Reflections on a visit to Aamjiwnaang (original)
by Allan Slater, Christian Peacemaker Teams Reserve Corps member
This is the original reflection. A CPTnet version edited for length is available here.
On Christmas day, 2012 I visited the people at the CN Rail
blockade on Aamjiwnaang First Nation just south of Sarnia Ontario. The
territory is surrounded by petro-chemical processors, a maze of buildings,
pipes and smoke stacks belching clouds into the air. High chain link fences
enclose all of it and include several ponds of liquids contained by clay levees.
Even on a Christmas day tanker trucks were moving products around the area. Amid
the bustle there are many vacant and rusting installations suggesting that this
manufacturing hub is beginning to fall on hard times. The day itself, was
typical mid December, temperature near freezing with a light wet snow falling.
One wonders, given the active smoke stacks, just what is falling with the snow.
Aamjiwnaang is a pleasant reprieve from the surreal blight
of the petro-chemical installations. Much of the land is covered in forest.
People are living in neat, well kept homes.
The CN Rail blockade is in a
secluded, forested area on a paved road within the territory. When I arrived
there were about twenty-five people at the site, eating, talking, and enjoying
each other’s company. It had a “local coffee shop” atmosphere. Shelters had
been constructed and fires in place to protect from the cold and damp. This is
a blockade that can easily withstand considerable nasty weather if need be.
I had a chat with three
Aamjiwnaang residents, Mark, Ken and Liz about the situation. All of them were
quick to let me know that they were not the organizers of the blockade, but
supported it strongly. Liz said that community people went to the band council
with the idea of a blockade, not only in support of Chief Spence but also to
put pressure on the Canadian Government to repeal sections of the C-45 omnibus
bill. There are two sections of great concern. One, much publicized, takes away
environmental protection for our lakes and rivers. The other gives the minister
in charge of aboriginal affairs special powers to over-ride the decisions of
people on reserves to cede reserve land into the hands of the private sector.
The band council agreed with the community people and the particular blockade
site was selected because CN Rail has proper leases to pass through most of the
territory but nothing in place to allow them to cross that roadway.
This teepee is located
Aamjiwnaang First Nation
contracts its police services from the City of Sarnia. Both Mayor Bradley and
the Chief of Police have been to visit. CN Rail sent a representative from
Edmonton to meet the blockade leaders. CN Rail has an injunction of some sort
that can be enforced by the police but the chief has suggested this will not
happen so long as there are no public safety issues. The local Conservative MP,
Patricia Davidson has refused to meet with them.
Mark talked about the broad
support coming from other First Nations communities in the area. He mentioned
broader issues between treaty people and the Canadian Government that are not
being addressed. He also made the point that these treaties, which pre-date the
formation of Canada are really with the crown. He views the Canadian Government
as third party participants. Mark says the blockade is supported by the Union
of Ontario Indians but the leaders of that group are continuing to look for
more ways to increase the political pressure to resolve outstanding issues.
Sonny beside the Christmas
Ken, who is known as Sonny by
his friends was one of the first people to get to the site when the blockade
was set up. He sees a need to support Chief Spence and to work for changes to
Bill C-45. People from Aamjiwnaang and other places come and go at the blockade
but there is always a community member present. Sonny is one of those people.
I talked with Sakura. She had
come from Toronto, was leaving soon, but expected to return for a longer stay
in a couple of days. She had been part of the Occupy movement in Toronto and
continues to work with Mining and Justice Solidarity Network based there. She
supports the blockade because it raises some of the issues related to unregulated
Canadian mining companies that are destroying environments and oppressing
people in Canada and around the world.
Laura was another visitor from
Toronto who was remaining to spend some time at the site. She had been involved
in Occupy New York. She opined about connections between the Occupy movement
and the present First Nations led Idle No More movement. She used the metaphor
of two streams flowing from different sources to unite to form a mighty river.
The occupy movement raised public awareness.
The Idle No More movement has brought action and tactics that have
strong potential to bring political change.