On Sunday, 29 September 2013, Elsipogtog women protectors blocked the entrance to a recently constructed compound housing Southwestern Energy Resources Canada (SWN) equipment on local Highway 134, near present-day Rexton, New Brunswick. The compound is located on Elsipogtog traditional territory, which is unceded land.
Within minutes they were joined by other indigenous protectors, as well as Acadian and Anglophone community members. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) attempted to re-secure the entrance to the compound, but the unarmed protectors successfully stood their ground. An encampment was erected.
CPT has been accompaning the blockade. Follow developments on CPTnet, Facebook and Twitter.
Useful information and resources about the work of the Aboriginal Justice Team
The Aboriginal Justice Team is supporting KAIROS Canada in their 2011 Campaign 'Roll With the Declaration'
Following the 2010 signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), it is now time for Canada to impliment it. The Declaration sets out minimum standards that must be respected as an inherent right for Indigenous Peoples.
The KAIROS campaign calls on schools, churches, community groups and other networks to produce banners which will be gathered up in a great train journey to Ottawa, where they will be joined into one banner calling on the government to impliment the Declaration.
Information on how to run a banner-making event, where to deliver your banner, and more about UNDRIP are available on the KAIROS website. Get involved, be a part of this event.
May 6, 2011
On February 3, 2008 and at the request of the Algonquin leadership, CPT reestablished a small violence-reduction team in the vicinity of the proposed uranium mine in Shabot Obaadjiwan and Ardoch Algonquin territory.
In September 2007, the two First Nations originally invited CPT to accompany them in their nonviolent efforts to protect their territory from uranium exploration. At that time, CPT established a small team which was recalled in October 2007 when a mediation process was agreed to between the Algonquins, the Ontario government and the mining company.
The mediation process ended in late January 2008 without resolving the conflict. Ontario's Ministry of Northern Development and Mines' continues to insist that exploratory drilling go on despite the Ministry having earlier given assurances that the question of drilling was subject to negotiation. A court order, suspended during negotiations, called on the First Nations and others not to impede the entrance of any Frontenac Ventures employees to the area under exploration.
In February 2008, Judge Cunningham of the Ontario Superior Court sentenced retired Ardoch Algonquin Chief Bob Lovelace to six months in jail and to heavy fines. Several other Algonquin leaders were either heavily fined or are awaiting sentencing. Three non-Aboriginal persons(including 2 CPTers) are also due to appear in court in March, 2008.
This conflict has occurred because the Ontario government - without consent from the First Nations communities - granted Frontenac Ventures a license under the Ontario Mining Act to carry out exploratory drilling on sixty square kilometers of unceded Algonquin land. The Algonquins have never surrendered title to lands they have inhabited from time immemorial. The Royal Proclamation Act of 1763 and the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 enshrine Aboriginal title in Canadian law.
Neither FV nor the Ontario government consulted with the Algonquin people before FV began its uranium exploration program. Canadian court decisions dating back seventeen years have ruled governments must consult Indigenous peoples and accommodate their concerns before undertaking resource exploitation projects on their territories. This duty to consult exists even when title to the land is in dispute.
Canadian courts have also ruled that where the potential harm to Indigenous rights is serious, governments should proceed only with the consent of the affected peoples. An open-pit uranium mine would release toxic radon gas and polonium and leave behind millions of tonnes of radioactive tailings that will permanently pollute groundwater. Even exploratory drilling alone could bring radioactive materials into contact with the water table, leading to its contamination.
CPT maintains that this land-use dispute is rooted in the Canadian government's historic neglect of legitimate Algonquin land and national sovereignty claims, and the unconstitutionality of the Ontario Mining Act. (The 100 year-old Mining Act makes no provision for consulting First Nations communities.)
In addition to maintaining a violence-reduction team in the area, CPT has organized three short-term delegations to the area, attended negotiations and court proceedings, organized a letter-writing campaign to Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino and organized or participated in public witnesses to call for a nonviolent resolution. CPT believes that a nonviolent resolution to this conflict is possible.
