The Harper government is finally talking about land rights. They’re even advocating the sovereignty of a people who occupied their land thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, they had to look outside the country to do so.
As of press time, the conflict in Gaza has claimed over 1,360 Palestinian lives, the vast majority of which are believed to have been civilians. An attack on a school in the Jebaliya refugee camp in late July marked the second attack on a United Nations compound by Israeli forces in one week.
The one-sided nature of the battle for the West Bank has become increasingly clear, placing Western support of Israel under strain. But unflinchingly, federal Conservatives have stood behind their allies in the Middle East, dutifully trumpeting Israel’s right to defend itself.
Regardless of the criticism this conflict has received, Tories aren’t wrong to advocate for the rights of the Jewish people in Israel. Recognition of their unique ties to the land they inhabit is a necessary part of achieving peace between Palestine and Israel. But it’s a severe disappointment that Harper has more concern for the indigenous rights of Israelis than he does for those in his own backyard.
On July 30, a group of five Ontario chiefs gathered in Toronto to deliver a message to their provincial and federal governments, that they are prepared to lay down their lives if necessary to defend their land from unwanted resource development.
Among them was Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister, whose community has been ravaged by the effects of mercury poisoning after 10 tonnes of the toxic element was dumped into the river his people had fished for centuries. Today, clear-cut logging in the region has brought on the threat of further mercury contamination in local waterways.
“He needs to have the same principles that he’s saying about Israel lands to Treaty 3 territory and Native lands in Canada,” Treaty #3 Grand Chief Warren White said at the event. “Clean up your own backyard before you go and spill a lot of money into disasters in other countries.”
In early July, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Ontario government’s power to permit industrial logging on Grassy Narrows First Nation’s traditional lands. Grassy Narrows had hoped that Ottawa would have the power to reverse that decision, but the Harper government has remained silent.
Earlier this summer, uranium mining made its exit from Eeyou Istchee. Undoubtedly, radioactive production would be in full swing here had the Crees not met the threat with unanimous opposition. For years, these Ontario nations have tried to voice similar concerns against resource development. Their message in Toronto is proof that until now, those concerns have fallen on deaf ears.
Three civilian deaths in Israel were enough to convince our government to support a military attack involving ground forces, artillery and more. Yet a community here in which 60% of the population has been severely affected by easily preventable mercury poisoning seems to raise little federal concern.
At home and abroad, true progress is made when all parties are brought to the table. The situation in Grassy Narrows makes it clear that Ontario’s First Nations have not been invited to the conversation.