Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Long and hot summer 

This is the video that has raised all the fuss - "When justice fails, stop the rails". It's a cute slogan, yes, and apparently a non-violent way to protest-- it says that wrapping copper wire about a rail line will just cause the train's electronic sensors to think the line is broken and therefore bring the train to a stop.
Now, I'm not sure this is as harmless as it is purported to be -- what if a train stops and another train slams into it? What if train passengers are stranded?
And I'm not sure what it accomplishes to stop trains, except to cost farmers a lot of money when their grain can't be shipped to ports.
That said, the situation for many Aboriginal families on reserves today is unconscionable. Assembly of First Nations head Phil Fontaine spoke today to the Canadian Club, and CP describes the scene:
Fontaine has always preferred peaceful diplomacy over the risk of alienating public support.
"But First Nations people are beginning to question the so-called rational process," he said during a luncheon speech Tuesday to the Canadian Club of Ottawa.
"At this point you must realize we have a right to be frustrated, concerned, angry," he told the well-heeled luncheon crowd of business, political, academic and cultural leaders.
They filled the gilded ballroom of the Chateau Laurier hotel,? sipping coffee and finishing dessert as Fontaine described 28 people living in two-bedroom houses on the Pukatawagan reserve in Northern Manitoba.
Vicious murders of native women go all but unnoticed, he said. And federal spending hasn't kept pace with inflation or population growth for years.
Railways apparently have involved themselves now in the land claims disputes.
. . . Chief Terry Nelson of Manitoba's Roseau River First Nation, says he'll follow through on rail blockades included in a resolution passed by chiefs at an Assembly of First Nations meeting last December.
It calls for a 24-hour disruption (from 4 p.m. next June 29 to 4 p.m. June 30) "to reaffirm the need for the Canadian government to establish a reasonable time-frame for settlement of Indigenous rights."
Nelson has since said that such action could escalate if rail companies persist in suing demonstrators for related economic chaos. He argues that the rail company has access to traditional native territory because a related historic treaty wasn't properly honoured by Ottawa.
Compensation for commercial use of claimed land is a major snag in several cases. CN sued after a splinter group of Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte near Deseronto, Ont. blocked freight and passenger traffic for more than a day on the busy line between Toronto and Ottawa last month.
It could be a long, hot summer if protests escalate:
Fontaine says there's still time to avoid all-out conflict.
"But what's incumbent upon us is to put out a proposition that's so compelling it actually gives First Nations hope."
That's increasingly tough, he said, under a Conservative government that gutted the $5-billion Kelowna Accord to improve First Nations health, housing and education, before virtually excluding new spending for cash-strapped reserves in the last federal budget.
Still, he met with [Indian Affairs minister] Prentice on Monday and is willing to keep trying.
"In spite of all of the resistance we've encountered in the last while, we've made it very clear that we're still committed to engaging with the government in a process that will bring about good results for First Nations people and Canadians."
. . . "it's an intolerable situation" on many of Canada's more than 600 reserves, most of which are denied any share of lucrative resources on their traditional lands.
"There's no reason why First Nations people should be as poor as we are."
He's convinced that most Canadians want that black mark erased.
Until then, said Fontaine, "we're still committed to do the right thing."
If things get bad, the Harper government may yet regret having stiffed Canada's Aboriginal communities by bailing out of the Kelowna Accord -- and after promising during the election campaign that they wouldn't do that.
In the end, the $5 billion promised by the Accord may well turn out to be a lot less expensive than what nationwide Aboriginal protests will cost us all, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike. And not just in terms of money.

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