‘We Are Dying’: Maskwacis Community Members Overwhelmed by Suicides

Community members held a vigil to celebrate life in the wake of a wave of recent suicides in Maskwacis, Alta. on Saturday.

Community looking for answers after 14 deaths by suicide in less than 2 months

Emily Soosay is grieving the loss of her 22-year-old son Luwen Soosay-Morin, who took his life two days before Christmas. Saturday she attended a vigil for a celebration of life following a wave of recent deaths by suicide in her home community of Maskwacis, Alta.

She doesn’t want anyone else to die, in what she calls an “epidemic.”

“I am broken, hurt. I’m lost. I’m crying out for guidance,” she said.

“Right now our nation is in a state of crisis. We’re in need of help bad. We are dying. […] The chief should call a state of emergency.”

She has lost several family members and friends to suicide over the years — Soosay’s cousin also took her life just two weeks after her son. She was too traumatized to attend her cousin’s funeral.

Emily Soosay participated in the Walk for Life vigil in Maskwacis on Saturday in memory of her son Luwen Soosay-Morin who took his life two days before Christmas.

Maskwacis Indian Health Services mental health worker Rick Lightning said there have been 14 deaths by suicide within the four nations that make up Maskwacis since December 2017. He also believes local leadership should call a state of emergency because help is desperately needed.

“It’s a cultural crisis and spirituality. There’s a spirit here. At night sometimes I can feel the heaviness creep over the land, the dark side running around knocking on the doors and the windows looking for its next victim.”

Lightning has witnessed the numbers of suicides rise while growing up in the community with a population of approximately 17,000, and has been personally affected by it.

His own daughter and granddaughter died by suicide three years ago. At that time suicide was also rampant in Maskwacis with an estimated 70 people taking their lives in less than six months.

“When I was a young kid my dad used to get up at sunrise. He’d sing and he’d pray. He’d say ‘I’m not alone. There’s many other old people out there that are doing the same as me. We keep the dark side out of here,'” said Lightning.

Maskwacis Indian Health Services counsellor Rick Lightening with his daughter Amber who took her life in March 2015.

“It starts with that protective circle,” he added, saying he believes a loss of spirituality among young people has contributed to the suicide epidemic.

There are seven mental health workers that serve Maskwacis from the Indian Health Services centre, but Lightning said they are overloaded. His cell phone rings off the hook, day and night from people reaching out for help.

“People are destitute here. The only people that were doing well are the funeral homes making the money off of us.”

He hopes Maskwacis can come together to create a 24-hour youth safe centre. A warm place where individuals can go to talk, share their experiences and be encouraged to not give up.

Soosay also wants to see an emergency youth centre built.

Samson Band member Mason Buffalo remembers loved ones he’s lost to suicide while attending the Walk for Life in Maskwacis on Saturday.

“Our children are crying for help. It’s violence, it’s poverty — we’re facing it all first hand,” she said.

“But not just up to chief and council. It’s up to us as parents, community members, grassroots people to keep our youth alive and well.”

Samson band member Janet Swampy is also familiar with the effects of suicide, having lost six family members. She thinks the healing and intervention needs to come from inside the community.

She says the current system of emergency support is a phone line that connects callers to outside sources who are unfamiliar with Indigenous culture.

“As an Aboriginal individual if I was contemplating suicide and they gave me a suicide hotline, with my experience in the world today being ostracized by the white community, do you honestly think I’m going to grab that phone and talk to someone on the other side that doesn’t understand my culture?” asked Janet.

“We need to take care of our own. Have someone on the other end of line that understands us, youth, our elders and the whole community.”

Samson band councillor Katherine Swampy agrees that the solution to the current epidemic is community.

‘I don’t want to give suicide any more power.’ – Emily Soosay

“When people have a connection to each other they are stronger, they feel loved, they have supports to go to when they need help,” said Katherine.

“I noticed how scared our people are when they need help. They don’t look at hospitals or health centres as a place to go for help if they feel suicidal or depressed; they are afraid they’ll be locked up, or if they have kids, they are afraid their children will be taken away by children services.”

Her sister attempted suicide on Jan. 8 and is in the process of healing, she said. Katherine too once found herself contemplating suicide after fighting hopelessness.

She doesn’t think calling a state of emergency is the answer. In the past the community has asked for outside help, but says it hardly made a difference.

“Off-reserve facilities seem to be failing our people. Maskwacis health centre has counselling, mental health services, and community wellness has programs provided,” she said.

In the meantime Soosay is focusing on raising awareness in memory of her son.

