Aboriginal rights lawyer and academic Pam Palmater throws down the gauntlet to mining companies at Idle No More – Northern Manitoba forum – by John Barker (Thompson Citizen – February 20, 2013)

The Thompson Citizen, which was established in June 1960, covers the City of Thompson and Nickel Belt Region of Northern Manitoba. The city has a population of about 13,500 residents while the regional population is more than 40,000. editor@thompsoncitizen.net

”I’m not surrendering my sovereignty for any more beads and trinkets. When mining companies come to our communities, the beads and trinkets of the past, jobs and training, that’s over’

Aboriginal rights lawyer and academic Pam Palmater threw down the gauntlet to mining companies at an Idle No More – Northern Manitoba forum at the USW Local 6166 Steel Centre Feb. 16.

“I’m not surrendering my sovereignty for any more beads and trinkets. When mining companies come to our communities, the beads and trinkets of the past, jobs and training, that’s over. We’re talking about sharing management ownership of the resource that belong to both treaty partners.”

Churchill riding NDP MP Niki Ashton and the Thompson Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation (TNRC) co-sponsored the 3½-hour “Knowledge is Power teach-in” with Idle No More – Northern Manitoba.

Two high-profile NDP MLAs from Northern Manitoba mining communities were also on hand to give praise and support to the Idle No More Movement: Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Steve Ashton, who has been Thompson’s MLA since November 1981, making him the longest-serving MLA in the legislative assembly, and Clarence Pettersen, one of the party’s newest MLAs, who was first elected in the riding of Flin Flon in the last general election on Oct. 4, 2011. Pettersen taught school in Flin Flon for more than 30 years. Mayor Tim Johnston brought a word of welcome and greetings on behalf of the City of Thompson.

Pettersen spoke approvingly of Pukatawagan Chief Arlen Dumas’ struggle with Hudbay over Lalor mine near Snow Lake, including the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) issuing its own self-styled “stop-work order” Jan. 28 against Hudbay, saying, “This order is issued because: Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co., Ltd. and affiliated companies have breached the traditional laws of Missinippi Nehethowak as represented by Mathias Colomb Cree Nation by constructing, operating, and extracting resources from Lalor Mine at Snow Lake without the express permission of the owners Missinippi Nehethowak as represented by Mathias Colomb Cree Nation,” read the stop work order. “WARNING: The failure to stop work, the resumption of work without permission from the Missinippi Nehethowak as represented by Mathias Colomb Cree Nation is punishable by the laws of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.” You can view the 4:46 YouTube video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVI38p2eniM&;;feature=share&list=UU26szbP4owoAs0C0bqTqamw

Pettersen said Dumas, who was also in attendance at the forum, just wants the same opportunities at Snow Lake for his First Nations peoples as non-aboriginals such as his own father had in mining in places like Flin Flon and Snow Lake a generation ago.

“The history of Thompson started with a trap line and a dream,” said Idle No More – Northern Manitoba in a statement last month. “Miles Hart was a Northern trapper from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation who sacrificed his land and resources to the City of Thompson so our neighbours could have a good life on our traditional lands.

“According to the oral history held by elder Reverend Hart of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Isaiah Spence, son of Jimmy Spence shared a trap line with Miles Hart on the north side of the river and Jimmy Spence held a trap line on the south side where the Plaza is now located. The city of Thompson is within our traditional territory and is part of the registered trap line established in 1947 by the Province.

“One night while sleeping, Jimmy had a dream in which he was told to find something that would benefit his family. Then, in the 1950s, the old man found a precious rock – a sample of ore, which he showed to a prospector – Walter Johnson. In return for finding the ore, Jimmy received a slab of bacon, a 25-foot fishing net and a machete. NCN elder Thomas Linklater told Jimmy Spence to file a claim but he passed away before he could do this. The prospector then claimed he had found the nickel and now receives the credit for finding the nickel ore that resulted in the founding of Thompson and the Thompson nickel mine.

“Over the years, billions of dollars in nickel have been extracted from the Thompson mine with no benefit to the trappers who held trap lines or to their families and their communities. The city has had a rich and well-resourced life due to the trappers’ sacrifice and generosity and yet they died in poverty. Miles Hart’s daughters worked hard and fought many battles to get the bridge named after him in honor of his contribution to the City of Thompson.

“This is not just a story – it is an example of widespread injustice to First Nation People.

“This is a powerful local example and metaphor of the relationship between Canada and First Nations people. We are seen as receiving resources and services for free, a tax on the system and a drag on the Canadian budget. But, we argue, First Nations people have made major sacrifices of our land, resources, children, culture, language and spirituality so our neighbors could have a good life on our land. And they have had a good life, in part because of the sacrifices of First Nations people.

