Idle No More – Northern Manitoba: A year on – Thompson Citizen Editorial (January 29, 2014)

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. 

Last year was the winter of our discontent to borrow the famous line from William Shakespeare’s 16th century play, The Tragedy of King Richard the third. What about this year? Until last week, an eerie quiescence had walked this land for months.

No more. Not after legendary former Winnipeg rocker Neil Young brought his “Honour the Treaties” tour to Canada to raise funds for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations, who have filed a legal challenge to a multi-billion dollar proposed expansion of Royal Dutch Shell’s oil-sands Jackpine Mine, Fort McMurray, Alta., from 7,500 hectare to 13,000 hectares.

And not after former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, an Anishinabe from the Sagkeeng First Nation on the southern tip of Lake Winnipeg in Treaty Territory 1, who accepted a job in December with TransCanada Pipeline, a Calgary based natural gas and oil pipeline developer that wants to build the proposed Energy East Pipeline to transport oil from Western to Eastern Canada, postponed a scheduled talk Jan. 22 at the University of Winnipeg after being confronted with angry protesters, some armed with anti-oil sands signs, others with drums and some with their faces painted red and black. “How dare you, Phil!” charged protester Jo Seenie. “On your own people? Anishinabe people? How dare you sell us out to work for the enemy that’s destroying this Earth?”

A year ago yesterday – on Jan. 28, 2013 – the Miles Hart Bridge was partially blockaded by more than 100 Idle No More – Northern Manitoba activists, many from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, during an international day of action.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence decided she would fast on Dec. 10, 2012 to support the Idle No More movement. She was later joined by 52-year-old elder Raymond Robinson, formerly of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation at Cross Lake, who now lives in Gatineau, Que., who travelled to Ottawa to continue his hunger strike in solidarity with Spence on Victoria Island, unceded Algonquin Territory in the middle of the Ottawa River, within view of the Peace Tower. Robinson ended his hunger strike Jan. 24, 2013, after 43 days, the same day Spence ended her 44-day hunger strike. Robinson ended a second six-day hunger strike in Montreal last April 9. There was also Wilson Hartie, 56, of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Nelson House, who started a hunger strike Dec. 17, 2012, also in support of Spence, and ended his 31-day hunger strike Jan. 16, 2013.

Two weeks after the Jan. 28 Miles Hart Bridge partial blockade, 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 belongs to both treaty partners.”

Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) at Pukatawagan, led by Chief Arlen Dumas, issued and posted its first “stop work order” at Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting’s Lalor mine near Snow Lake, on what they claim as unceded Missinippi Nehethowak Territory, during that Jan. 28, 2013 day of action, returning to post a second such stop work order last March 5. The mine site is less than 45 kilometres from Mathias Colomb Nation reserve.

Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting then sought an interlocutory injunction to prohibit Dumas, in his capacity as chief of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Palmater, and defendants “John Doe” and “persons unknown” from doing or continuing further protests by at two mine sites, Lalor and Reed Lake copper mine, 120 kilometres east of Flin Flon, which Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal granted last March 20. Dumas, and about a dozen unhappy supporters, not liking how the chief justice was conducting the hearing, stormed out of the Winnipeg courtroom before Joyal issued the injunction.

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, where she is chair in Indigenous Governance, accused Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting of using the courts to silence and intimidate her and her advocacy work on behalf of First Nations. Before going to Ryerson, Palmater spent 11 years between 1998 and 2009 working as a lawyer for the federal Department of Justice and was the director of government relations at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for four years between 2003 and 2007, managing the negotiation and implementation of treaties, land claims, self-government and economic development.

A year on from the events of last winter, Idle No More – Northern Manitoba has had a pretty low profile in recent months, although some folks have been liaising with the Wilderness Committee’s Manitoba Field Office on opposing OmniTRAX’s rail-sea-oil shipping plan, which could see the Denver short line railroad begin shipping more crude oil next July along their Hudson Bay Railway up the Bayline to Churchill from The Pas.

Idle No More – Northern Manitoba’s Facebook open group had 3,062 members as of Jan. 27, up more than 700 people from just over 2,300 on Jan. 4, 2013. Members post regularly. Idle No More – Northern Manitoba is far from idle. What that means, only time will tell.

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