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

[SOURCE]

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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.

Plan for Indigenous People to Watch Cops

Plan for indigenous people to watch cops

  • Staff | The Australian, July 13, 2017

Indigenous communities across Australia could be trained to expose police harassment with mobile phones and social media if a human rights group’s plan succeeds.

The Copwatch project will provide human rights lawyers and journalists to teach indigenous communities how to film and share interactions with police and authority figures.

Sydney-based National Justice Project is developing the program as a response to complaints of over-policing in indigenous communities.

Sixteen Aboriginal communities in NSW’s central west will put their hand up for Copwatch if it gets off the ground.

“The community shouldn’t be the ones monitoring the police behaviour but we have to because of ongoing abuse,” Murdi Paaki chair Des Jones told AAP on Wednesday.

“It will teach people their rights, how to use their phones. It’ll train them to be aware and when to lock-and-load their recording device.”

Mr Jones, whose organisation represents 16 communities, said he wants to put the experiences Aboriginal people have with police in front of human rights watchdogs.

NSW Police respects the rights of citizens to film in a public place, a spokesman told AAP.

He added that there were existing avenues to file complaints about the conduct of officers but did not comment on allegations of over-policing among indigenous communities.

Copwatch has raised more than $23,000 of its $50,000 goal through crowdfunding online at chuffed.org.

Australian Associated Press

[SOURCE]

Ottawa Must Act to Address Indigenous Suicide in Canada: Committee

MaryAnn Mihychuk, chair of the House of Commons standing committee on Indigenous and Northern affairs, speaks in Ottawa on Monday regarding the committee’s report on Indigenous suicide. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

  • Staff| The Globe and Mail, Jun. 19, 2017

A long history of misguided federal policies has fuelled repeated suicide crises in Canada’s Indigenous communities and urgent government action is needed to address the root causes, which include inadequate health care, housing, infrastructure and economic development, says a unanimous report by politicians of all stripes.

The Indigenous Affairs committee, which spent more than a year studying the problem of suicide among Canada’s first peoples and released its report on Monday, found that the intergenerational trauma of residential schools, forced relocations of communities and racism on the part of health-care workers, teachers and social-service agents all contributed to the problem.

The committee’s 28 broad-ranging recommendations include calls for the federal government to dramatically overhaul the delivery of child welfare, and to fully implement what is known as Jordan’s Principle, which says native children should receive the same quality of health care as is provided to other children in Canada.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) found last year that the discriminatory policies of the Indigenous Affairs department have led to chronic underfunding of welfare on reserves and have allowed jurisdictional issues to interfere with the provision of adequate health services, including mental-health services.

“We need to send a message to Indigenous Canadians and especially to young Indigenous people that their lives have value, and to hold on to hope,” said committee chair MaryAnn Mihychuk, a Liberal MP and a former cabinet minister in the Trudeau government.

“We recognize,” Ms. Mihychuk said, “that they are losing hope because they have difficult lives and are suffering from intergenerational trauma as the result of decades of unjust policies, and that we must act together.”

A study released last year by the First Nations Information Governance Centre found that between 2008 and 2010, 22 per cent of adult First Nations people in Canada contemplated suicide. That compared with 9 per cent of the general population. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading cause of death for First Nations people under the age of 45. And the suicide rate for First Nations male youth is five times the national average.

Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, who is a member of the committee, told reporters that the testimony given by the 100 witnesses was some of the most disturbing she has heard as an MP. “As a committee, we thought to do justice to all those very tragic stories,” she said. “I only wish that we had some quick easy fixes but, clearly, there aren’t quick easy fixes.”

Last week, 12-year-old Jenera Roundsky of the Wapekeka First Nation in northwestern Ontario texted “goodbye” to a friend then took her own life at the community’s outdoor hockey rink. She had been in the care of social services since two other girls from the same community killed themselves in January. Her father died by suicide in 2011.

The wide scope of the committee’s recommendations reflects the complexity of mental-health issues and the fact that there is no single solution to the high rate of suicide in Indigenous communities, Ms. Mihychuk said.