Members of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake (ABL) community invited CPT to be present as human rights observers for two nonviolent blockades of Highway 117 (October and November 2008). They were calling on the federal and provincial governments to honour the trilateral agreement—a resource-sharing agreement signed in 1991—and to respect their customary governance structures. On both occasions the demonstrators were met with excessive use of force by the Quebec provincial police (SQ).
The Trilateral Agreement—considered a model for future treaties by the United Nations—specifies the conditions under which logging and other resource use can occur on traditional Algonquin territory. It has never been fully implemented.
Now the Minister of Indian Affairs has imposed an unwanted electoral system of government on the community. The Algonquins of Barriere Lake are one of very few First Nations in Canada who have never been under the Indian Act's electoral system but have instead maintained their own customary governance code.
“The Canadian government claims they are imposing Indian Act elections because our traditional system doesn’t work, but it's in fact the government's interference in our internal affairs that has destabilized our governance,” says Marylynn Poucachiche, “The real reason they are imposing band elections is to sever our connection to the land, which is maintained by our traditional political system. They don’t want to deal with a strong leadership and a community that demands the governments honour signed agreements regarding the exploitation of our lands and resources.”
Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples both affirm the right to customary self-government.
CPT is calling on the federal and provincial governments to honour the trilateral agreement and the Minister of Indian Affairs, John Duncan, to reverse the imposition of band council elections.
Barriere Lake Solidarity has produced this video to help bring attention to the current struggle by the Algonquins of Barriere Lake (ABL) against the Canadian Government's imposition of Section 74 of the Indian Act. By enacting this obscure piece of the Act, the Canadian Government is attempting to take control of the community by imposing band council elections on the community. The ABL have always had their own customary government.
For more information, visit:
2011 05 20
In the past century, the people of Asubpeechoseewagong Netum Anishinabek, Treaty Three territory (Grassy Narrows in Northwestern Ontario), have suffered from the genocidal effects of colonization through the residential school system, flooding and displacement by Ontario Hydro dams, forced relocation, mercury poisoning from an up-river pulp and paper mill, and the loss of animal habitat, berries and medicines from clear-cut logging.
Asubpeeschoseewagong asserted sovereignty over its traditional lands with a blockade (December 2, 2002) of the main logging road near the community and occasional blockades of another logging road. CPT was asked by the community to accompany the blockade because of fears of violence from loggers, police or others and maintained a presence there until the summer of 2004. Since then the Aboriginal Justice Team has organized regular delegations to the traditional territory and has provided logistical support for public actions and speaking tours in Toronto. (Queen's Park, Toronto is the location of the provincial government—the current seat of power for resource control or “management” in Ontario.)
In addition, January 17, 2007, Grassy Narrows Chief and Council, Environmental Committee, Blockaders, Trappers, Clan Mothers, Elders and Youth all issued an open letter to the wood product corporations, governments, builders, retailers and customers:
“We now declare a moratorium on further industrial activity in our Traditional Territory until such a time as the Governments of Canada and Ontario restore their honour and obtain the consent of our community in these decisions that will forever alter the future of our people.” (www.turtleisland,org/news/grassyjan07.pdf)
Now in its eighth year, the blockade and campaign to stop the clearcutting has pressured three forest product companies—Boise (February 2008), Abitibi Bowater (June 2, 2008), and Domtar Corp (May 2010) to not use any more wood harvested from Whiskey Jack Forest, (coextensive with Asubpeeschoseewagong traditional land use area), at least for the time being or as Keith Ley of Domtar said “until the outstanding issues are resolved” (Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal 05/09/2010).
“Weyerhaeuser now stands alone as the only major logger who refuses to respect our right to say no to logging on our territory,” Grassy Narrows resident Joseph Fobister said in a May 7, 2010 news release.
