Blog Entry

Robert Lovelace Address to Amnesty International, Toronto

Kwèy Kwèy – anìn ajì pimàdizin – Kekekwìs nindidjinakàz – ajoganan kòskòsì

This is the third time I have had the honour to address an Amnesty International gathering.  This is an auspicious day; as I have heard on the radio that some modern prophet has predicted that today the world will come to an end. Well, I don’t know if that is true but I can tell you this – colonialism is definitely in its last days.

I am honoured to be here today even more than the first two occasions on which I was able to speak with you because now more than ever I understand the critical nature of the work with which you are engaged and how protection of human rights in all forms is your goal.

I am also happy to have this opportunity to thank you once again for supporting me while I was held three and a half months as a political prisoner. The letters I received while inside prison were supportive. As important,  was the knowledge of a world of support that helped me make the transition back to freedom once I was released. This is such a critical time for someone who has been imprisoned, a time when acceptance and compassion are absolutely necessary. We need to put more thought and effort into working with people on release as we do when they are inside. Being released from confinement can be as traumatic as arrest and detention. Knowing that people still cared was fundamental to getting back into action. Thank you.

Our troubles at Ardoch are not as crucial as they were 3 or 4 years ago. There is no action at the mine site and no court action – although the mining claims are still registered and the 77 million dollar law suit still hangs over our heads. Only last June, Frontenac Ventures renewed the John and Jane Doe warrants which exclude Algonquins and settlers from using that part of our unceded homeland. I am encouraged by the recent decision by a Quebec court that upheld that provinces anti-SLAPP legislation, denying Barrick Gold a suit against 3 authors and a publisher. The Court held that presenting evidence by way of journalistic context contributes to a free and open dialogue in a democratic society and cannot be considered by the strict interpretations of liable.

Since I last spoke to you Bill C-300 has come and gone The private member's Bill was aimed at creating a foundation for legislative controls on Canadian extractive industries operating outside of Canada’s borders. The Conservatives showed up in mass to defeat the Bill while the Liberals and NDP just didn’t show up for the vote. The leader of the Liberal Opposition said publically that he supported the principles of the Bill but he voted against it.  I guess its okay to recognise principles but not have them.

Last Winter I was invited to debate with the Department of Mining Engineering at Queen’s University. The topic was about advances in Corporate Social Responsibility. They had invited the public relations expert from the Canadian Mining Association to spearhead their argument. We heard how the major mining companies were setting the example with voluntary improvements in community relations and protection of environments. All this was predicated on the “good will” of these companies. The program of self- regulation, self-monitoring and self-reporting was going well. Since the CSR program had begun almost no adverse situations had occurred and the few that had, had been dealt with efficiently and to the satisfaction of everyone. I was disarmed. How could I find fault with the current system? So getting on board with the new agenda I suggested to the School of Mining Engineering that in order to prepare students for the Brave New World of Corporate Social Responsibility that they institute a policy where students grade their own exams and give themselves final marks in courses. Of course, there were howls of laughter at such a naïve recommendation.

Seriously let’s look at the little progress that governments and industry have made recently.

Under the revised Ontario Mining Act the Province has accepted the duty to consult Indigenous Peoples and Communities. But for the most part they have outsourced this responsibility in practice to the very corporations that seek to enhance their own profitability.  First Nations are told both by government and courts that they need to develop participation models with corporations. However, under consultation, First Nations  have no real power to say “no” or engage in self- determination. In reality, consultation means compensation, often at the cost of jurisdiction and human rights. The Ontario Mining Act has now concretized “tokenism”. At least in an historical context we have risen above the stage of “therapy” in which governments simply acted in our best interests because Indian people were to “dumb” to know what was good for themselves.

There are great minds who are promoting “free, prior and informed consent” as an improvement on the consultation model. From a settler point of view this appears like and sounds like the right thing to do. It sounds so democratic. But from an indigenous point of view, through the eyes of someone whose homeland is threatened and who lacks the legal authority and power to protect the land we have to ask: What is this thing called freedom in a colonial world? What is meant by prior – before what – before tying our hands behind our backs with outdated and unconscionable treaties? What is informed when the Aboriginal populations in Ontario are the least educated with high school dropout rates in Northern Ontario somewhere around 85%? The truth is that the goodness in free, prior and informed consent, evaporated when you calculate the power differentials between first world governments and corporations and third word indigenous peoples. Have we not come to the most obvious of conclusions that democracy and colonialism cannot walk hand in hand.

Soon my wife, Nicole, and I will be travelling once again to the eastern Mediterranean to keep our promise to the people of Gaza. The way we look at it, Gaza has become the most populated Indian reserve in the world with over 1.4 million people crowded into a very small prison camp. In my life the intersection between Palestine and the Indigenous nations in Canada came as a natural one. You see, and I have, that as long as someone in the world is being colonized then liberty exists for no one. As long as any people are suffering the oppression of colonialism our own suffering is prolonged.

There is no mystery why Canada acts almost blindly without critique or question in support of the State of Israel’s colonial policies in Palestine: Canada and Israel’s policies are marching in lock step because both Canada and Israel are colonial states. It is easy to claim you are a democracy when all of those who have power agree that they must maintain it, but when the displaced and oppressed ask for their rights and original jurisdiction those who have power must use it to restore these human rights or surrender their claim to democracy. Both Canadian and Israeli economies are unsustainably dependent on the fruits of colonialism.

