Indigenous Mexicans spurn Presidential vote with blockades, bulldozers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never conquered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Reuters

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‘Intimidated no longer’: Families march in Saskatoon amid allegations of police violence

Sheila Tataquason said she didn’t resist the police dog that bit her in 2013, even after it latched onto her arm. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

Parents of 2 dead Indigenous men among those calling for end to police violence

The families of an Indigenous man who was shot at by police and another whose death is at the centre of a police inquest joined a Saskatoon march against police violence on Saturday.

Wearing a shirt that reads “#Justice4Austin,” Agatha Eaglechief joined the march of about a dozen people who played drums, sang songs and carried signs past a heavily trafficked 22nd Street West, as they travelled from Pleasant Hill Park to the police station.

Agatha’s son Austin Eaglechief died in summer 2017 following a police chase in which shots were fired by officers. She said she still does not know what led to shots being fired that day, despite having seen helicopter video footage.

“Everyday I wake up hoping I can get an answer,” Agatha said.

Agatha Eaglechief at a march against police violence, holding a photo of her deceased son Austin Eaglechief. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

While an autopsy clears gunshots as the cause of death, which included a high-speed crash with another vehicle, Agatha said in her view shots should have never been fired because her son had mental health and addiction issues.

‘I’m still fighting,’ says mother of Jordan Lafond

Among those speaking before the march began was Charmaine Dreaver, the mother of Jordan Lafond. Lafond died on in October 2016 after crashing into a fence during a police chase. His death is the subject of an upcoming June coroner’s inquest.

“I’m very upset about [how] the police act against so many people [that] have been hurt. It’s been very, very hard. I’m still fighting. I’ll never give up on the fight for Jordan,” Dreaver said to those who gathered.

“We need to be treated better and equally as humans.”

Charmaine Dreaver, left, with family members are still waiting for answers at an upcoming inquest into her son Jordan Lafond’s death. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

Police dog bite victim speaks

Sheila Tataquason was bitten by a police dog in 2013 and has been vocal about how it impacted her life.

The canine officer had been chasing an armed robbery suspect and latched onto Tataquason’s arm, although she was not involved, and has not received compensation from police despite facing nerve damage, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder since she was bit.

“I’m here to support all the people and not to be intimidated no longer by the Saskatoon city police,” she said.

Organizers say events like this, organized by the Saskatoon Coordinating Committee Against Police Violence, are a push toward greater transparency by police and also share information about citizens’ rights when it comes to police.

CBC News · Posted: Mar 31, 2018

[SOURCE]

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Armed Men Destroy Two Dozen Logging Trucks in Chile Indigenous Dispute

Burnt-out trucks are pictured in the San Jose de La Mariquina commue, south of Santiago, Chile August 28, 2017.

SANTIAGO  – A group of armed men claiming to represent the nation’s indigenous Mapuche people hijacked and burned 29 logging trucks in southern Chile on Monday morning as a years-long conflict with forestry companies heated up.

The government convened an emergency meeting less than two weeks after a similar hijacking in which 18 trucks were burned, and several high-ranking officials denounced the attack later in the day.

“We’re going to combat violence and we are not going to allow minoritarian groups, which don’t value dialogue, to ruin the great effort all regional actors in the south are doing to promote development and overcome exclusion,” Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said in televised remarks.

It was not clear to what extent the attacks have broader support among Mapuche communities. Many Mapuche leaders doubt all such attacks are carried out by indigenous people, saying non-indigenous groups with a radical political agenda may be involved.

The group Weichan Auka Mapu, or “Fight of the Rebel Territory” in the local Mapudungun tongue, claimed responsibility, national media reported.

According to local authorities, at least two people were responsible for the arson attack, although local media reported that as many as seven people were responsible.

Around 600,000 Mapuche live in Chile, concentrated in Araucania and Bio Bio, two lush and hilly provinces roughly 400 miles (645 km) south of Santiago, the nation’s capital.

Ever since the Chilean army invaded Mapuche territory in a brutal campaign in the late 1800s, relations with the state have been fractious.

The conflict has accelerated in recent years, with armed groups burning houses, churches, trucks, and forest plantations. It has also spread geographically. The Monday attack occurred in the region of Los Rios, south of the traditional conflict zone.