Weyerhaeuser depends on wood from the Kenora and Whiskey Jack forests for 70% of its supply to its engineered wood mill in Kenora. While the band council and provincial government negotiate a long-term forest management plan for Whiskey Jack Forest, Weyerhaeuser is pressing for access to the wood. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has also put forward a contingency plan that would allow for 27 clearcuts in 2010, 17 would each be over 260 hectares in size (Kenora Miner and News, March 25, 2009).
Meanwhile a new study has shown that, because of prolonged exposure, the effects of mercury poisoning are worse now than they were in the 1970s, calling into question Canada Safety Guidelines. (They were told the fish was safe to eat when in fact it wasn't.) In addition, of those who have been diagnosed by expert Dr. Harada as having symptoms of mercury poisoning (Minamata Disease), only 38% have been acknowledged by the Mercury Disability Board and have received any compensation. (http://freegrassy.org/media-centre/)
Asubpeeschoseewagong's struggle to defend its land is far from over.
From 3 July - 15 August 2006 CPT maintained a small team at Bear Butte, South Dakota at the invitation of an Intertribal Coalition involving thirty local tribes-- including all of the Lakota tribes with whom CPT worked in 1999 near Pierre, SD. The Coalition organized a six-week encampment to resist nonviolently the continued development and encroachment on territory they consider sacred. Every year, thousands of Native people travel to pray at Bear Butte, located near Sturgis, SD in the Black Hills.
The final week of the encampment, 7-13 August, coincided with the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally which brought an estimated 500,000 bikers to the area, creating an enormous impact on the surrounding economy and ecosystem. Most recently developer Jay Allen built a massive new biker bar and concert venue called the "Sturgis County Line" on 600 acres at the base of Bear Butte.
Tribal groups strongly opposed to this development organized a campaign of nonviolent direct action to raise their voices in opposition, and asked CPT to assist with planning actions and to be on hand to help reduce tensions and document abuses if violence was threatened.
In May, 2009, the Anishinaabe Kweag (Anishinaabe women) of Beausoleil First Nation (BFN), as traditional keepers of the water, intiated and maintained a camp and vigil in Simcoe County, north of Barrie, across from access gates to a proposed landfill site over a water aquifer tested as the most pristine in the world. This water flows into Georgian Bay, water source for Beausoleil First Nation and thousands more residents.
CPT had a presence in the Anishinaabe Kweag camp and at the gates from July 19th through August 30th, 2009. We were invited because the folks at the blockade were being threatened with arrest by the Ontario Provincial Police prior to the county's injunction. CPT's activities included providing a blockading presence at the dump access gates, a supportive presence at the vigil camp, participation in rallies, and development of a printed "arrest briefing" for circulation.
18 people, including CPTer David Milne, faced criminal charges for stopping dump construction. While the non-natives were charged only with mischief, many of the First Nations who were part of the peaceful vigil were also charged with intimidation. December 3, 2009, two people had their charges dropped and the rest of the charges were to be held for a year and then dropped provided the arrestees kept certain conditions (eg. not participating in another blockade).
The campaign to stop Dumpsite 41 was successful. On September 22, 2009, Simcoe County Council voted to stop construction and development at Dumpsite 41. On May 25, 2010, at the Council's request, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment revoked the certificate of approval and rezoned the land agricultural, never again to be used for waste management purposes.
For three seasons, 1999-2001, the Mi'kmaq people of Esgenoôpetitj First Nation (Burnt Church) in New Brunswick, Canada, sought to assert their inherent and treaty rights to manage their own lobster fishery. Each season they were met with violence and destruction of their fishing equipment by their neighbours and by Canadian authorities. The Mi'kmaq asked CPT to be present through the 2000 and 2001 fishing seasons to reduce the extent of this violence. When CPT returned to Esgenoôpetitj in 2002, we found the community had little fishing equipment left, and in August they signed an agreement submitting their fishery to Canadian government control in return for fishing licences and money for training and equipment. There was a sense of resignation in the community–part disappointment and part relief. However the agreement was probably better than it would have been without the community's determined assertion of its rights, and everyone in Canada knows that "Burnt Church" was another example of the unresolved issues between Aboriginal peoples and European settlers.