“I have to go on without my baby. I’m embracing life now — I don’t want to give suicide any more power.”

By Brandi Morin, CBC News Posted: Jan 14, 2018


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Crown seeks adult sentence for second teen guilty in death of Serena McKay

(Image: Serena McKay / Facebook)

A second teen has pleaded guilty for her role in the death of 19-year-old Serena McKay.

Mckay was killed in April of last year on Sagkeeng First Nation. A graphic video showing the teen being brutally beaten the night she died was later circulated on social media.

The girl, 16 at the time, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Winnipeg youth court on Wednesday. The Crown is asking for an adult sentence.

Sentencing for the teen will take place in June.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, an 18-year-old woman pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in December for her part in the death of McKay, who was found dead outside a home on Sagkeeng. The Crown did not seek an adult sentence for that teen.

Her sentencing hearing is set for April.

McKay likely froze to death, left helpless after a violent attack. She was reported missing on Sunday, April 23, and about two hours later, McKay’s body was found by a community member.

The two girls, who cannot be named because of their ages, were arrested and charged with second-degree murder a few days later.

All three teenagers attended the same Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School,

Drunken argument led to the vicious on-camera beating

CBC News reports, the court heard that there were seven people at a party, including the accused and McKay, on the night of Saturday, April 22.

A fight broke out between the accused teenager and McKay over alcohol and at some point McKay was kicked out of the party. That’s when the fight turned physical.

Two videos filmed — which later became widely shared on Facebook — showed McKay being beaten.

Mckay’s death attracted national attention and prompted a call to action against violence in Sagkeeng, located 140 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Artificial Intelligence Pilot Project to look for Suicide Warning Signs across Canada

Pilot will examine all parts of country including Indigenous communities

An Ottawa-based firm has been tapped by the federal government for a three-month pilot project designed to look for warning signs for suicide before tragedy strikes.

Advanced Symbolics Inc., is an artificial intelligence service company set to examine suicide hot spots across the country to better understand precursors to suicide.

The pilot, expected to start by the beginning of February, will examine all parts of the country including Indigenous communities, said chief scientist Kenton White, though he stressed the goal is not to focus on any particular group.

“What we would like to try and understand is what are the signals … that would allow us to forecast where the next hot spots are so that we can help the government of Canada to provide the resources that are … going to be needed to help prevent suicide before the tragedies happen,” White said.

There were a number of high profile “hot spots” in 2017, White added, noting northern communities and places like Cape Breton were hit particularly hard by spikes in suicide.

Advanced Symbolics’ pilot will not identify individuals, White added, saying safeguards are in place to ensure individuals can’t be identified within samples.

“This is not Minority Report and we are not identifying individuals who … have risk of self harm,” he said.

“We are not knocking on doors or contacting individuals. We have nothing that is personally identifiable about any individuals in this study.”

Instead, the company turns to a technique to create randomized, controlled samples of social media users in all regions.

The project will only use anonymous data already in the public domain for surveillance purposes, according to the Public Works contract award document posted online.

White, also an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa, said Tuesday his biggest hope is the research can demonstrate a positive application for artificial intelligence.

“So many times in AI research we hear the stories about AI is going to take jobs … Big Brother is spying on us,” he said.

“If you can show that (suicide) rates have gone down because we have deployed this sort of study, that would be most gratifying.”

Dr. Stan Kutcher, a Dalhousie University psychiatry professor who examined a spate of Cape Breton teen suicides in 2017, said this summer that authorities need to look beyond bullying in their response to tragedies, adding there is a tendency to assume it causes “every single problem” young people have and that it is “just not true.”

The Canadian Press


Family says Indigenous Elder Humiliated by Search at Sask. Canadian Tire Store

Gordon Albert, 78, searched by an employee at the North Battleford Canadian Tire.

Elder from Sweetgrass First Nation searched at North Battleford Canadian Tire store

First Nations elder says he was humiliated when an employee searched him at a Canadian Tire store in Saskatchewan earlier this week.

“They really, really embarrassed us,” said Gordon Albert, 78, of the Sweetgrass First Nation Thursday. “They thought that since we’re native we’d steal something.”

Albert was in North Battleford shopping for a gift with his wife Marlene and son Deryk on Monday, but they didn’t find what they were looking for.

The anti-theft sensor by the door beeped as they left and an employee stopped them and asked him to take off his coat, his wife said.

“That lady took his cigarettes out, took his phone out. She was just going through his pockets,” she said. “He said, ‘What else do you want me to take off? My clothes?”‘

The employee never explicitly accused her husband of stealing, but the encounter was upsetting, she said.