The trucks belonged to Sotraser, a subcontractor that mainly serves subsidiaries of Chilean forestry companies Empresas CMPC and Arauco [ANTCOC.UL].

The company reported $6 million in damages. While that figure is not significant in relation to Chile’s larger timber industry, subcontractors have begun to register dozens of attacks annually in recent years, weighing on the sector.

Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Sandra Maler

 (Reuters) Aug 28

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Canadian Tire Employee Involved In Altercation With Indigenous Elder Loses His Job

Kamo Cappo at a Canadian Tire store in east Regina

By Black Powder | RPM Staff, July 30, 2017

Canadian Tire says employee involved in altercation with Indigenous man at a Regina store is no longer with the company.

Kamao Cappo of the Muscowpetung First Nation posted a video to social media last week that showed an employee trying to physically removed him from the store.

Cappo, an Indigenous elder, said he was shopping for a chainsaw when the employee accused him of stealing.

Cappo disagreed and refused to leave the store.

53-year-old Cappo who has a heart condition was injured in the confrontation.

Cappo told CTV Regina that he believes the fact that he is Indigenous was a factor in the employee’s response.

“The employee involved in the matter has not been working in the store since the incident and he is no longer with Canadian Tire,” the corporation announced Saturday on its official Twitter account.

“We have tried to reach Mr. Cappo again to express our sincere apologies,” said another tweet from Canadian Tire“We take this matter very seriously.”

Protesters gather outside a Regina Canadian Tire store on Friday, July 28, 2017.

About 50 people staged a demonstration outside of the store Friday to show support for Cappo.

Regina police have said they are investigating the incident as an assault.

 

Canada 150 Protesters Try To Erect Teepee on Parliament Hill, Nine Arrested

Police look to block protesters from bringing a teepee on to Parliament Hill on Wed., June 27, 2017. (Mercedes Stephenson)

CTV News | June 29, 2017

Demonstrators looked to stage a peaceful protest by erecting a teepee on Parliament Hill Wednesday night, as the city gears up for Canada Day events.

A group of roughly 80 people carrying poles for a teepee tent were stopped by RCMP, Ottawa Police and Parliament Hill security at about 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Police held on to the poles in an attempt to stop the group from entering the Parliament Hill grounds.

Activists told reporters they wanted to have a sacred fire for four days on the Hill, and were looking to protest the Canada 150 celebrations.

“This discrimination, this stereotyping and dehumanization of our people needs to stop,” said Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, one of the protest organizers.

The group has refused to leave and asked police, “Do you want another Oka?” in reference to the Oka Crisis, a land dispute between a group of Mohawk people and the town of Oka, Que..

Members say their intention was to bring the teepee on to the Hill and begin four days of prayer by indigenous groups to raise awarenesss about their treatment by the Canadian government.

“We understand that as a country, people have pride that they’re living here,” said Candace Day Neveau, one of the lead organizers. “We’re taking a stance to simply educate and raise awareness about celebrating Canada Day and how it’s deeply impacting indigenous people.”

Nine people were briefly arrested by RCMP before being released later in the night.

[SOURCE]

Watchdog: Calgary Police Made Mistakes In Investigation of Colton Crowshoe

Colton Crowshoe’s family speaks out against police investigation. Jul 26. Calgary. Body found in pond next to Stoney Trail

The Canadian Press  | April 13, 2017

CALGARY — An Alberta agency that investigates police says Calgary officers made a series of mistakes as they investigated the disappearance of a young indigenous man who was later found dead.

But the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team says it does not believe those errors in Colton Crowshoe’s case were the result of racism or that they amounted to a crime.

“The evidence gathered in the ASIRT investigation clearly demonstrates that the initial stage of this investigation was beset by a series of assumptions, errors, and oversights by (Calgary Police Service) personnel,” executive director Susan Hughson said Thursday afternoon.

“I want to make it clear, CPS has not been cleared of wrongdoing. CPS’s investigation into Colton Crowshoe’s missing person complaint was not done properly. The one thing we can say is that it was not the result of racism that we could find evidence of, but they are not cleared.”