Court cases against the Mi'kmaq continued from charges laid in earlier seasons, and CPTers testified in these proceedings in support of community members. People expressed gratitude for CPT's presence during this conflict. We were told repeatedly, "If you had not been here, there would have been blood in the water."
Since the original Haldimand Tract—ten kilometers on either side of the Grand River source to mouth—was deeded in 1784 for the benefit of "the said Mohawk Nation and such others of the Six Nation Indians" for their allegiance to Britain during the American Revolution, agents of the British and successor Canadian governments have seized land and misappropriated funds from leases held in trust for the Haudenosaunee. Less than 5% of the Tract now remains under the control of the Haudenosaunee. Of the twenty-nine well-documented land claims registered with the Federal government on portions of the other 95% of the land, only one has been settled. Claims have languished in the Canadian federal government's hands for as long as thirty years with no meaningful attempt at resolution on the part of the government.
It seems to be to the government's advantage to prolong the land claim negotiations because the “lack of a resolution maintains the status quo and does not lead to additional costs.” “Aboriginal groups are often forced to spend millions of dollars and decades of time to negotiate their agreements...When negotiations break down, the only recourse for Aboriginal groups has been expensive court proceedings.” Furthermore there is a conflict of interest in that the “federal government is both a party to and the ultimate judge in the dispute.” Also, as is seen in the case of the Haldimand Tract, often the government actually leases or sells the lands to corporations for development while the negotiations drag on. (“Land Claims: Stuck in Never-never Land” by Lorraine Land and Roger Townshend Nation to Nation p.56-57)
In February, 2006, in response to a housing subdivision development in Caledonia on disputed lands known as the "Douglas Creek Estates", some Haudenosaunee demonstrators claimed this land, renaming it Kanohstaton (the Protected Place). Provincially recognized owners of the land, Henco Industries, sought and obtained a court injunction prohibiting the encampment. Early in the morning of April 20, 2006, Ontario Provincial Police raided the camp leading to several violent arrests. In the events that followed, the Haudenosaunee remained on the land. The June, 2006 provincial government payment to developers Henco Industries for the property, enabled a cessation of the court injunction, and; while ownership of the land remains in dispute, development has stopped.
Since 2006, some members of the Haudenosaunee, under the auspices of the Haudenosaunee Hoskanigetah (Men's Fire), have blockaded entrances to five development sites on disputed land in the city of Brantford. The city of Brantford responded to the non-violent work stoppages and occupations of lands earmarked for development, with an injunction (June 2, 2008) prohibiting the Haudenosaunee to demonstrate in specific locations or in any way disrupt construction. Over 150 people have been arrested with intimidation and mischief charges for trying to block development on lands legally registered as land claims. Haudenosaunee land protectors have also established periodic blockades in other threatened locations within the Haldimand Tract such as Hagersville and close to Cayuga (Edwards Street Landfill). These work stoppages have been similarly met with arrests.
CPT first visited Kanohstaton in April, 2006. Clan Mothers encouraged support for the reclamation, without requesting a specifically mandated CPT presence, and members of CPT responded by periodic visits to the site over the blockade's duration.
In the autumn of 2009, several organizations and unions (including CPT) formally entered into a coalition called the Six Nations Solidarity Network (SNSN). Throughout CPT's engagement with Six Nations, it has participated in anti-racism, education and advocacy work (paying particular attention to the role of the church), including letter and article writing, public speaking, participation in support rallies, and attending court proceedings.
Kenora is a town of 16,000 people located in Treaty Three Territory* (northwestern Ontario). Fifteen percent of Kenora's population is indigenous and it serves as the regional center for thirteen Anishinaabe(Ojibway) communities. Anishinaabe people must travel there to shop, attend medical appointments and conduct personal business. However, it is not a place where they feel safe or welcome. A common refrain amongst Indigenous and non-indigenous residents: “Kenora is a racist town but it's something nobody wants to talk about, It only comes up when something really bad happens [someone is killed] and it can't be ignored anymore.”