The couple have been driving buses on the Sweetgrass reserve and in town for decades and are well known for their work with the local minor hockey team, she said.

They go to Canadian Tire often to shop for gardening supplies or things for their vehicle and have never had an experience like this.

Gordon Albert said the suggestion that he would steal makes no sense.

“I make enough money that I can buy whatever I want. I don’t have to go that route,” he said.

Canadian Tire said in a statement that staff asked to inspect Albert’s belongings, as they normally would when an alarm goes off.

They determined that the sensor was triggered by something they had bought elsewhere.

“Recent conversations between the store and Mr. Albert and his family have been positive and productive, and the store considered the matter to have been resolved,” the company said.

Albert said the store manager called to apologize the next day.

“He said ‘sorry, sorry sorry.’ I said ‘that’s not going to help,”‘ he said.

He said he told the manager that Canadian Tire had been one of his favourite stores in North Battleford.

Albert said he won’t shop there again.

But he said he can also understand why the store would want to crack down on theft.

Deryk Albert said he got a call from the manager, too.

“He said, ‘It wasn’t a race thing’ and I said, ‘It was a race thing,”‘ he said.

It was embarrassing to have everyone in the store looking at them, he said.

“It just offended me … I was pretty upset all that day.”

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said the retail industry needs a wake-up call.

“The family is still considering their options, but at the very least, I am recommending that they file a human rights complaint,” said Chief Bobby Cameron.

Gordon Albert said he’s not keen on doing that.

“I’m kind of forgetting about it,” he said. “Why cry over spilled milk?”

By Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press 


Grizzly Bear Hunting Banned in British Columbia

There are about 15,000 grizzly bears in British Columbia

British Columbia has formally brought an end to grizzly bear hunting in the province.

The B.C. government says public consultations have made it clear that killing grizzlies is no longer socially acceptable.

On Monday the NDP banned all grizzly bear hunting in the province with immediate effect.

According to the government, 78 per cent of British Columbians recommended grizzly hunting be stopped entirely.

First Nations will still be allowed to hunt grizzlies for food, social or ceremonial reasons, or for treaty rights.

The government estimates there are about 15,000 grizzly bears in the province.

The grizzlies will now be protected province-wide from both trophy and regular hunting.

In August, the provincial government announced a ban on trophy hunting across all of B.C., which came into effect following the close of the fall hunting season on Nov. 30.

Around 300 grizzly bears are killed in the hunt every year, about 250 of which are taken by non-First Nations hunters.

A year after girl killed, Navajo Nation to get alert system

A year after girl killed, Navajo Nation to get alert system. (AP Photo)

More than a year after a Native American girl was killed and her tribe was criticized for not having an alert system in place when children go missing, the Navajo Nation has signed a contract to purchase the software it needed to get the notification system running by the end of this month.

The tribe, whose reservation is the largest in the U.S. and spans three western states, came under fierce criticism in 2016 after 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike was reported missing. She never made it home from her school bus stop and was found dead the next day, killed by a stranger who sexually assaulted her and struck her twice in the head with a crowbar.

An Amber Alert that would have sent information about her via cellphone messages and information to the media did not go out until the day she was found. The case raised questions about gaps in communication and coordination between tribal and local law enforcement.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said Wednesday that the new notification system will help make life safer on the vast reservation.

“We always pray that we will never have another abduction, but we need this in place so that the whole nation can be alert and help make sure that a child is recovered safely and quickly,” he said in a statement.

This May 6, 2016 file photo shows a portrait of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike, who was abducted and murdered in 2016. (AP Photo)

The tribe has relied on New Mexico, Arizona and Utah to activate Amber Alerts. Before an alert is issued, officers must go through a list of requirements to establish a case. If they meet the criteria, they can start the process of asking the states to issue an Amber Alert.

That procedure was used during Ashlynne’s abduction. Ashlynne’s father, Gary Mike, has sued the tribe, claiming it failed to send the alert about his daughter in a timely manner.

Prosecutors have said Ashlynne and her younger brother were lured into a van after the pair got off the bus and started walking home. The boy was left in the desert and later found his way to a highway, where he was picked up and authorities were notified.

The man convicted of the crime — Tom Begaye, no relation to Russell Begaye — was sentenced in October to life in prison.

Tom Begaye of Waterflow, N.M., was arrested in connection with 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike’s disappearance and death via AP

After the abduction, Navajo officials began working on getting federal approvals and training for an alert system. It then took several months to acquire funding to purchase the software.

Once the new system is installed, it will be managed by the Navajo Department of Emergency Management.