“In fact, Canada is one of the richest countries in the world, but many of our First Nations live in developing-world living conditions. The Harper government needs to recognize it is not upholding Canada’s part of the promises made in treaty agreements between sovereign nations. Canadians need to know, and Canada needs to recognize, the true history of this made to its wealth and power.

“Now, across Canada and in solidarity around the world, the people are speaking out and demanding recognition of the treaty relationship and true history of Canada! We are educating ourselves and others on current legislation and we will never stop until the treaty relationship is restored to its original spirit and intent.”

In a May 11, 2002 article, “Manitoba’s Legends of Rock: John F. Thompson,” based on information provided by Inco and published by the mineral resources division of the Government of Manitoba’s Department of Innovation, Energy and Mines, between 1946 and 1956 new exploration techniques “were used in north central Manitoba. An active exploration program capitalized on the development of the airborne magnetometer, which was adapted from wartime use to locate enemy submarines. This technology proved essential to mapping of potential deposits in remote areas. Armed with this new exploration technology, Inco set about with the largest exploration program in its history. Ten years and $10 million in exploration resulted in the discovery on Feb. 5, 1956 of the Thompson ore body,” known as Borehole 11962 – the so-called “Discovery Hole” at Cook Lake (later renamed Thompson Lake after John Fairfield Thompson, the chairman of Inco when the discovery was made) – a diamond drill exploration hole collared and assayed positive for nickel.

Pierre Gaucher, general manager of Instrumentation GDD Inc. in Quebec City, wrote in a March 2000 published article entitled, “How Henry Linklater, prospector, discovered Thompson orebody,” the “rich Thompson orebody of Inco, officially discovered by geophysics, was actually found in a small outcrop next to Cook (Thompson) lake by a linecutter. That ‘prospector’ was Henry Linklater, an Indian from Nelson House, now retired. I met him a few times with my father. After the discovery, he worked for Inco for more than 30 years as a practical “mine geologist.” His employment at Thompson and his excellent performance in that capacity was confirmed to my father by the chief geologist of Thompson, Mr. Boris Shepertycky.”

Ken Bigalow, who arrived in Thompson in October 1960, was quoted in a “Communities Memories” article published by Heritage North Museum as saying, “Although there were not many aboriginal people employed at INCO, mining being an unfamiliar form of employment, for them, Ken was impressed with those he knew. He describes his association with Henry Linklater. Henry started out in exploration at Moak Lake. In those days it was called Canico but later became INCO exploration. These fellows ended up as underground surveyors and engineers. Henry worked there for over 30 years. After he retired he was brought back as a consultant.”

Palmater sounded a similar warning to mining companies as Dumas has to Hudbay in Snow Lake: “I’m not surrendering my sovereignty for anymore beads and trinkets. When mining companies come to our communities, the beads and trinkets of the past, jobs and training, that’s over. We’re talking about sharing management ownership of the resource….”

Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer whose family originates from the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick and who is currently an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University in Toronto, also told the Idle No More – Northern Manitoba forum that Bill S-2, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, is a “prime example of a bill that is being promoted as one which will protect indigenous women from domestic violence and give them equal rights upon marriage or relationship breakdown” but “does neither of those things.”

Palmater, who is also chair in indigenous governance at Ryerson University and academic director of the university’s newly-created Centre for Indigenous Governance, also warned the 100 or so people in attendance to be wary of several other bills dealing with aboriginal issues, including S-6, First Nations Elections Act, introduced in the in the Senate on Dec. 24, 2011 and which passed third reading in the Senate last April 24 without amendments before being introduced at introduced for first reading in the House of Commons last May 4.

Bill S-6 is opt-in legislation for First Nations who conduct their elections under the Indian Act and would extend the election term from two to four years; has provisions for a re-call mechanism; elections can be contested in a court and sets out offences and penalties in relation to the election of a chief or councillor.

Concerns have been expressed by aboriginal groups, Palmater noted, about provisions in the bill that empower the minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development to issue orders under the act, including ones to First Nations that conducts custom elections, in the event of a dispute or an election overturned by the governor-in-council, which translates in practice of the federal cabinet.

Bill S-2, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights on Nov. 1, 2011 and the committee reported the bill back to the Senate with two amendments. The Senate passed the amended bill on Dec. 1, 2011 and the bill subsequently received first reading in the House of Commons on Dec. 8, 2011.

Palmater said the bill has several problematic areas, noting it has an individual rights and interest focus versus an indigenous communal and holistic approach, and focuses on the best interests of the individual child as opposed to the collective, inter-connected interests of the entire family, including the child, extended family, community and First Nations.

“It is this very approach,” Palmater wrote last Nov. 15 in rabble.ca “that led to residential schools, 60’s scoop and the current over-representation of our Indigenous children in the care of child welfare … In this case, non-Indigenous people will be judge and jury over what our culture is, which parts of it are important, and whether it is relevant to property issues on reserve.”