Police charged 18-year-old Crowshoe in July 2014 with trespassing and break and enter. He was released from custody and was last seen on video walking away from a police station in good spirits.

But a few days later his family reported him missing and, three weeks later, his body was discovered in a city retention pond. An autopsy determined his death was a homicide and that case remains unsolved.

Crowshoe’s relatives alleged police did not take their missing person report seriously and accused the force of racism.

Colton Crowshoe

Hughson said ASIRT reviewed 28 other missing persons investigations and could find no evidence race played a role in how Crowshoe’s was handled.

Still, the investigation was botched.

“Several of the missing person policy protocols were not followed,” she said. “As a result, there was minimal investigation of the missing person report, no follow-up or file continuity, no accountability or file ownership, a failure to document relevant new information, and most importantly, no police-initiated communication with the family.

“They (the family) may have been wrong about the racial profiling potentially, but they are not wrong that there were problems with Colton’s missing persons investigation.”

The family also alleged that Crowshoe was roughed up during his initial arrest.

ASIRT examined that allegation as well and found that there were no grounds for criminal charges against officers.

“In this case, it is clear that at the time this contact occurred, the officer is in the lawful execution of his duties. He is doing his job,” Hughson said.

She gave the Calgary Police Service credit for reviewing the case itself after it came to light and making changes to the way missing persons cases are investigated.

She said there are lessons to be learned for all police forces when it comes to missing persons cases.

“They need to be treated as potential homicides in many cases,” she said. “Often people will turn up so I understand why there is almost a complacency … but in the cases where they don’t, that time can be critical.”

The Calgary Police Service issued a news release late Thursday saying their internal review has resulted in changes being made to improve the process of managing missing person files.

Those changes include “clearer guidelines for frontline officers and investigators as well as a more thorough accountability framework” that adds checks and balances to ensure missing person files are “managed to the highest standard possible.”

The service also said its policy around communicating with family members of missing persons has also been strengthened.

“To ensure we have covered all the concerns in the ASIRT investigation, we will be reviewing their report in detail to determine if any additional lessons can be learned,” said the statement.

“The tragic death of Mr. Crowshoe remains an active investigation and we ask for anyone with information to come forward.”

Hughson said Crowshoe’s family is devastated by the young man’s death.

“Someone out there knows what happened to Colton Crowshoe,” she said.

“This is a good, loving family that never gave up. Please, I am going to ask you to come forward. Give this family the chance to heal.”

[SOURCE]

 

Hundreds Gather at Vigil and March for Christine Wood in Winnipeg

Christine Wood, 21, disappeared in Winnipeg in August 2016. Photo: Red Power Media

Hundreds remembered Christine Wood at a vigil on Wednesday 

By Red Power Media, Staff | April 13, 2017

A vigil was held Wednesday evening in Winnipeg for Christine Wood. It began at 341-Burrows Avenue, the house where Winnipeg Police believe the young indigenous woman was murdered. Friends, family and community members then marched to Thunderbird House on Main Street.

About 250 people gathered to remember Christine.

During the march drummers lined the street to pay their respects to Christine’s family.

On Aug. 19, Christine, 21, went missing after a visit to Winnipeg with her family from Oxford House First Nation in Manitoba. She never came back to her hotel after going out that evening.

On Saturday, April 08, Brett Overby, 30, was charged with the murder of Christine.

Police also allege Christine was killed on or around Aug. 20 – the day after she went missing.

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Officers arrested and charged Overby, with second-degree murder. Christine’s body has still not been found.

A community vigil for Christine was held at St. Mary’s Parish on 365 Burrows Avenue, near the location where she was killed. The service was put on by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and the Bear Clan Patrol.

Melinda Wood weeps as she attends a walk for her daughter Christine with her husband George Wood, left, and Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth, right. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth led the march alongside Christine’s parents, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.

The march finished with a memorial at the Thunderbird House.

Marchers make their way to a memorial for Christine at the Thunderbird House. Photo: Red Power Media

Police say the accused and Christine were unknown to one another and it does not appear there was a relationship between them.

Christine’s family and her parents George and Melinda Wood, along with members of the community, including the Bear Clan Patrol, have all been looking for Christine since her disappearance on Aug. 19.