Among other things, the report calls for more investment in housing, better access to education including the establishment of a university in the North, more employment opportunities, enhanced suicide strategies and improved mental-health services in Indigenous communities. In most cases, it recommends that government provides funding to allow the Indigenous communities to meet their own needs and find their own solutions.

Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society who launched the CHRT case against the government, said the tribunal noted in January that First Nations youth in Ontario are denied mental-health services that are provided to all other children.

“In worldwide research, we know that inequity is linked to a much higher risk for suicide in two ways,” Dr. Blackstock said. “One is that it creates a lot of hardship for youth so they are more likely to have suicidal ideation and die of suicide. And the second thing is that, for those kids who are feeling suicidal ideation, there’s inequitable services to meet that need.”

[SOURCE]

Indigenous Communities Across Canada Move to Banish Drug Dealers

The Atikamekw community of Obedjiwan, located about 600 kilometres north of Montreal, uses banishment.

The controversial tactic of banishment is catching on in Indigenous communities across Canada.

Fighting rampant drug use, advocates say the tool should be used against drug dealers.

Bobby Cameron, the regional chief for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, is among many prominent figures publicly endorsing the strategy.

He estimates in Saskatchewan alone, 10 First Nations communities have implemented a banishment policy for individuals suspected of dealing drugs.

Bobby Cameron says banishment can be used as one of several approaches to addressing drug abuse on reserves. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

“And there are many more who have begun the discussion.”

Trina Roache, the Atlantic correspondent for APTN National News, says it’s difficult to tackle criminal behaviour in small communities because going to the authorities is risky.

“People don’t want to go forward because they’re going to be labelled as a rat,” Roache tells Anna Maria Tremonti.

“When [dealers] are charged, they come back, and sometimes the case can fall apart because there’s that intimidation factor.”

And Cameron says drug dealers and gangs on reserves are targeting children as young 10.

He goes on to explain that the terms of banishment vary between communities. But typically banishment would apply to individuals charged with drug dealing, and those who are banished may return to the community after a few years if they demonstrate rehabilitation.

‘Banishment is not new … For hundreds of years, long before any government set foot on these ancestral lands — there was banishment.’ – Bobby Cameron

But Cameron stresses banishment is one tool among many that should be used in fighting drug abuse on reserves.

He says resources for treatment, education about the impacts of addiction, and ownership of the Indigenous justice system are also crucial.

And communities that want to use banishment may meet legal hurdles. There are concerns the policy could be challenged under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But Hadley Friedland, a professor of law at the University of Alberta, says this may be an opportunity to refine the relationship between the Canadian legal system and Indigenous law.

“We’ll start seeing successes, and it will be a great springboard for conversations about implementing Indigenous laws and making Indigenous communities safe.”

“We need to look the other way as well, and say ‘what have we created that makes drug dealers find First Nations such an enclave to go to?’ We don’t want First Nations carrying that load for of all Canadian society.”

Listen to the full conversation HERE

Originally published by CBC Radio on March 14, 2017

[SOURCE]

Coroner Report: Apartheid Reserve System the Root of Suicides in Quebec Indigenous Communities

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Suicides in Quebec indigenous communities were avoidable: coroner

Red Power Media | Feb 03, 2017

Five suicides that occurred in two indigenous communities in 2015 were avoidable, a Quebec coroner said in a report that compared Canada’s reserve system to apartheid.

Bernard Lefrancois’ report was the result of a public inquiry that was ordered in January 2016 after four women and one man died by suicide in a nine-month period.

The victims ranged in age from 18 to 46 and all died between February and October of 2015 in the communities of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam and Kawawachikamach, on Quebec’s North Shore.

In his report, Lefrancois wrote the victims all had unique stories and circumstances, but had their aboriginal heritage in common.

“That fact raises the issue of living conditions in these communities even though, when each death is considered individually, each person may have had a different reason for ending his or her life,” the report said.

Lefrancois’ report concludes the five victims — four Innu and one Naskapi — all exhibited at least one of the factors associated with suicide, which can include alcohol and drug consumption, family difficulties, sexual abuse, mental illness and exposure to the suicide of a loved one.

The coroner added that most of the victims had not wanted to die, but wanted to end to their suffering.

Lefrancois called for improving the living conditions in aboriginal communities and increasing the number of resources as well as the co-ordination between various services in indigenous communities to ensure people receive proper follow-up.