Palmater also noted “non-Indians will be able to gain rights (exclusive occupation, life interest, etc) to the home and contiguous land on reserve” and “a judge can make a ruling that violence has occurred and bar that person from the house, without the alleged offender being charged or convicted.”

Marlisa Tiedemann, a lawyer who is an analyst in the social affairs division of the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, in a legislative summary of Bill S-2, published on Oct 17, 2011 and revised Jan. 24, 2012, wrote in the commentary section, “Like reaction to its predecessors, reaction to Bill S-2 has been primarily negative. Individuals and organizations who have commented on the new bill have emphasized that for the most part, key issues that had been raised with respect to previous incarnations of the bill (e.g., inadequate consultation, a failure to recognize First Nations’ inherent jurisdiction over the issue, and the need to improve access to justice) have not been addressed.”

Palmater said here Feb.16 Bill S-2 conflicts with the Indian Act, which reserves land for the exclusive use and benefit of Indians and make it an offence for non-Indians to trespass on reserve, yet Bill S-2 creates new rights for non-Indians on reserve, and as well is outside is outside of the federal government’s legislative authority in Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867 because Canada is purporting to legislate with regard to the property and civil rights of non-Indians, which is the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces.

She said Bill S-2 violates Section 35 treaty rights in the Constitution Act, 1982 because many reserves were set up via treaties, which are now protected under that section.

The bill before the House of Commons, Palmater said, also breaches the federal government’s fiduciary obligations and its legal duty to consult and accommodate First Nations in drafting the legislation. Bill S-2 was drafted without First Nation input, she said, and there were no legal consultations.

Palmater argued the bill also violates many articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), including Article 3 – the right to be self-determining; Article 4 – the right for First Nations to be self-governing over their internal affairs; Article 19 – the right of free, informed and prior consent before any legislative measures that affects them become law; and Article 37 – the right to recognition and enforcement of treaties.

Palmater’s position on Bill S-2, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, is starkly at odds with the legislative assembly of Manitoba’s, which last Dec. 6 – the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in memory of the 14 young women who were slain at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989 – unanimously passed a resolution in support of the bill and urged the federal government to pass it, directing a copy of the Manitoba resolution be sent to the federal minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development.

Aboriginal women make up 7.7 per cent of Manitoba’s total population.

Progressive Conservative Opposition Leader Brian Pallister moved the Manitoba resolution, which was supported by NDP Minister of Justice and Attorney General Andrew Swan, who said, “we agree there is a gap, and we believe it needs to be addressed and we believe that if the federal government listens to advice of First Nations people it can be done properly. And if we believe that the government listens to the advice that’s being put forward in committees that are taking place in Ottawa even this week we think Bill S-2 which should go ahead, can be made even better. I’ll take the opposition leader at his word and say this is motivated by his interest in assisting First Nations people.”

The Feb. 16 forum had a requisite measure of de rigueur media bashing. Rev. Leslie-Elizabeth King, who pastors the now newly-combined Lutheran-United Church of Thompson, rose from her seat to say, “All of our national media outlets, at least as far as I was able to determine, misrepresented what it was [in an audit released Jan. 7, Deloitte called into question how the Attawapiskat First Nation handled more than $100 million dollars in public funds, saying on average more than 80 per cent of files did not have adequate supporting documents] and did nothing to provide background or clarity.” King, an ordained United Church minister, went onto to describe CTV chief political correspondent Craig Oliver’s reporting on the Attawapiskat First Nation audit as “vile,” saying, “I have never heard such vile foaming at the mouth. We should get rid of him.”

Palmater responded by saying it was a “daunting” task for activists to sort out facts in the midst of “media propaganda.” While she said she didn’t think the media was “evil,” she quickly added, “In the old days, media used to report facts … everything you get today is opinion instead of fact.” She said her advice for her Ryerson students is to “critically assess everything you hear.”

Palmater also warned her audience of Idle No More activists to be wary of several other government proposed government bills, which, she said, which will unilaterally repeal sections, or otherwise fundamentally alter, the Indian Act in significant ways. Palmater listed the other red-flag legislation as:

Bill C-428: Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act;

Bill C-27: First Nations Financial Transparency Act;

Bill S-8: Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act;

Bill S-207: An Act to Amend the Interpretation Act.

The Idle No More campaign originated first on social media, first on Facebook and later with Twitter, when Sylvia McAdam, Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean and Jessica Gordon expressed concern about provisions of Bill C-45, which received royal assent Dec. 14. Idle No More began nationally last Nov. 10 at Station 20 West, a community enterprise centre serving Riversdale, King George and Pleasant Hill on the west side of Saskatoon. The early stages of the movement consisted of five rallies before a National Day of Action last Dec. 10.