On October 4, 2000, someone was killed: a North Spirit Lake man named Max Kakegamic was found beaten to death on the streets of Kenora. July 2005, two Kenora police officers were charged under the Police Services Act for suppressing evidence and other misconduct related to the case. February 2007 the Ontario Chief Coroner's office denied the family's request to open an inquest. His murder remains unsolved.
For many of Kenora's Anishinaabe residents, the Kakegamic case is not an isolated incident but rather a stark illustration of the consequences of racism. Aboriginal people in Kenora say that they are routinely harassed, intimidated or neglected by the police. On any given day, 90% of the people in the municipal jail are Aboriginal.
Since 2000, efforts had been made by the Kenora Police Services (KPS) at the initiative of now-retired police chief Dan Jorgenson, to address the problem of harassment and discrimination. Then in 2009 a decision was made by the town council to replace the KPS with Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The initial responses we've heard from several Natives and non-natives is that this may be a step back and that they fear harassment will increase under the new police. Furthermore, there may not be the same level of accountability to local civilians.
In an episode that seems to confirm some of these fears, June 7, 2010, an OPP officer shot Helen Proulx, a resident of Kenora from Grassy Narrows First Nation, leaving her with a shattered pelvis. The Special Investigations Unit found the shooting “justified” while Proulx was charged with three offences including “assault with a weapon” and “possessing a weapon dangerous to the public.” But Proulx was very distraught and disoriented at the time and her “weapon” was described by witnesses as a “small paring knife” or a “butter knife.” There is no report of the police officer being injured in this alleged assault.
During a visit to Kenora in the fall of 2009, CPT Aboriginal Justice Team (AJT) members were introduced to the Kenora Resource Team, a group composed of individuals representing ten organizations in Kenora (including the OPP) that meets once a month. Kenora Resource Team states that its goals are to “promote cultural understanding, awareness and education about racism and discrimination and to bring an end to race-related victimization.” The Aboriginal Justice Team aims to support positive initiatives by this and other groups in Kenora that are committed to undoing racism.
CPT maintained a full-time team in Kenora from September 2004 to May 2005. CPT returned to Kenora in October 2005 for two months and again for another two months in the Spring of 2006. By continuing to organize regular international delegations to Kenora, CPT-AJT supports a movement of non-Indigenous alliance with the Anishinaabe and other Indigenous Peoples.
Racism, as it targets and affects Aboriginal people in Canada, is inextricably linked to land, control of land and access to the land's Resources.
CPT was invited to send an observer team to Oneida Territory near Syracuse, New York, for two weeks in February 2002, in response to fears surrounding forced evictions. The team met with various Oneida individuals and officials, area pastors, police, city and state officials, local residents and businesspeople.
In August of 2002 a request for peacemakers came from Danielle Shenandoah of the Onedia community (as her house was to be demolished) and CPT responded to this call by sending an emergency team to join dozens of other supporters on the land. The emergency team was present in the community from August to December.
Danielle Shenandoah's house was demolished on November 1, 2002.
The Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora, and Seneca nations are autonomous members of the Six Nation Confederacy (the Haudenosaunee). The Oneida are about 1000 people (450 adults) in central New York.
With the influx of white settlers, the Oneidas lost the 6 million acres that they once occupied in what is now central New York. Two groups of Oneidas were displaced to Ontario and Wisconsin. Others went to live with the nearby Onondaga Nation or were acculturated into the surrounding white population. Nevertheless, the Oneidas ceaselessly pursued the return of their land.
In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the Oneidas were the rightful owners of 872 acres that they had claimed in a test case. The ruling gave legitimacy to the Oneida claim to another 250,000 acres in central New York. But these claims have yet to be resolved.
According to Haudenosaunee tradition, the Oneida clan mothers of the wolf, bear, and turtle clans select the chiefs who represent the Oneida nation on the Grand Council of Chiefs, which oversees the Six Nation Confederacy.