“There were a lot of human resources used by social services after a suicide, but it was requisitioning almost everyone and there was no one left to take care of people at risk,” he said.

Lefrancois noted the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam suffers from social problems that include high rates of unemployment, substance abuse and suicide. The troubles are despite numerous community resources including its own police force, social services, three Innu schools, and health service points.

He places the blame for the struggles of aboriginal communities squarely on the reserve system, and describes the Indian Act as “an ancient and outdated law” that treats aboriginal people as wards of the state who are “considered incapable and unfit.”

Lefrancois said the residential schools, which were a source of multi-generational trauma, were “only one product, one beast among many others, of the apartheid system that was introduced by our ancestors and that has been preserved to our day.”

He said he hoped the report would prompt Canadians to question whether the current system still has its place in 2017.

“In South Africa, they finished by abolishing the system of apartheid,” he continued. “They haven’t solved all the problems yet, but its much better compared to what it was before.”

Ghislain Picard, the Chief of the assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, said Canadian and provincial governments now “have no choice” but to look at the efficacy of the services in place.

That, he said, needed to be matched by efforts within the communities to try to figure out how to intervene earlier to prevent suicides.

Picard also praised the Quebec government for its openness to initiating “a process to take a deeper look at the question of social development in the communities.”

Lefrancois’ report contains a number of recommendations, including a “specialized resource” in the communities to take charge of persons who are at risk of suicide. That would include a team of caseworkers and psychologists, and be able to offer longer-term follow-up and lodging close to the community.

He noted that one of the communities sometimes doesn’t have 24-hour police service due to staffing shortages, and pointed out that a local suicide prevention centre receives few calls from members of the aboriginal community because none of the staff speak Innu or Naskapi.

He also recommended that existing services focus on suicide prevention in youth, with special attention given to the Internet and social networks, as well as more programs that help young aboriginals preserve their culture, identity, and health.

A version of this article titled Five suicides in Quebec indigenous communities were avoidable: coroner’s report By Vicky Fragasso-Marquis was originally posted in the National Observer on January 15th 2017.

First Nations Predict “Hordes” Will Disrupt Parliament Hill If Pipelines Approved

Katzie First Nation Chief Susan Miller (left) and her sister, Debbie Miller, stand with protesters outside the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain hearings in Burnaby, B.C. on Wed. Jan. 20, 2016. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

Katzie First Nation Chief Susan Miller (left) and her sister, Debbie Miller, stand with protesters outside the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain hearings in Burnaby, B.C. on Wed. Jan. 20, 2016. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

First Nations in opposition of Trudeau government’s approval of pipelines

By Elizabeth McSheffrey | National Observer

First Nations chiefs across Canada haven’t discussed the details of the plan yet, but they aren’t ruling anything out if the Trudeau government approves the construction of a major pipeline project that crosses their territory without their consent. Several are still waiting on the results of court cases before they make their move, and others are already preparing for the worst.

“You may see hordes descending upon Parliament Hill,” said Chief Susan Miller, of the Katzie First Nation in B.C. “We have had some discussion around what civil action would look like, and I think the more we work together, that’s what brings out the hordes. It’s an impressive sight, to see thousands of people coming out for a common cause.”

Last year, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise to renew nation-to-nation relations with Indigenous communities, and has repeatedly told Canadians since then that “governments grant permits, communities grant permission.” And after the historic signing of a pan-continental Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, Indigenous leaders have renewed their resolve to hold him to those promises with all resources available to them.

“In that crowd, you’re not just going to see First Nations people, you’re going to see your neighbour next door who doesn’t support this either,” Chief Miller, whose community is fighting Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion pipeline, told National Observer.

“We’re just the vessel to push that all through, and I think when the numbers speak like that, the government can’t continue to disregard [us].”