“I can’t really explain how it feels to lose a child like that, a daughter, your only daughter, your baby,” George Wood, Christine’s father said. “I just hope whoever this person is, and I’m not going to waste my words labeling him, I just hope he does the right thing to say where he put her body.”

People living on the Oxford House First Nation also gathered for a vigil to honour Christine last Saturday.

Brett Overby Charged with Second Degree Murder in Christine Wood Homicide, Body Still Missing

Christine Wood, 21, disappeared after she went out with friends for the evening on Aug. 19, 2016. (File Image)

Police believe Christine Wood killed hours after going missing

By Black Powder | RPM Staff, April 10, 2017

Days after police charged a Winnipeg man with second-degree murder in the disappearance of Christine Wood, officers said they still have not found her body.

According to Global News, on Saturday, Brett Overby, 30, was charged with the murder of Christine Wood, 21. Documents also allege Wood was killed on or around Aug. 20 – the day after she went missing.

On Aug. 19, after going out that evening, Wood from Oxford House First Nation, never returned to the hotel where her family was staying after coming to Winnipeg for a medical appointment.

The case was treated at a missing person’s investigation until January 2017, when the homicide unit took over as lead investigators.

Overby, was arrested March 21 after police searched a home in the 300 block of Burrows Ave. At the time, he was charged with an unrelated offence.

CTV News reports, Winnipeg Police Service Sergeant John O’Donovan said officers ended up at that home as a result of information from a number of warrants and production orders on electronic devices Wood used prior to her death.

The Forensic Identification Unit stayed at the home for several days.

Overby, was questioned, but he was let go as there wasn’t enough forensic evidence to lay any charges.

Brett Overby, 30, was charged with the murder of Christine Wood, 21. Instagram. Source Global News

On April 6, forensics tests came back and the following day the Crown Attorney authorized a second degree murder charge against Overby.

Police were able to provide evidence to the Crown’s office that Wood, not only was she present, but she was killed in that house.

Although police believe Wood was killed in Overby’s home, they do not have any information from the accused on where her body is.

During a media conference Monday, Police Chief Danny Smyth said “We will continue on this investigation until we find her remains.”

In September the police said there were “multiple sightings of Wood.” They also said she was was facing some “personal challenges” and may be associated with people tied to drug trade.

However, police now say, they do not believe drugs or gang affiliations are involved.

Police also say the accused and Wood were unknown to one another prior to Aug. 19 and it does not appear there was a relationship between them.

Winnipeg police press conference concerning Christine Wood, Monday.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson was at the media conference speaking on behalf of Wood’s family.

“After the most difficult eight months of our lives, we are mourning the loss of our daughter,” North Wilson said in a statement written by Wood’s family.

The family will be in Winnipeg for a vigil on Wednesday.

Advocates Say Missing And Murdered Women’s Inquiry Failing To Reach Out To Families

Lorelei Williams, left, speaks as Fay Blaney, right, listens during a Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls news conference in Vancouver on April 3, 2017. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Canadian Press | Apr. 03, 2017

The national missing and murdered Indigenous women’s inquiry has failed to adequately reach out to loved ones and survivors, says a coalition of advocacy groups and families less than two months before hearings are set to begin.

The Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in British Columbia is calling on the commission and federal, provincial and territorial governments to do a better job of communicating with distraught families.

“This is the last chance that family members who want to be heard, will be heard,” said Michele Pineault, the mother of Stephanie Lane, whose DNA was found on serial killer Robert Pickton’s farm. “This inquiry is very, very important to a lot of people.”

Coalition member Fay Blaney said at a news conference on Monday that the group was concerned about recent media reports that said the inquiry had only located about 100 family members or survivors.

An RCMP report in 2014 said police had identified nearly 1,200 missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

Ms. Blaney said she understood the federal government had not shared with commissioners the names of those who came forward during preinquiry consultations due to privacy obligations.

She said the commission should immediately request that all levels of government and Indigenous organizations reach out to family members and survivors to ensure they know how to register to be a witness.

The coalition is also concerned that federal, provincial and territorial governments appear not to be assisting the inquiry, Ms. Blaney added.