The tribe will be able to push alerts over radio, television and text messaging to 11 counties within the reservation’s borders.

Ashlynne’s case drew the attention of elected officials, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who sponsored legislation to expand the Amber Alert system in Native American communities across the nation.

McCain has called the case devastating, saying that FBI data shows more than 7,500 Native American children have been listed as missing in the U.S.

The measure is pending in the House after getting Senate approval two weeks ago. It has the bipartisan support of lawmakers from Montana, New Mexico and North Dakota.

“This is part of a broader effort to raise awareness and bring better systems of justice to Indian Country and to give law enforcement agencies at all levels the tools they need to prevent crime and bring criminals to justice,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota and a co-sponsor of the bill.

 Associated Press


Stunning Photos Show Life of Remote Indigenous Tribes in Brazil

Bej Indian in the Xingu river, state of Mato Grosso, Brazil (Photo: Ricardo Stuckert)

Images offer rare glimpse into life of Brazilian tribes

These stunning photographs show the indigenous Kamaiurá people diving underwater and swimming beneath a waterfall in the Amazonian basin.

The tribe, which has a population of just over 500, lives in the Upper Xingu region around Lake Ipavu, four miles from the Kuluene River.

These incredible images offer a rare glimpse of life within remote Brazilian tribes and show women diving underwater

These images offer a rare glimpse of life within remote Brazilian tribes and show women diving underwater (Photo: Ricardo Stuckert)

These images offer a rare glimpse of life within remote Brazilian tribes and show women diving underwater (Photo: Ricardo Stuckert)

These images offer a rare glimpse of life within remote Brazilian tribes and show women diving underwater (Photo: Ricardo Stuckert)

The photos provide an overview of the contemporary situation of indigenous people in Brazil.

The Kamaiurá, whose name means ‘a raised platform to keep meat, pots and pans’, were first contacted by the outside world in 1884.

Its population was ravaged by disease in the 1950s.

Brazilian authorities declared the region a national park in 1961 to prevent the spread of deadly epidemics.


A member of the Tanawy Xucuru Cariri tribe stands beside the So Francisco river in the state of Alagoas. (Picture: Ricardo Stuckert)

Tribes men wearing traditional colourful clothing looked to the skies as they stand in the branches of a tree above a stretch of water in Brazil. (Photo: Ricardo Stuckert)

A tribesman on horseback looks out across a stretch of water as the sun sets. (Photo: Ricardo Stuckert)

The images were captured by photographer Ricardo Stuckert while spending time living with the indigenous community two years ago.

Stuckert said: ‘The pictures show the traditional way of life of these people who live in harmony with nature. They provide an overview of the contemporary situation of the indigenous people in Brazil.

“I’ve been a professional photographer for 29 years, and have been photographing Brazil’s Indigenous people since 1996, when I visited an Yanomany tribe. Since then, I have become a strong supporter of Indigenous people.”

Tribesmen perform a ceremonial dance in another of the photographer’s stunning images. (Photo: Ricardo Stuckert)

The collection of photographs has now been published in a book titled Brazilian Indians, as part of an effort by Stuckert to help them.

Why does Canada spy on its own Indigenous communities?

Woodland Cree Tribe Walk protest, January 2017. Image: Joel Angel Juarez/Zuma Press/PA Images

Indigenous nations have emerged as vocal defenders of land and water, but state surveillance of these groups is disproportionate, and speaks of the broad criminalisation of Indigenous peoples.

This article is part of Right to Protest, a partnership project with human rights organisations CELS and INCLO, with support from the ACLU, examining the power of protest and its fundamental role in democratic society. 

Researchers and journalists have begun to reveal the extent to which Indigenous activists and organisations in Canada are subject to surveillance by police, military, national security intelligence agencies and other government bodies. While security agencies have long looked beyond ‘traditional’ national security threats and set their sights on activists – even in the absence of evidence linking these individuals or organisations to any violent criminal activity – this reality is increasingly the subject of media and public scrutiny. As Jeffrey Monaghan and Kevin Walby have written, the language of “aboriginal and multi-issue extremists” in security discourse blurs the line between threats to national security, matters of ordinary law enforcement, and lawful, democratic advocacy.

In this piece, we summarise some of what is known about the surveillance practices employed to keep tabs on Indigenous leaders and activists, and describe their impact on Charter-protected and internationally recognised human rights and freedoms.