Tsleil-Waututh spokesperson Rueben George, Coun. Charlene Aleck, and manager of cultural relations Gabriel George open the signing ceremony for the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion in Vancouver, B.C. on Thurs. Sept. 22, 2016

Tsleil-Waututh spokesperson Rueben George, Coun. Charlene Aleck, and manager of cultural relations Gabriel George open the signing ceremony for the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion in Vancouver, B.C. on Thurs. Sept. 22, 2016

Youth action in Ottawa in October

Nearly 90 Indigenous leaders in Canada and the U.S. have already signed the Treaty Alliance, which aims not only to protect their territories from pipeline, tanker, and rail projects, but to move society towards cleaner, leaner, living as well. Major proposals they take issue with include Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion (from Alberta to B.C.), TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline (from Alberta to New Brunswick), and Enbridge Northern Gateway (from Alberta to B.C.)

But the presence of non-Indigenous allies, including a number of environmental organizations, at its signing ceremonies in Montreal and Vancouver, add weight to Chief Miller’s claim: Indigenous activists in North America are not alone.

“We strive to act in solidarity with Indigenous folks,” said Gabriel D’Astous, a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia and pipeline protest organizer for Climate 101. “They’ve been on the front lines and blocking tar sands projects that threaten the earth and water, and have been defending their rights and lands for years and decades now.”

D’Astous and his team are organizing a youth rally in Ottawa on Oct. 24 to urge the Trudeau government to reject the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion, which has been opposed by at least 21 municipalities and 17 First Nations in Western Canada. He said he, and many of the other protesters, are willing to be arrested in what he hopes will be the largest youth civil disobedience action of its kind in Canada.

Youth have been a powerful force in pipeline protests across the country, including this demonstration against the Trans Mountain expansion in Vancouver, B.C. on Aug. 17, 2016. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

Youth have been a powerful force in pipeline protests across the country, including this demonstration against the Trans Mountain expansion in Vancouver, B.C. on Aug. 17, 2016. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

Preparing for pipeline protests

While First Nations, environmentalists and other key stakeholders across North America argue that oilsands expansion increases the risk of catastrophic oil spills, threatens critical marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and pushes international climate targets out of reach, energy companies argue that they will revitalize struggling Canadian economies by bringing energy to overseas markets. Industry also argues that they are using state-of-the-art technology that promotes responsible development of resources such as the vast oilsands deposits in Alberta – considered to be the world’s third largest reserve of crude oil after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

All of the major pipeline companies say they are also trying to work collaboratively with First Nations. For example, Kinder Morgan says it has signed more than 20 “mutual benefit agreements” with Indigenous communities along the route of its Trans Mountain corridor. These would be confidential agreements that could include education and training for pipeline construction jobs as well as improvements to community services, infrastructure and other benefits.

Greenpeace — one of the loudest environmental organizations speaking out against pipelines — doesn’t buy industry’s logic. Since the start of the year, it has trained 800 protesters across Canada with new skills in non-violent action, civil disobedience, and media communications during 40 training sessions conducted in B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Nunavut, and Quebec.

Calls requesting the training sessions peaked after the National Energy Board (NEB) conditionally recommended the Trans Mountain expansion in May, said trainer and organizer Earyn Wheatley, and have been steady since the conflict of interest scandal involving former Quebec premier Jean Charest, TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, and the NEB was brought to light over the summer.

“I think there could be unprecedented mobilization and action in opposition to these pipelines if the projects go forward in the way that they have been,” the Greenpeace staffer explained. “That’s definitely a core interest of people who are coming to participate in these trainings — they’re very concerned about those pipelines, and many are saying that the NEB process has been very problematic.”

The organization plans to hold 15 more protest training sessions before the end of the year, with those in Quebec targeting Energy East, and those in B.C. targeting the Trans Mountain expansion, which is due for a decision from the federal government on Dec. 19. Teagan Stacey, a graduate of these trainings, has even started her own non-violent ‘kayaktivist’ group called the BC Seawolves, which will stand in solidarity against Trans Mountain with Greenpeace and First Nations.

“We’re showing the government that we’re not going to let this go through, and if they think they can push it through where members of this oppose it, we’re going to make sure it’s stopped,” she told National Observer. “We recognize this has huge implications for the rest of our country, and the rest of the world through tar sands expansion. All of that we bring with us out in the water.”

Kayaktivists target the Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby, B.C. during a protests against the company's Trans Mountain expansion on Sat. May 14, 2016. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

Kayaktivists target the Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby, B.C. during a protests against the company’s Trans Mountain expansion on Sat. May 14, 2016. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey.

