19 July, 2012

JUSTICE REFLECTION: Defender of our Land

Simple, urgent messages on children’s birch-bark hats cut through confusions of all but the most monetised mindsets.

photo courtesy barrierelakesolidarity.org

“Defender of our Land” – this is the slogan
written on the hat of the seven-year-old Algonquin boy sitting next to me*. The
kids have befriended me since we met here at Poigan Bay four days
ago. They were asleep when we arrived Sunday night from Toronto and pitched
our tents in the glare of headlights. Now they sit around me doodling on scraps
of paper from my notebook. Each wears a hat made of birch bark with a slogan of
their choosing. “Peaceful co-existence: Save a Tree, Save a Life” reads one;
another is “Our Land: Our Say: Our Future: Our Way.” Each time a vehicle
approaches, they drop what they are doing and rush down to the roadside in
their hats. Loggers and police have been passing by to the clear-cut work site
all day. Despite the kids’ vigilance, they seem not to be getting the message.

Occasionally police stop by to talk to
people here. They repeat that they are positioned between the two parties –
loggers and protestors – but the messages they bring are warnings against
disrupting the logging. Their orders are to uphold the law. When that law is
challenged, they shrug and say they don’t make the decisions; a solution is a
matter for government, not policing. They intend to ensure the safety of all
persons, but have no answer when asked about the safety of land or animals.

For this Algonquin community, as for
indigenous peoples across the world, the safety of land is essential to the
safety of people, both individually and collectively. Land is food security –
for hunting, for gathering food like the blueberries ripening near our tent.
Land is health, offering its medicines and a wholesome, active way of life. One
of my friends’ hats reads “Our Land Is Our Identity.” Grassy Narrows First
Nation land defender Roberta Keesick put it this way: “Our culture is a
land-based culture, and the destruction of the land is the destruction of the

A culture such as my own, steeped in the forms
and rites of capitalism, cannot conceive of anything that cannot be monetised. Other
cultures are worth less than the tangible wealth the logging industry offers.
This logic is bad enough when it drives an economy, but here it has infiltrated
souls – of company bosses, of politicians and of those who enforce their plans.

Like this unique culture, my analysis comes
from the land, in a way. I have gained insight from my time in Turtle Island and
wisdom shared by experts and elders, activists and academics, allies, writers
and mothers. But such an analysis is not needed to know that the issues on my
young friends’ birch bark hats – land, culture, life, identity, and the future
– are urgent.

Indigenous land-users have a right to be
consulted about plans that affect the use of that land. Barriere Lake members
who use the area being cut have asserted that they do not consent to this
cutting. Will governments do their duty by respecting this? Or will they turn a
blind eye once again, allowing the status quo of logging without consultation
to continue with police protection?

author, a member of CPT’s Aboriginal Justice Team, wishes to remain anonymous.

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