Indigenous nations and peoples have emerged, worldwide, as vocal defenders of land and water, organising to protect ancestral territories and ways of life. In Canada, while aboriginal and treaty rights are constitutionally recognised and affirmed, the interpretation of those rights is highly contested and a matter frequently before the country’s highest court. Indigenous activists and organisations in Canada have led popular resistance to the development of new oil and gas pipelines, hydroelectric dams, mining operations, and other extractive industries that have significant environmental impact and which frequently encroach on Indigenous territories.

This resistance – with tactics ranging from peaceful protest and strategic litigation to the establishment of creative action camps and blockades – has frequently been met with a forceful police response. Through diligent research and investigative reporting, a pattern of extensive surveillance of these activities has also emerged – implicating law enforcement, intelligence agencies and numerous other government bodies.

The pattern of surveillance against Indigenous activists and organisations… can be characterised as disproportionate and alienating

Both freedom of expression and assembly are guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which forms part of the Canadian constitution. The freedom from unreasonable search and seizure – which provides constitutional protection for privacy – is also guaranteed. The law recognises certain limits to these rights, provided they further a compelling government objective and are proportionate to that objective. However, the pattern of surveillance against Indigenous activists and organisations that has emerged in Canada is one that can clearly be characterised as disproportionate and alienating, with no evidence that it is necessary. Though these operations are inherently covert, Indigenous activists, researchers and human rights advocates have begun – largely through access-to-information requests – to piece together a clearer picture of the ways in which this surveillance takes place. Below, we discuss surveillance of individual leaders, surveillance of communities and movements, and how the agencies and departments that gather information use and share it.

Idle No More protest. Image: Daniela Kantorova/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Surveillance of Indigenous leaders

Government agencies have engaged in surveillance and information-gathering activities focused on Indigenous leaders and activists. Take for example the case of Dr. Cindy Blackstock, who is a Gitksan activist for child welfare, the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, and a Professor of Social Work at McGill University. Dr. Blackstock’s organisation (along with the Assembly of First Nations) had sought justice at Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal regarding the federal government’s failure to provide equal funding for services for First Nations children, youth and families living on First Nations reserves. Access to information requests revealed that between 2009 and 2011, Dr. Blackstock was subject to extensive monitoring by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) – the government department responsible for Indigenous issues — and the Department of Justice. Officials monitored her personal and professional activities on Facebook and attended between 75 and 100 of her public speaking engagements, taking detailed notes and widely distributing reports on her activities. In 2013, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner found that by engaging in this personal monitoring – which was unrelated to her professional activities or her organisation’s case against the government – the Department of Justice and INAC had violated Dr. Blackstock’s privacy rights.

Similarly, Dr. Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaq lawyer, member of the Eel River Bar First Nation, and an Associate Professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. Following public revelations that Dr. Cindy Blackstock was being monitored by the government, Dr. Palmater made access to information requests to INAC, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS – Canada’s national spy agency), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP – Canada’s national police force), and the federal Department of National Defence (DND). While many of the records sought were legally exempt from disclosure, Dr. Palmater noted that some portions of her request to CSIS were exempt under section 15(1)(c) of the Access to Information Act as relating “to the efforts of Canada towards detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities.” In a statement to the Public Safety Committeeof the House of Commons related to its study of Bill C-51 (Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015) Dr. Palmater stated that INAC also admitted to having 750 pages of documentation on her activities and whereabouts, but had destroyed the files before they had the opportunity to give them to her.

Clayton Thomas-Muller’s case provides another example. Mr. Thomas-Muller is a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and a former Idle No Moreorganiser. The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) National News obtained documents from criminology professor Dr. Jeffrey Monaghan demonstrating that in 2010 and 2011, information about Thomas-Muller (who was at the time a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)) had made its way into the RCMP’s Suspicious Incidents Report (SIR) despite acknowledgement that there was no specific criminal threat at issue: Thomas-Muller was simply planning a trip to the Wet’suwet’en action camp against the Northern Gateway pipeline. The report was referred for inclusion in the SIR on the basis that IEN was an ‘extremist’ group, although the basis for this characterisation, or how the group was designated as such, is not known.

Surveillance of communities and movements

The records detailing monitoring of individual activists and leaders speak to a larger pattern of surveillance against non-violent dissent, Indigenous-led social movements and their allies. As APTN reported in relation to the documents referring to Thomas-Muller, RCMP records also listed a number of groups as “involved persons,” including “the Defenders of the Land, Direct Action in Canada for Climate Justice, Ontario Public Interest Research Group, Ruckus Society, Global Justice Ecology Project, Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, the Indigenous Action Movement and the Wet’suwet’en Direct Action Camp.” In 2014, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed complaints against both the RCMP and CSIS, alleging unlawful surveillance against opponents of Northern Gateway that included many of the same organisations. While the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP launched an independent investigation, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) (the body responsible for CSIS oversight) instead held a series of secret hearings. They issued a decision in 2015, but barred the BCCLA from speaking about the outcome. The BCCLA has since applied for judicial review of this decision.