For the last several years I have been working on research that might define the underlying tenets of Aboriginal policy for northern Ontario. An overwhelming amount of evidence points toward a willful policy of undermining indigenous independence at the cost of indigenous lives. Ontario`s north and particularly the Aboriginal people who live there are experiencing a humanitarian disaster in slow motion. How can we even consider that a government of Canada in this day would engage in engineering such an unconscionable practice, and for what purpose?

Last January I read about three cables which had been published through Wikileaks. All three of the cables from the Israeli government sources advised the United States’ Embassy in Tel Aviv that it was Israel’s willful intention to keep the economy “on the verge of collapse”. Another cable notified the US Embassy that Israel’s policy would be to keep Gaza’s economy “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crises”. At that time, Prime Minister Olmert said publically, “There is no justification for demanding we allow residents of Gaza to live normal lives while shells and rockets are fired from their streets and courtyards.” Must all Gazans, 1.4 million people, suffer because a few take violent direct action against Israel’s policies of occupation and isolation? Denying the entire population the means to develop civil governance and a sustainable economy can only destabilize peaceful solutions. This wrongheaded policy only contributes to the tensions and animosity that have existed since the beginning of separation; but it is essentially the same active racism that controls the attitudes of colonists and those who they oppress that we find have developed between Canadians and their Aboriginal neighbours. The logic is that as long as the oppressed want more than they deserve then the oppressor has the right to take from them what is left.

In Canada, there is no such “smoking gun” as the Wikileaks cables but the circumstantial evidence is abundant. In northern Ontario communities are not allowed to establish for themselves food or shelter security or even clean drinking water. Education is inadequate to survive in either the colonized world or in their indigenous territories. Even if the education were sufficient to maintain local economies, people are forbidden to harvest from the land or develop indigenous industries. The social architecture of northern Ontario is clearly in the hands of southern planners.

On August 30 of this year retired Chief Gordon Peters sent a letter out to the people of Ontario, Canada and the World. It is addressed, “To Whoever Wants To Listen and Help”. The first sentence reads, “Pikangikum First Nation has within a period of 44 days lost 5 youth to suicide”. As analysis Chief Peters offers this, ”We cannot live alone within the boundaries of our reservation and think that this is the way life is. This is NOT NORMAL”. Chief Peters extended his plea in a letter to the Secretary-Genera of the United Nations on October 12 in which he explained that between 2006 and 2009 Pikangikum lost 16 children between the ages of 10 and 19 to suicide.

I believe that Colonial societies live off the misery of those who they oppress and that they need to wake-up to an understanding that such willful ignorance will eventually come back to haunt their own children and generations of humankind. Canada and its Provinces’ policies that isolate and control the peoples and nations indigenous to this land will only survive as long as exploitation of resources remains viable but the impacts on the people and environments will last forever.

A number of years ago, probably 15 or so at least, Patricia Montour and I met just outside Kingston Penitentiary. Pat had done her Law school at Queen’s and gone on to teach at the University of Saskatchewan but she had come back to give some lectures on Aboriginal law. As a student she had worked with the Native Brotherhood at the prison and we were there to pay them a visit on that evening. Before going in we had a coffee and donut at a small café.  We got talking about victimization and healing. Pat said that you could live a long time as a victim, you could get used to it and even have good feelings about the abuser. The worst moment for the abused is when they admit honestly that they are victimized. This is the lowest that an abused person can go. It is the depth of shame. Healing comes when the victim becomes the witness and tells the truth to the world, confronts the abuser and continues to witness the truth. Pat and I smiled at this point; we recognised that many Aboriginal people had become professional witnesses. Even the abuser encourages it.  Today we have the Truth and Reconciliation Commission conducting meetings. Becoming a witness is only the first step and beyond that a person can fall back into being a victim because that is what they know, that is the pattern of their life. Moving beyond being a victim and even a witness, the path of healing, demands that a person who was once a victim must become a warrior.

There are many kinds of warriors. You can be a literate warrior choosing to work in challenging ideas. You can become an artistic warrior, a warrior/healer, a warrior/teacher, warrior/pacifist or you can become active in struggles for liberation. A warrior does not invest in the economies of the oppressor. A warrior does not purchase the products of oppression and does not traffic in human suffering. Warriors understand the consequences of violence and strive to find peaceful solutions to political and social problems but are never prepared to accept anyone’s right to oppress others.

Pat Montour passed away recently. She was a mother, grandmother, teacher and warrior.  Her contribution to the liberation of her people is monumental.

The paradigms created by colonialism and capitalism are unsustainable because they are fundamentally un-democratic. Democracy finds its roots in indigenous cultures around the world. Democracy is not new. It is ages old and was born out of a desire of the first humans to achieve societies of mutual respect and benefit. But democracy is always an unfinished business. Because colonialism is unsustainable it will fail. The future for all of us will certainly be harsh as colonialism fails. Unlike T.S. Elliot’s prediction, the world will not end with a bang or a whimper; but rather the world as we know it, of suffering and oppression, will end with a long, grueling struggle to restore the indigenous balance with the earth and its replenishing cycles that really sustain life. Each and every one of us has the responsibility to carry on our moral principles, belief in the equality of human beings and prepare the next generations to be courageous, charitable, and peaceful.

Thank you so much for inviting me to share with you my thoughts today. 

Take care, take notice, take action. Mìgwetch.