First Nations happy to have cross-Canada allies

While not all Indigenous nations in Canada are opposed to oilsands expansions, and some have signed on in support of pipelines crossing their territories, those who oppose the energy projects are happy to have allies across the country. They’re also happy to serve as allies to others, said Tsleil-Waututh First Nation spokesperson Rueben George, who recently visited the Standing Rock Sioux fighting the Dakota access pipeline in North Dakota.

He said their movement, which has recently prompted a halt in construction of the controversial pipeline, has been guided by their elders, cultural, and spiritual values, and the movement in Canada will be too.

“I know [our] elders, community and leadership have been doing the same thing,” he told National Observer. “Campaign promises were made to boost not only the health of First Nations and nation-to-nation negotiation, but economics as well. Doors are opening for that. I’m excited about that.”

Chief Terry Teegee of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in Prince George, B.C., who met George at the Treaty Alliance signing in Vancouver on Thursday, said he too, is excited about the shifting relationship between First Nations, governments, and the rest of Canada. What’s happening in North Dakota at the Standing Rock Sioux camp will most certainly be replicated across the provinces, he explained, “if it comes to that.”

“I think [pipeline approval] will be for I believe, many First Nations, a tipping point of our relations with government and corporations where we’ll have to stand up for what we feel is right, and protect our rights and title, and Mother Earth,” he said at the signing. “We very much appreciate the outside help. It feels great knowing we have allies out there.”

This article was originally published by September 27th 2016

http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/09/27/news/first-nations-predict-hordes-will-disrupt-parliament-hill-if-pipelines-approved


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It’s Not Enough To Blame Indian Act When Things Go Wrong In Indigenous Communities

People of all ages took part in a candlelight suicide awareness walk in Attawapiskat, Ont. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

People of all ages took part in a candlelight suicide awareness walk in Attawapiskat, Ont. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Indian Act only one factor creating conditions ‘so bad youth consider taking their precious lives’

By Judith Sayers, for CBC News: Article Posted: May 07, 2016

When things go wrong in First Nations communities, like the large number of youth suicides in Attawapiskat, some people say “let’s abolish the Indian Act” as the solution.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Attorney General for Canada,  said in Parliament a few weeks ago — on the debate on First Nations youth suicide — that the government needed to replace the Indian Act with a reconciliation framework.

When Shawn Atleo was elected as National Chief in 2009, he said he wanted to get rid of the Indian Act in five years.

The very harsh reality is the Indian Act is only one of the underlying causes that creates conditions so bad that youth consider taking their precious lives. Let’s face it, not many youth know and understand the Indian Act, they only know the conditions they live in.

What the youth know

What they know is the lack of positive change in their community, the lack of adequate housing that leads to overcrowding or substandard living conditions.

The youth may suffer poverty, with no jobs for their parents or grandparents. Hunger is no stranger to them. Drinking, drugs and violence may be in their home, or possibly the home next door.

They may have schools that don’t have up-to-date text books, computers or even an internet connection.

Youth who are committing suicide are a product of the whole colonization process that includes the Indian Act, residential schools, inadequate funding for their community for housing and services.

It includes the racism and discrimination they face all the time in their schools or the towns they live in. They are talked down to, they are perceived as not having much potential, or pushed into a lesser degree, making it hard to get into a training program or into university.

David Kawapit

David Kawapit (left) was the young Cree man who instigated the monumental journey from Whapmagoostui, in northern Quebe, to Ottawa. Kawapit is pictured here, with an elder, on the day the group arrived in the nation’s capital. (Alice Beaudoin)

They see First Nations occupying the land, in court, in the media, fighting for their rights — and that the government proceeds with projects like the Site C dam and pipelines even though it will destroy or impair their rights.

Youth see the great efforts made by people like the youth from the community of Whapmagoostui, Que., who walked 1600  kilometres to Ottawa to bring attention to First Nations issues. Those youth suffered and made huge sacrifices and for what? The government didn’t change.

They have seen many of their friends and cousins taken from their families and put in non-First Nations homes because their parents were judged to be incapable of looking after them. They see how confused these children are about where they belong and who they are.