Just last month, documents obtained by VICE News demonstrate that the RCMP surveilled Indigenous activists who constructed a Tipi on Parliament Hill as part of Idle No More’s Unsettling Canada 150, a campaign coinciding with 150 years since Canadian confederation. Idle No More has come under government scrutiny on other occasions: in 2015 documents obtained by APTNconfirmed that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND, now INAC) shared information about peaceful protests led by the group with Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and passed on information about meetings between government and First Nations leaders to the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and others.

The Government Operations Centre (GOC) called an emergency teleconference… and widely circulated a spreadsheet detailing these solidarity events

In 2013, an RCMP raid on a Mi’kmaq-led anti-fracking camp in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick triggered a heated confrontation and dozens of arrests. Documents revealed that the Canadian Forces National Counter-Intelligence Unit was also involved in monitoring the situation at Elsipogtog. In response to the raid, activists took to social media, calling for peaceful solidarity actions to take place in the following days. APTN revealed that the Government Operations Centre (GOC) called an emergency teleconference with a long list of federal departments and widely circulated a spreadsheet detailing these solidarity events. It included such events as “a jingle-dress healing dance in Kenora, Ont., a prayer ceremony in Edmonton and an Idle No More ‘taco fundraiser, raffle and jam session’ planned at the Native Friendship Centre in Barrie.”

Image: Brendan Bombaci/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Sharing and using the fruits of surveillance

The surveillance and monitoring of Indigenous communities and movements is in no way confined to the examples noted above. In 2011, the Toronto Starreported that a distinct Joint Intelligence Group (JIG) of the RCMP was formed specifically to monitor the activities of Aboriginal groups in 2007. While the unit was “dismantled” in 2010, the RCMP would not confirm whether the same activities were taking place under another name or program. Documents revealed that as of 2009, their activities focused on 18 “communities of concern,” flagged largely for their opposition to logging, mining or pipeline projects.

Journalists noted that the JIG reported on a weekly basis to approximately 450 recipients, including “unnamed ‘industry partners’ in the energy and private sector,” highlighting a potentially troubling information-sharing relationship between government and private corporations. The Dominion and a summary of these issues by Voices-Voix reported that intelligence sharing between government and private sector actors has regularly taken place through classified briefings, raising concern among Indigenous and environmental activists. As Clayton Thomas-Muller reflected in an interview with APTN National News following revelations that he had been under surveillance:

“We are challenging the most powerful corporate entities on the planet … What we have on our side is endless human resources. We have the power of our ancestors and traditions fueling us. We are intimately aware of the domestic surveillance that is happening as well as the agenda to criminalise Indigenous dissent.”

VICE News has also obtained documents demonstrating that Canada’s spy agency has taken a keen interest in the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at the Oceti Sakowin Camp. In a 2016 CSIS document, the spy agency noted that “there is strong Canadian Aboriginal support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as many see similarities to their own struggles against proposed pipeline construction in Canada (Northern Gateway, Pacific Trails, Energy East, etc.).”

In 2015, the federal government passed legislation (Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015) that enabled even greater information-sharing practices amongst government agencies about “threats to critical infrastructure” or “the economic and financial stability of Canada”, both of which may provide an excuse to share information in a manner that chills and thereby threatens the constitutionally recognised right to protest. The same legislation afforded dramatic new “disruption” powers to CSIS. Over 100 Canadian legal academics wrote a lengthy analysis in opposition to the bill. Melina Laboucan-Massimo described the chilling effects of the legislation for openDemocracy in 2015:

“It is legislation like this that makes it difficult for people to not be scared into silence, and for people like me who believe that we need a just transition to renewable energy and engage in peaceful protests that may be seen as criminal in the eyes of the Canadian government. But this history is not new for us as Indigenous peoples here in Canada. It is the continuation of neo colonialism seen now in the form of resource extraction, environmental and cultural genocide.”

Bill C-51 is currently subject to a constitutional challenge led by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Despite promises to correct the unconstitutional aspects of Bill C-51, the current government’s proposed reform to national security law (Bill C-59) fails to address many of the concerns raised in that Charter challenge. The notion that peaceful resistance – such as opposition to pipeline projects or other private development – constitutes a meaningful threat to “critical infrastructure” encourages the profiling of Indigenous groups by Canada’s national security bodies.