But during much of the 1970s and 1980s, the New York Oneidas were beset by leadership conflicts. In the mid-1980s, in an effort to reestablish a traditional form of government, wolf clan mother Maisie Shenandoah selected three Oneida men as temporary representatives to the Grand Council of Chiefs. By the mid-1990s, two had died, leaving only Ray Halbritter, a talented Oneida businessman trained at Harvard.
In 1993, Mr. Halbritter negotiated a gaming compact for the Oneidas with New York governor Mario Cuomo and consequently built the highly profitable Turning Stone Casino in central New York. This casino became the cornerstone of an expansive Oneida business enterprise that now includes a chain of gas stations, a textile factory, and a luxury hotel. The business is incorporated as the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, Inc. with Ray Halbritter as its CEO. The corporation has become one of the largest employers in the area and holds the upper hand in the local economy, a fact which rankles many of its white neighbors.
This business enterprise has brought a long-elusive prosperity to many Oneida people. Casino profits have also built a health center, a recreational gymnasium and swimming pool, and a cultural center and museum. In addition, the profits have provided scholarship programs, job training, day care, legal assistance, and Oneida language classes. Local residents who have objected to the business enterprise controled by Halbritter believe that since Federal financing helped put these facilities in place they deserve fair access.
But Mr. Halbritter's initiatives have been criticized by some Oneidas, who say he has violated the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee by embracing gambling. They also fault him for selecting his own clan mothers and for creating a "men's council," both unheard of practices in Haudenosaunee tradition.
In 1993, the Grand Council of Chiefs removed Mr. Halbritter as the Oneida wolf clan representative and notified the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) that he no longer represented the Oneida people. The decision was accepted by the BIA, only to be reversed 24 hours later, reportedly under pressure from Sherwood Boehlert, the U.S. congressional representative for the area and a casino supporter.
Today the U.S. governmentóbut not the Grand Council of Chiefsógives official recognition to the Oneida Indian Nation with Ray Halbritter as its representative.
Ray Halbritter has characterized this conflict as an internal family dispute between himself and his aunt Maisie Schenandoah, the clan mother who originally appointed him to represent Oneidas to the Grand Council. But Maisie Schenandoah sees it as a struggle between two competing ways of governance: the traditional structure advocated by the Grand Council of Chiefs and the corporate structure advocated by Ray Halbritter. She accuses her nephew of operating under self-assumed authority.
Today this struggle is being played out on a 32-acre plot of land, the only undisputed territory held by Oneidas in central New York. Maisie Schenandoah lives on this territory, alongside eight like-minded families. But their continued residence here is in jeopardy. In the past year, building inspectors from the Oneida Indian Nation have declared eleven of their dwellings to be in violation of building code and have evicted the residents and demolished their homes. All but one of the homes that were inspected have been destroyed.
Some people speculate that the corporation wants the 32-acre territory for an "offshore" bank or as a new location for the casino, if environmental and accounting irregularities force it off its present site. They point to recently installed industrial sewer and water lines, which seem to indicate plans for nonresidential development. Or, perhaps the removals are simply further attempts to silence Ray Halbritter's critics. They say he already withholds from them their share of nation monies that are supposed to be distributed to all Oneidas.
In November 2001, Oneida Indian Nation officials arrived at the 32-acre territory to inspect the home of Danielle Patterson, Maisie Shenandoah's daughter. The officials were accompanied by 22 officers from the corporation's police force. Ms. Patterson protested but was roughly forced aside. (Police later attempted to remove her injury records from the hospital where she was treated.)
In the hopes of preventing further violence, native and nonnative observers have been coming to the 32-acre territory since this incident occurred.
CPT was asked to send people because of a chain of connections. Hawk, a Shawnee observer at the 32-acre territory, contacted John Paul Lederach who encouraged Rob and Patty Burdette, peace workers participants in CPT events and delegations to visit. Their visit and CPT involvement with native struggles in South Dakota and New Brunswick led to a request from the traditional Oneidas on the 32 acres that CPT place a two week team in the area.