“Youth see that First Nations have to fight for everything they need and that the fight doesn’t always lead to success.”– Judith Sayers

They see that First Nations are one of the highest incarcerated groups in the country and they see the impact of those members being taken from the community, and then coming back.

They know that health care is inadequate and have seen the sickness and deaths because the care wasn’t there. They have seen that everywhere in Canada there is clean drinking water — except for some reserves.

Youth see that First Nations have to fight for everything they need and that the fight doesn’t always lead to success.

Replacing Act not easy process

I have lived with this, my children have lived with this, and I hope my grandchildren won’t live with it. As a chief of 14 years, I witnessed this and tried to make changes. As a leader in B.C. I have been in many communities and I know the conditions that exist. I was a chief negotiator for the B.C. Treaty process for 16 years. We tried to displace the Indian Act with a true treaty with no success. My grandfather in 1922 tried to do the same.

First of all you need to deal with the reserve lands, how will they be held?  Of course, governments want you to hold them in fee simple so your people can pay tax. They don’t want to recognize Aboriginal title lands. The tax exemption has long been a small benefit to First Nations people and one that needs to remain and the governments insist on it being given up as you see in all the modern Final Agreements.

Governance is a big issue as the governments try to keep a limited range of powers that don’t allow a First Nation enough jurisdiction over their lands, resources and people. Paternalism is very strong. There are good reasons why there are so few completed final agreements in B.C. — it is tough to get the governments to agree to the solutions First Nations need, that go beyond the Indian Act.

‘Not one quick fix’

Youth suicides are a crisis in some First Nations communities and need urgent and immediate solutions. But there is not one quick fix.

People really need to understand that even if the Indian Act was repealed tomorrow, it would not change the dire effects of colonization or the continual racism that is present in many places in society.

I think most of all, there has to be honest, good faith negotiations to settle outstanding issues in relation to the land, resources and shared decision making on First Nations territories.

The most important underlying issue to this is being able to continue our relationship to the land, to exercise our rights on the land, to go to our sacred sites without being interrupted, and to know that developments won’t come through the middle of our burial sites.

This is a big picture kind of fix that is needed and First Nations leaders and grass roots people need to be part of the solution and the efforts to prevent suicide.

Our people need hope, they need to see positive changes, and most importantly our young people need to know there is much to live for.

A version of this article was initially published on First Nations in BC Knowledge Network: A space to exchange information between First Nations communitiesIt has been edited and republished with permission.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/when-things-go-wrong-in-first-nations-communities-not-enough-to-blame-indian-act-1.3559546

Mexican Military Attacks Against Indigenous Communities Of Ostula

captura-de-pantalla-2014-03-25-a-les-13-45-04 (1)

By Erin Gallagher

The indigenous communities of Santa Maria Ostula have denounced 3 separate attacks by the Mexican military that occurred yesterday in the municipality of Aquila, Michoacán state.

The attacks resulted in the death of one child, 3 others injured (2 minors) along with arrests of several members of the indigenous community and the leader of the Aquila autodefensas group, Semeí Verdía, who was the target of the military operation.

Image: Google Maps

Image: Google Maps

The events began Sunday morning around 10 AM when the Mexican military conducted an operation to arrest the leader of local autodefensas group, Semeí Verdía, in the village of La Placita. The military appeared at the same time at El Duin and Xayakalan, sites where the community police forces maintain checkpoints.

According to testimonies collected by La Jornada Michoacán, the military then ran their vehicles into the checkpoints, opened fire and attempted to detain several people. At the time of publishing it is unknown how many were detained or their names. In the actions in El Duin and Xayakalan, military members had no arrest warrants and crimes against those who were detained are unknown.

Subsequently, around 11 AM another group of military personnel arrested members of the Commissariat of Communal Goods of Santa Maria Ostula, again without presenting arrest warrants and acting violently.

Semeí Verdía has been charged with possession of firearms and explosives used exclusively by the Mexican military. He is facing an additional charge of destroying ballot boxes.

Verdía is first commander of the community police force of the indigenous community of Santa Maria Ostula and General Coordinator of the AUC in the municipalities of Aquila, Coahuayana and Chinicuila.