The consequences of criminalisation

The Canadian government is only beginning to confront its history of violence and colonialism against Indigenous peoples. As Pam Palmater testified to the House of Commons in 2015:

“Every aspect of our identity has been criminalised, both historically and into the present day. In every single instance, we’ve had to resist all of these laws, keeping in mind that these were all validly enacted laws. It was legal to take Mi’kmaq scalps; it was legal to confine us to reserves; it was legal to deny us legal representation. All of these things were law in Canada. We had to be criminals, in that we had to break the law in order to preserve our lives, our physical security, and our identities.”

A systemic pattern of over-policing and over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government remains a core feature of our legal system

Sixty percent of First Nations children on reserve continue to live in poverty and there are over 70 First Nations communities where drinking water advisories have been in effect for one year or more. A systemic pattern of over-policing and over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government remains a core feature of our legal system. Though First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples comprise about 4% of the Canadian population, they make up over 23% of the federal inmate population, leading commentators to describe Canada’s prisons as “the new residential schools.” This pattern of criminalisation means that Indigenous people in Canada are more likely to be disproportionately subject to the kinds of “everyday surveillance” associated with poverty, urbanisation and incarceration, alongside the enhanced surveillance threats faced by those who are active on issues of land and water. The surveillance of Indigenous activists and organisations in Canada must be understood as part of this larger context.

The CCLA is concerned about the long-term impacts of government surveillance of individuals and communities in Canada generally, and of Indigenous activists in particular. While surveillance is most often discussed in terms of privacy rights – and while it is doubtlessly true that many forms of state surveillance are deeply invasive intrusions into the private lives of individuals and communities – privacy is not the only right at stake. In fact, the kind of government surveillance that Indigenous activists and groups have been subject to has the potential to affect a wide range of rights and freedoms protected by the Charter, as well as jeopardise many of our most deeply held democratic values. Pervasive surveillance creates a climate of insecurity, with the potential to discourage legitimate democratic participation, curtail peaceful assembly, and chill freedom of speech, of religious expression and of the press. When these consequences are disproportionately aimed at those engaged with the democratic process through their activism and political work, democracy, and the public interest as a whole, suffer.

The article Why does Canada spy on its own indigenous communities? was written by Lex Gill and Cara Zwibel  and published in openDemocracy on Dec 6 2017

This article was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Human Skull Found in Car’s Trunk Belongs to Native American

(Photo: Angels Camp PD)

Authorities say a human skull found last month in the trunk of a car during a Northern California traffic stop belongs to a Native American that was dug up from a construction site.

The Stockton Record reports Tuesday that officials determined the skull was that of a Native American but experts are still trying to determine its age and whether it was extracted from a Native American burial site.

Deborah Grimes, a member of the Calaveras Band of Mi-Wuk Indians, says she went to the site and though she did not find additional human remains, she located tools used by the land’s original inhabitants.

Angels Camp police officers on Nov. 22 pulled over 41-year-old Joshua Davis of Murphys for failing to halt at a stop-sign. They found methamphetamine behind the fuel door and the skull in the trunk.

The Associated Press


Teen Held Captive, Tortured Dismissed By Police As Runaway Case, MMIWG Inquiry Hears

Commissioner Michèle Audette hugs families from Unamen Shipu, Que., who gave devastating testimonies at the MMIWG inquiry on Wednesday in Mani-Utenam. (CBC)

Jean-Frédérick Gosselin sentenced to 5 years for attack in 2014, but Innu mother’s faith in justice is gone

The adoptive mother of an Innu teenager who was kidnapped, held captive and savagely tortured for weeks in 2011 said police never supported her in her search, dismissing her daughter’s disappearance as a runaway case.

Maria, whose real name cannot be published because her adopted daughter, now 22, was still a minor in 2011, recounted the anguish she endured in her testimony Thursday, the fourth day of Quebec hearings of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) in Mani-Utenam, near Sept-Îles.

She said the then-15-year-old, who is her biological great-granddaughter, failed to come home from a pool party in Quebec City where they were living in August 2011.

After her daughter’s disappearance, Maria said she drove up and down a 1,000-kilometre stretch of highway between Quebec City and Natashquan, her home community, searching for clues and following up tips she received from friends.

“I had the impression police weren’t helping me. They weren’t nice with me when I went to ask for information,” said Maria, who added she did receive support from the Missing Children’s Network in Montreal.

Maria said her hopes were shattered several times after police called to tell her they had found her daughter, who turned out to be a different Indigenous girl, one without the distinctive birthmarks and piercings Maria had described to police.