Chief commissioner Marion Buller was not immediately available to comment, but the inquiry is holding a series of regional advisory meetings across the country to receive input from survivors and families before the first public hearing on May 29 in Whitehorse.

The commission has said families and survivors who would like to share their stories do not need to apply for standing and should instead send an e-mail or call a toll-free number.

But Lorelei Williams, whose aunt went missing decades ago and whose cousin’s DNA was found on Mr. Pickton’s farm, said the commission should be pro-actively reaching out.

“I’m feeling so frustrated and very upset about what is going on with this inquiry so far,” she said. “Families are freaking out right now.” Ms. Williams questioned why preinquiry consultations were held at all, if not to collect names of family members for the inquiry.

“What did they do that for?” she asked. “I’m going to assume that those families put their names forward for a reason. … They want to be a part of this.”

Shawn Jackson, a spokesman for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, said it transferred to the national inquiry in November a database of information collected during the preinquiry process, including meeting recordings and correspondence.

However, Mr. Jackson said many people participated in the consultations anonymously and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada is prevented by privacy rules from providing the lists of participants.

The coalition is also urging the inquiry to make efforts to include “families of the heart,” or friends. Evelyn Youngchief’s friend Georgina Papin was killed by Mr. Pickton and she said many friends of the missing and murdered would like to speak.

“We’ve been waiting for a very long time,” she said. “Changes need to be made on how aboriginal women are looked at. Stop killing us.”

Stephanie Lane’s mother, Ms. Pineault, said it has been difficult to tell her story over and over again for the past 20 years.

“It’s at a point now where I just want to say, ‘I want a life of normalcy. I just want to stay home and not have anything to do with this.’ But I have to do it to the bitter end.”

[SOURCE]

On Cross-Country Tour, Trudeau Hears Growing Anger and Frustration from Indigenous Canadians

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the public as a pipeline protestor stands behind him at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Thursday, January 26, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the public as a pipeline protestor stands behind him at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Thursday, January 26, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Trudeau challenged time and again by indigenous people at town hall meetings

Staff | Jan. 28, 2017

Ottawa (NP) – On his just-completed nine-city town hall tour of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got sharp and sometimes angry questions about aboriginal affairs — a sign of the growing impatience and frustration many indigenous people and their leaders have with his government.

And the reviews, in some cases, have been less than kind.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with pipeline protestors as they stand and hold signs at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Thursday, January 26, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with pipeline protestors as they stand and hold signs at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Thursday, January 26, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas, who was at Trudeau’s Wednesday night town hall forum in Saskatoon, characterized one of Trudeau’s answers on indigenous youth centre as “dismissive.”

Trudeau told the crowd in Saskatoon that First Nations chiefs who told him that money was needed for TVs and sofas in indigenous youth centres had not been listening to their own youth.

“When a chief says that to me, I pretty much know that they haven’t actually talked to their young people,” Trudeau said in Saskatoon. “Because most of the young people I’ve talked to are asking for a place to store their canoes and paddles so they can connect back out on the land and a place with Internet access so they can do their homework in a meaningful way because their homes are often too crowded and they need a place to work and study.”

Trudeau offered an almost identical answer — that chiefs were out of touch with their own youth — when challenged the next night in Winnipeg by Eric Redhead of Shamattawa First Nation, a community of about 1,500 located about 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg near Hudson Bay.

Shamattawa had pointedly asked Trudeau why the federal government was slow to respond to the suicide crisis on many First Nations reserves. Redhead singled out the Jan. 8 deaths, by suicide, of two 12-year-old girls, Jolyn Winter and Chantell Fox, from Wapakeka First Nation, in northwestern Ontario, about 200 kilometres from the Manitoba border.

One of the girls was the granddaughter of Wapakeka Chief Brennan Sainnawap who, in a letter to Health Canada last July, begged for more funds to deal with a mental health crisis among youth in his community. His request was turned down. A senior Health Canada bureaucrat explained that the request came “at an awkward time” in the federal government’s budget cycle.

This week, an anonymous donor, moved by the deaths of the two girls and the plight of the Wapakeka community, pledged $380,000 which the community believes can pay for four mental health workers.