Anne Herman, Rod Orr, and Cliff Kindy arrived at the 32-acre territory on February 7, 2002. They chose to accept the invitation to live with three separate families on the territory after judging that staying in Syracuse, 30 miles away, would complicate documentation work if a demolition occurred.
The CPT presence for two weeks has been one of observing and listening. A prayer circle each morning and frequent potlucks on the 32-acre territory have provided contacts with 40 to 50 Oneidas and friends connected intimately with this situation.
We visited area pastors and attended three Sunday worship services in different churches. We learned that prayer meetings, dialogue circles, and peacemaking meetings have been part of the recent history.
We contacted city, state, and Oneida Indian Nation police, as well as county and federal district attorneys. These contacts clarified the facts of the initial deputation of Oneida Indian Nation police and then the removal of that deputation by area security jurisdictions. We are troubled by the lack of accountability of these police to anyone other than the Oneida Indian Nation corporate leadership.
We visited with employees of the corporation, and we had a two-hour meeting with Ray Halbritter, four members of the menís council, and one clan mother. These meetings were key opportunities to become human with each other.
CPT has had visits and advice from others who have been on territory and those whose work centers on the larger picture of native issues in the region. The Inter-Religious Council of Central New York and Quakers from the Syracuse Friends Meeting and from the American Friends Service Committee office in Syracuse have provided a framework of understanding for CPT analysis and work.
The concerns and fears of local non-natives are both real and greatly exaggerated by the unknown. They were made worse when what was to be a bingo hall turned into a casino complex and when 20,000 local landholders were made codefendants in the Oneida land claim lawsuits. Traditional Oneidas on the 32 acres have tried to distance themselves from these actions because of their work over the years to be good neighbors.
Oneida City mayor Jim Chappel spoke to us of the 36 percent drop in tax revenues from 2000 to 2001 because most of the gas stations in town are now native-owned and do not charge sales and excise taxes on motor fuels. (The corporation has a monopoly on diesel fuel sales in the stretch from Utica to Syracuse.) He raised concerns about possible increases in the crime rate and about the damages caused to families by compulsive gambling.
Business owners in the area cited the unfair competition of native stores, which do not have to charge tax on gasoline, diesel, and cigarettes. The current proposal for a settlement of the land claims would require the Oneida Indian Nation to charge non-natives the equivalent of sales and excise taxes. But the corporation would keep these revenues and would have to use them for tribal services, not for business purposes. Sovereignty and tax exemption would still be issues even if the traditionals were the bia-recognized government. Traditional people feel as strongly about these matters as does Ray Halbritter’s organization.
Landholders fear they will be forced to sell their homes in the land claim area. But Cynthia Bannis, whose family has had five generations on the land, told the team that such fears are unfounded. No homeowners across the United States have been forced to sell their homes against their will in any native land claim settlements. But some have felt compelled to become "willing sellers" after casino traffic so disrupted their neighborhoods that they didn't want to live there anymore.
Those with the greatest fears seem to be members of the Upstate Citizens for Equality (UCE). Their concern about a disappearing tax base is valid. Again, though, the current settlement proposal includes payments to those affected communities to balance the losses. UCE positions against native sovereignty and a sense that Indians have special privileges under the law seem to point toward an underlying racism, as Ray Halbritter has charged. But UCE expressions of support for Danielle Patterson indicate some of the complexity of their position as they face what they see as a common opponent in Mr. Halbritter.
Pastors told us of the delicate role they play in raising justice issues in congregations that have employees working for the Oneida Indian nation businesses. They also face opposition from conservative Christians who protest ecumenical services in which ìpagansî are allowed to pray and in which other religious traditions participate.
As we talked with people in the Oneida area, we could clearly sense the fear that this powerful business enterprise instills in some of those who are native and/or work for the corporation. All these fears will need resolution before there can be a healthy base for community wholeness.
CPT provided a series of nonviolent trainings for the families on the 32-acre territory. We believe this helped to strengthen and clarify their nonviolent resistance to a forced eviction from their homes and takeover of the land.
