(Main page photo: Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence speaks to an RCMP officer sent to remove chiefs and supporters from steps of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block, home to the House of Commons APTN/Photo)
APTN National News
OTTAWA–Some Manitoba chiefs called for “action” against existing oil pipelines on a day of heated words at a special chiefs assembly in Ottawa that heard from embattled Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and saw an impromptu march to the doors of Parliament Hill that ended with police intervention.
Terry Nelson, who is no longer officially chief of Roseau River, told the assembled chiefs that the only way to escape from Attawapiskat-like situations was to seize a portion of the resource wealth flowing from their lands.
Nelson, who was given the microphone by Waywayseecappo First Nation Chief Murray Clearsky, said there were plans to launch actions against existing oil pipelines in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, along with several U.S. states.
He said the only way First Nations can deal with the nagging funding problems plaguing their communities was to seize a share of the resources flowing from their territories.
“The chiefs in Manitoba have been listening and they hear very clearly we have to take action,” said Nelson. “In June, we are going to have continuous, ongoing demonstration action on the pipelines, from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, to sit on those pipelines until this government comes to their goddamn senses.”
Nelson said separately that the action could result in blocking access routes to pipeline stations.
Manitoba chiefs planned to submit a resolution for debate calling on the Assembly of First Nations to back the oil pipeline action and also create a planning committee to deal with media relations, legal advice, safety and security.
The resolution may not be debated until Thursday.
The ongoing crisis in Attawapiskat seems to have galvanized some of the delegates, triggering a call from one chief to block the airstrip used to deliver supplies to the De Beers diamond mine, which is about 90 kilometres west of the community.
Spence, who is battling Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan over his decision to impose a third-party manager to handle the band’s finances, told the assembly it was time to take a stronger stand against the federal government.
Chiefs passed a resolution calling on Duncan to reverse his decision to impose a third-party manager on Attawapiskat and instead work with the existing chief and council to find a solution to the housing crisis that has seen families living in shacks with no running water and using the bathroom in pails.
The resolution also called on the AFN to ask the UN to appoint a special agent to monitor Canada’s response to the housing and infrastructure woes on First Nations and “hold Canada” to its responsibility under treaties and international covenants.
The resolution also calls on the AFN to back Attawapiskat’s chief and council.
“It is time to be really aggressive toward the government. We have been talking about our concerns. They are not listening, they just keep plugging their ears,” said Spence.
The Attawapiskat chief also urged chiefs to get a plan in place for their upcoming Jan. 24 meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“We should have a plan in place, even an agreement with a time frame and if they don’t want to meet this time-frame, we need to do an action. Our grandfathers did action, they demonstrated courage and we need to do this for our youth, we need to build up their future,” she said.
The talk in response to Spence’s speech featured strong words from chiefs.
Six Nations Chief Bill Montour suggested blocking the airstrip De Beers uses to fly in its supplies and Mohawk Elder Billy Two Rivers said First Nations should take corporations “hostage” until they get their share of resource wealth.
Batchewana Chief Dean Sayers called on chiefs to act immediately and the led an impromptu march to Parliament Hill from the Ottawa Congress Centre, which is only a couple of blocks away. Sayers and about 50 marchers blocked one side of the downtown street that crosses in front of Parliament Hill. They waved down buses, a dump truck and cars, to clear the road for their march.
Sayers, whose community is in Ontario, walked up the stairs to the door of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block, which houses the House of Commons, and told a security guard at the door he wanted to see the prime minister.
“Tell him I am here,” Sayers told the Hill security guard.
Sayers then said he wanted the world to see how Canada treats Indigenous people.
“We shouldn’t have to settle for the crumbs that fall off the table, we own the table…Things are not as rosy as they think with Indigenous nations in the northern hemisphere of Turtle Island,” said Sayers. “We can’t continue on the current course…The genocidal policies will see the elimination of this beautiful red people.”
Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Stan Louttit also addressed the crowd which chanted “shame on Canada” in the background.
“We are saying no to these governments who want to come to us and put us aside just like we are animals, just like we are nothing,” said Louttit. “Chief Spence is struggling, her people are slowly dying while this is going on.”
The RCMP showed up shortly before Spence was about to speak.
“This is our land,” Sayers told one RCMP officer.
“I understand, but this is Canadian land right now,” said the officer.
The scene unfolded in front of Timmins-James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus.
“This is only the beginning, only the beginning, this is a warning to the government that we are going to be more aggressive, that we are going to do it together,” said Spence.
After a meeting between the RCMP, Hill security, Angus and Louttit, the chiefs and their supporters decided to leave the stairs.
“With that principle of respect that our elders have taught us, I guess we should honour that,” said Louttit. “Let’s respect their House and continue our talk a little bit down there.”
Everyone then walked down the steps and away from Parliament Hill.