A protestor shouts at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he speaks a town hall at the University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Thursday, January 26, 2017.

A protestor shouts at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he speaks a town hall at the University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Thursday, January 26, 2017.

“Now we have a private donor who stepped up — this is not the Conservative government, this is your government — who said it was an awkward time,” Redhead said. “We didn’t vote you in for that. Is this the new government now where the private sector is funding the First Nation suicide prevention program?”

In response, Trudeau agreed with Redhead’s assessment. “We have seen far too many tragedies ongoing in indigenous communities and we need to more. Absolutely.”

But then Trudeau largely repeated his answer from the night before in Saskatoon, saying, indigenous leaders who ask for sofas and TVs for their youth centre “haven’t done a very good job of listening.”

“‎The Prime Minister was reflecting on countless conversations he has had – over many years – regarding challenges facing Indigenous youth,” Trudeau’s press secretary said in an e-mailed statement late Friday night.  “It is important for him to hear the perspectives and ideas from everyone – including leaders, young people, parents, and elders – in order to better understand the issues they are facing, and how best they can be addressed from community to community.”

As for the comments about canoe storage and wi-fi, Ahmad said, “During these conversations, First Nations youth often raise the need for greater investments in youth programming and services, and we will continue listening to youth in Indigenous communities across the country while working in partnership with them to develop new solutions and opportunities.”

But even as heard much during those town hall meetings, Trudeau was challenged time and again by indigenous people. It happened in Kingston, Ont., in Peterborough, Ont., in Halifax as well as Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

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“We live in third world conditions in our First Nations communities and that has to change said a woman in Winnipeg

“The conditions on our reserves our horrible! Horrible!,” said a woman in Winnipeg who said she was a member of the Ebb and Flow First Nation, a community of about 2,000 near the northern edge of Lake Manitoba. “We live in third world conditions in our First Nations communities and that has to change. How is your government is going to help our communities? ”

In Fredericton, Trudeau was told his government had not put in place appropriate measures to consult First Nations on the  Energy East pipeline project. In Kingston, an indigenous woman broke down in tears begging him to “protect our water.” In Peterborough, he was introduced by Curve Lake First Nation Chief Phyliss Williams who reminded the prime minister that her community had no potable water and was living under a boil water advisory.

At more than one, he was criticized for failing to implement the United Nations Declaration of Rights and Indigenous Peoples. Two Dalhousie University students, Alex Ayt and Kathleen Olds, asked Trudeau for a selfie during a photo opp  at a Halifax coffee shop.  They  then used the occasion of being up close and personal with the PM to press him on UNDRIP.

Before Christmas, at events like the Assembly of First Nations annual special assembly in Gatineau, Que., many chiefs spoke about how the Trudeau government was slow to keep commitments, such as lifting a freeze on operating transfers to First Nations governments.

And they spoke of how the current government began with high hopes and high expectations among indigenous Canadians.

“During the election campaign (Trudeau) and his party convinced a lot of our people who normally don’t vote in elections to step forward and come to vote with the hope that change would come about. But change has been very slow in coming,” Jean Guy Whiteduck, chief of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, an Algonquin band based in Maniwaki, Que., said at that December AFN meeting. “At this stage I don’t know if he gets a passing mark.”

During the series of town hall meetings, Trudeau heard from only a handful of chiefs but heard plenty from angry everyday citizens of First Nations communities.

Pipeline protestors stand and hold signs as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the public at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Thursday, January 26, 2017.

Pipeline protestors stand and hold signs as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the public at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Thursday, January 26, 2017.

But his response in each case was similar usually. First, he would acknowledge the grievance put to him, often agreeing that the complaint is a valid one, before promising to do better. But that promise would frequently be followed by a recitation of some of things his government has done.

“We invested historic amounts of money in budget 2016 and [we will] continue to invest,” Trudeau said in Winnipeg in response to the woman from Ebb and Flow. “I think that we are starting on a path that is going to change the future for your daughter and the present for yourself. We’re not moving as fast as I’d like on that path — I absolutely agree — but it’s a difficult path to walk.”

— with files from the Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Source: National Post