Photo: Semeí Verdía via Quadratin archives

Photo: Semeí Verdía via Quadratin archives

After Verdía was detained, community members began to peacefully demonstrate and tried to march to the municipal seat of Aquila located about 1 hour away. During the march, the Mexican military blocked the way of the protesters and opened fire on the demonstrators. Quadratin spoke via telephone with people involved who relayed that about 300 protesters demanded the military release Semeí Verdía. The military then opened fire on the demonstrators, broke through the block and proceeded to fire on houses and restaurants where presumably several injuries occurred.

Community members arrived at Hospital Coahuayana around 6 PM with the bodies of three wounded and one deceased all by bullets: Christian Melesio – age 60, Neymi Natalli Pineda Reyes – age 6 and Antonio Alejo Ramos, 17 years old were injured. Heriberto Reyes García, approximately 12 years of age was killed.

Semeí Verdía was previously targeted by local cartel, Caballeros Templarios working in collusion with the former mayor of Aquila. On May 30, state police arrested Juan Hernandez, mayor of Aquila, who was accused of planning attacks on Shimei Verdía by orders of Federico González Medina “The Lico” main boss of the Caballeros Templarios in the region.

The former PRI mayor was charged with aggravated homicide and attempted cover-up. The leader of the autodefensas of Huahua, José Antioco Calvillo García reported on the movements of Semeí Verdía to Juan Hernandez who in return paid him money. It was reported that the mayor offered $2 million pesos to a criminal group to kill Semeí Verdía.

The leader of the autodefensas of Huahua and the mayor of Aquila “had meetings on several occasions in Maruata and Aquila, with members of organized crime in order to plan the assassination of Semeí Verdía, recalling the recruitment of six people identified as Rigoberto Mejía Valdovinos, Argel Mejía Valdovinos, Ramiro Álvarez Medina, Christian David García de Asís and Victorino Mejía, who were offered two million pesos after the job was executed and were paid seven thousand pesos ($452) in advance”. – Borderland Beat

Juan Hernandez had met with “La Tuta” in 2013 and agreed to allow drug traffickers to exploit the iron mines of the region, from which they extracted thousands of tonnes of ore which were exported illegally to China, through the international Michoacan port of Lazaro Cardenas, activity in which Verdía was seen as an obstacle.

Here is a short video, the people of Ostula describe frequent disappearances, fear and general insecurity felt by their community before the autodefensas came to protect them.

VIDEO: Ostula: The power of the people (subtitles in English)

Residents in the municipality of Aquila took up arms against Caballeros Templarios in February 2013. Local communities are in full support of the self defense groups and in many locations where AUC forces are gaining ground, people describe finally being able to walk in the streets without fear.

Source: REVOLUTION NEWS

Forces Seize, Destroy Illegal Mines Around Nazca

(Photo: Andina)

(Photo: Andina)

By Corey Watts | Peru this Week

Police and Peru’s armed forces have again stepped in to seize and destroy illegal mining operations threatening heritage values.

A diverse array of illegal mining equipment worth more than S/. 127,000 (US$ 400,000) was seized and destroyed by Peru’s National Police (PNP) near the Nazca archaeological site in Ica, it was reported today.

Antonion Fernandez, Peru’s High Commissioner for Formalization and Interdiction of Illegal Mining, said that the country’s first task was to protect its natural and cultural heritage assets.

The Nazca geoglyphs were designated a World Heritage Site byUNESCO in 1995, hence the mineral riches under the ground remain untapped.

The temptation is for illegal miners to take advantage of what Mr Fernandez calls a “wilderness of minerals”.

”Illegal miners dig tunnels there, mostly in an effort to find gold ore,” Mr Fernandez told official news agency Andina.

In a separate operation last month, a combined force of soldiers, marines, and police, with the help of the Air Force, were deployed to the El Sira protected area in Ucayali to destroy illegal mining equipment and secure the reserve.

About 22,000 people, comprising 69 indigenous communities, live in the area, some of whose artisanal mining enterprises have been recognized for several years.

Four people were arrested and a long list of illegal mining equipment destroyed.

http://www.peruthisweek.com/news-forces-seize-destroy-illegal-mines-around-nazca-106122