As CPT left, the community of families on the 32-acre territory was preparing to meet with their lawyers. They plan to make the following offer to Ray Halbritter:
The CPT Oneida team recommends that CPT remain connected with the situation through the advisors/contacts. Should the need arise, the team urges that an emergency delegation be sent in a fashion similar to our responses to crises in Vieques, Puerto Rico. (See the list of Potential Emergency Delegation members.)
Even in these short two weeks, CPT has been able to build credibility with various players in the drama. This work has parallels to CPT work with indigenous people in Chiapas, the Lakota in South Dakota, and esgenoopetitj First Nation in New Brunswick. Security forces, with their tendencies toward violence, complement the violence of laws, structures, and economics. Together they destroy or remove people who are in the way in order to access resources and land. There are still questions that remain for the work in Oneida. (See list of questions.)
Oneida Nation of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy 1000 year old self-designation of the Oneida people; still existing today
Oneida Indian Nation of New York, Inc. “a business called a nation”
32 acre territory only uncontested Oneida land; home of 8 families facing home demolitions; site of the longhouse ceremonial meeting center that has been locked to the 8 families
Wolf, Bear and Turtle clans primary Oneida social organization that crosses family and nation boundaries
land claim areas that Indian nations claim as rightfully theirs because of treaties signed with the US government
tax base properties and businesses that pay the taxes to support area infrastructure; native sovereignty excludes this foreign taxation
traditional following the old historical practices and customs
BIA Bureau of Indian Affairs; US government program to oversee contacts with American Indian nations; often accused of destroying native culture, language and political autonomy Great Law moral teaching of the Iroquois
traditional Oneida those trying to maintain the historical customs and strengths of the nation
Shenandoah family core family keeping the traditional Oneida nation base viable on the 32 acres
Maisie Shenandoah wolf clan mother and family matriarch
Ray Halbritter CEO of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, Inc.
Upstate Citizens for Equality landowners concerned about native claims to their homes and loss of tax base
Oneida Indian Nation Police all non-native enforcement officers of the corporation
George Pataki New York governor willing to deal secretly with nations for casinos
Sherwood Boehlert US Representative who prides himself with trading the deciding vote for NAFTA in exchange for BIA recognition of Halbritter
On March 22, 1999 in Pierre, SD, seven Lakota men established the "First Fire of the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) camp on La Framboise Island after more than 200 people demonstrated against the U.S. Congress turning Treaty land over to the state of South Dakota. Spiritual leaders conducted ceremonies and lit a sacred fire at the camp-in site as a reminder that the aboriginal and Treaty rights of the Oceti Sakowin nation are not extinguished. The camp-in participants were committed to a nonviolent presence across from the SD capitol on La Framboise Island, part of the 200,000 acres in question. The intent was to remain there until the congressional decision, called Title VI: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and State of South Dakota Terrestrial Wildlife Habitat Restoration Act of 1999, or the "Mitigation Act", was repealed.
CPT was invited to be observers of this nonviolent camp-in calling for the reversal of the Mitigation Act. Various church groups endorsed CPT's presence and local congregations were invited to join and support Lakota people and CPTers on La Framboise Island.
The CPT presence on LaFramboise Island in the Missouri River was designed to help prevent the outbreak of violence of the sort widely associated with the deaths at Wounded Knee in 1973. The presence by committed nonviolent Christians sent a message to local troublemakers and law enforcement bodies that the world is watching.
This was an important opportunity for Christians who want to witness to our nonviolent faith to make a very concrete statement with their lives. Although the presence on LaFramboise Island was peaceful, there had been racist incidents and occasional harassment, and gunshots were fired into the camp. As the deadline to remove the camp approached, the possibility existed that Federal or State Forces might use violent force to remove the Lakota people from the island. CPT was present to document these events and to help prevent an escalation of the violence.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee -- Dee Brown
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse -- Peter Matthiessen
Lakota Woman -- Mary Crow Dog
God is Red -- Vine Deloria
Walking in the Sacred Manner -- Mark St. Pierre & Tilda Long Soldier