National Indigenous Peoples Day – June 21, 2020

Historically, National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated on June 21, and more recently the month of June has been recognized as National Indigenous Peoples Month. National Indigenous Peoples Day is a day to recognize and celebrate First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. This year’s celebrations may look a lot different because of COVID-19, but there are still many ways to celebrate and show support and solidarity for the Indigenous Peoples in Canada and across the world.

The Peterborough Community Legal Centre will close in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples on Monday, June 22nd, 2020 in recognition of National Indigenous Peoples Day.

We live in Nogojiwanong, the place at the end of the rapids, in the traditional territories of the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg. Nogojiwanong / Peterborough is located on Treaty 20 Michi Saagiig territory and in the traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig and Chippewa Nations, collectively known as the Williams Treaties First Nations, which includes: Curve Lake, Hiawatha, Alderville, Scugog Island, Rama, Beausoleil, and Georgina Island First Nations. The Williams Treaties First Nations are the stewards and caretakers of these lands and waters.

Police Brutality

You may have heard of the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, who died from police brutality and excessive use of force. His death shone a bright light on racism in America, with many quickly claiming that no such problem existed in Canada.

However, two days later, on May 27, 2020, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black and Indigenous woman died after falling 24 storeys from her apartment building after Toronto police responded to a call at her home. Since Korchinski-Paquet’s death, two other Indigenous Peoples have lost their lives because of police use of force. Additionally, there have been three reported cases of police arrests that raise considerable questions about police brutality, excessive use of force and racism in Canada.

Sadly, these most recent deaths are not a new phenomenon in Canada. Indigenous People are over-policed and over-represented in the criminal justice system. In April 2020, three Indigenous People were killed by Winnipeg Police within 10 days.

A 2019 Globe and Mail report found that one-third of RCMP related deaths between 2007 and 2017, were Indigenous victims. It is difficult to track the number of police-related deaths and how race plays a factor in these outcomes because there is no national database. Each police force keeps their own statistics, and in some provinces, there are multiple police forces. In Ontario for instance there are three levels of policing; municipal police, provincial police (OPP) and federal police (RCMP). With no national database there is no way to track the results of the systemic racism that Indigenous and other People of Colour face, when interacting with police. Until further action is taken to address police brutality, it is likely that we will continue to see more Indigenous lives lost at the hands of the police.

Coastal GasLink Pipeline and Aboriginal Title

2019 brought months of protests and arrests of Indigenous People in B.C. and across Canada because of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, which had been previously approved by the Federal Court and signed onto by the Wet’suwet’en Elected leaders. The Coastal GasLink Pipeline is a natural gas pipeline in BC that is set to cross many Indigenous First Nations lands.

In early 2020, we saw the nation shut down, as the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en, challenged the approval of the pipeline, which was in direct conflict with the Elected Wet’suwet’en leaders. Protests in solidarity of the Hereditary Chiefs sprung up across Canada, impacting rail and highways. Shortly thereafter the RCMP raided protest camps in BC because of a court-order injunction that prevented the protests, arresting chiefs, matriarchs, and their supporters. However, protests continued as talks between the Hereditary Wet’suwet’en Chiefs and the provincial and federal governments continued.

At the end of April 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was reached between the Hereditary Wet’suwet’en Chiefs and the provincial and federal government. The MOU builds on a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada Decision (Delgamuukw v. British Columbia [1997] 3 SCR 1010) which recognized that Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan rights to their territories were not extinguished when BC joined confederation.

The MOU legally recognizes that the Wet’suwet’en Houses as the holders of Wet’suwet’en Aboriginal rights and title above the direction of elected councils that function under the Indian Act. The MOU speaks only to the Wet’suwet’en title and does not resolve the conflict between the Wet’suwet’en and the Coastal GasLink company over the pipeline itself.

Elected Wet’suwet’en leaders disagree with the MOU. However, the Hereditary Chiefs have issued a statement indicating that the MOU does not “alter elected band councils’ rights to do anything that they are currently authorized to do.”

Contention over the pipeline continues especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns over work camps being constructed and workers entering communities, opening those communities to the potential spread of COVID-19, is one of many concerns with the pipeline. Violence and sexual assault in communities where work camps are built is a common problem related to natural resource projects in Canada. In addition to concerns over the destruction and potential contamination of traditional land from oil spills and development. Recently the Trans Mountain pipeline spilled approximately 150,000 litres of oil in Abbotsford, BC.

The Wet’suwet’en Nation comprises five clans, under which there are 13 house groups, each with a hereditary head chief position (four are currently vacant). Eight hereditary house chiefs are opposed to Coastal GasLink while one house chief supports the project.

Keep your eyes on the news for more on this developing issue.

Update on MMIWG Inquiry

On June 3, 2019, the long-awaited National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report. A year later, the highly anticipated action plan to implement the 231 “Calls for Justice” is delayed even further.

Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government is asking families and advocates to wait even longer for the action plan that was supposed to be presented at the beginning of June. Advocates are questioning the delay, especially when there has been an increase in violence against Indigenous women because of the pandemic, as people are forced to stay home and be isolated from their communities and resources.

One of many grim findings of the MMIWG report was that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to go missing or be murdered than other groups of women in Canada. There is a concern that the report could end up like the others before it, with little implementation and a lot of talk (see: Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission).

The Peterborough Community Legal Centre denounces violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and violence against all Indigenous Peoples. The Legal Centre calls on all governments in Canada to act urgently to implement the Calls For Justice presented in Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The Peterborough Community Legal Centre also urges Canada to make June 21st a statutory holiday, and in the interim we encourage all employers and institutions to declare June 21st a paid holiday for their workplaces.

We encourage our Board, Staff, colleagues, and community members to engage with the following materials:

  1. Lean how to become an Indigenous Ally.
  2. Educate yourself! Check out local Anishinaabe author Doug Williams’ book about the history of the region, Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg: This is Our Territory, and the many books by local Anishinaabe author and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Check out CBC’s list of 35 books to read for National Indigenous History Month and many great resources to read and videos to watch at Douglas College Library’s National Indigenous History Month webpage.
  3. Teach the children! Check out CBC’s list of 20 Canadian books for kids and teens to read for National Indigenous History Month.
  4. Contact your MP and MPP to discuss some of the issues outlined above.
  5. Celebrate! Check out the list of 11 Ways to Virtually Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day provided by Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.
  6. Read the Final Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG