization these communities face,” said David Delgado, the national electoral institute’s delegate for Michoacan.

Marco Banos, an official with the national electoral institute, said Mexico needs to find ways to fuse indigenous customs with the country’s existing election laws in communities where resistance to voting is playing out.

Still, he said resistance to voting is not as widespread as activists assert.

But, in Arantepacua, another restive Michoacan community which is boycotting the election, Dionisio Lopez said he is finished casting ballots.

“It’s all one big mafia. We having nothing but pure corruption here in Mexico and it’s proven,” he said. “Why pretend otherwise?”

By Reuters

[SOURCE]