Found naked, curled up in closet

On one of her lone trips, Maria received a phone call that police had found her daughter, curled up and naked, in an apartment closet.

She raced back to Quebec City from Sept-Îles — a nine-hour drive.

“I would never wish this on anyone,” Maria said, describing what her daughter had lived through.

“She had been knocked out, had cigarette burns all over her.”

Maria said her daughter had been held captive all that time in a home in Wendake, the Huron-Wendat enclave in Quebec City.

She told commissioners she wasn’t able to recount the details of the torture and sexual violence her daughter endured.

“She remembers vaguely that she was tied to a wall, her arms pinned in the air, and the man was throwing knives at her,” Maria said, saying she can’t shake the thought her daughter could have died at any moment.

‘There is much injustice’

The teen had tried to escape but was knocked unconscious by her perpetrator by a blow to the head. A court later heard she came to in a bathtub filled with icy-cold water. Maria said the girl suffered serious long-term injuries as a result.

Jean-Frédérick Gosselin, now 40, was charged with forcible confinement, armed assault and sexual assault.

The Crown later dropped the forcible confinement charge. Gosselin pleaded guilty to the other charges and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Maria said that the five-year sentence doesn’t begin to repair the harm he caused.

She said her daughter never received any support from Quebec’s Crime Victims Assistance Centre, CAVAC.

Maria told the inquiry she had never had faith in the judicial system, which she says is devoid of any human values.

“There is much injustice,” Maria concluded.

Maria’s own traumatic childhood

Maria said she adopted her great-granddaughter as a toddler because of the unhealthy, beer-bottle-strewn environment she found her living in.

“I went in at 4 a.m., she was still walking around in her diaper. I couldn’t believe my great-granddaughter was living in this house,” she told the commissioners.

Like many of the witnesses speaking at this inquiry, Maria has lived through many traumatic episodes.

Raised with her family in the bush near Ekuanitshit, 200 kilometres east of Sept-Îles, at eight, Maria was sent away to a sanatorium in Gaspé.

She said Innu children from all over Quebec were sent there to be treated for tuberculosis, even though she doesn’t believe she had TB.

“We played around and had lots of fun. We certainly didn’t look like sick kids,” Maria said, suggesting the children were being “used as guinea pigs.”

After 13 months in the institution, Maria returned home to her mother, where she said she was the victim of sexual abuse perpetrated by a distant relative who’d come into their tent at night.

“I was afraid if I told my mother, she’d confront him. And I couldn’t lose my mother. She was the most important thing in my life. So I buried the secret within me.”

Maria said she was then forced into a violent marriage which lasted 34 years.

She said once her children were grown, she had enough of it and left, reclaiming her life.

Peace, at last — and laughter

Now Maria said she is a happy person, grateful to have a great-great-grandchild. At times resorting to humour, Maria showed how vital that’s been to her recovery.

“My doctor told me I had one foot in the grave. I told him the other one is ready,” she said, setting off another wave of laughter from the hearing’s participants.

“Don’t be afraid to love your children. There is no shame in loving your child,” she told the audience as she finished her testimony.

Innu singers chant a song of respect for the witnesses appearing before the MMIWG inquiry and for victims of violence and their families. (Julia Page/CBC)

Innu singers chant a song of respect for the witnesses appearing before the MMIWG inquiry and for victims of violence and their families. (Julia Page/CBC)

The MMIWG hearings continued in the small Innu community until Friday.

Earlier this week, four women testified they had been victims of Alexis Joveneau, a Belgian missionary, alleging there were several others.

Joveneau, who arrived in Quebec from Belgium in the early 1950s, died in Unaman Shipu, also known as La Romaine, in 1992.

Women and men described to the inquiry’s commissioners the power Joveneau wielded over the communities, helping the government to force the people of Pakua Shipu to a new reserve 175 kilometres away in the 1960s, and the devastation left by the alleged sexual abuse.

Missing parents and children

In some cases, Innu families are speaking out for the first time in decades.

The family of Anne-Marie Jourdain said they believe their mother was murdered at the end of November 1957, while she was out trapping in the woods north of Port-Cartier, about 60 kilometres southwest of Sept-Îles.

Families from Pakua Shipu, near the Labrador border, also told commissioners how their children were never returned after being taken away for medical treatment to the nearby hospital in Blanc-Sablon in the 1970s.

A witness said death certificates were never provided for at least eight babies, who were never properly buried.

Read full story: HERE 

By Julia Page posted in CBC News, Nov 30, 2017