This episode of The Green Flame focuses on colonization and has three interviews: the first with Anne Keala Kelly, a native Hawaiian organizer, journalist, and award-winning filmmaker; the second with Mari Boine, a world-reknowned Sami indigenous musician; and the third with a river.

We discuss colonization, history, tourism, the TMT telescope project on Mauna Kea, indigenous peoples of Europe, music, and how to connect with the land. Three of Mari Boine’s songs are used in this episode, with permission: Gula Gula, Goaskinvielija (Eagle Brother), and Vilges Suola.

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About The Green Flame

The Green Flame is a Deep Green Resistance podcast offering revolutionary analysis, skill sharing, and inspiration for the movement to save the planet by any means necessary. Our hosts are Max Wilbert and Jennifer Murnan.


Anne Keala Kelly is a journalist and filmmaker. Keala’s published articles and Op-Eds have appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, The Nation, Indian Country Today, Honolulu Weekly, Honolulu Civil Beat, Hana Hou! Magazine, Big Island Journal, and other publications. Her broadcast journalism  has aired on Free Speech Radio News, Independent Native News, Al Jazeera English, The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Democracy Now!, The Environment Report, and more. She is a frequent guest commentator on First Voices Indigenous Radio, and has been interviewed on numerous nationally syndicated radio programs, from KPFK Los Angeles’ Rise-Up to Native America Calling in Anchorage to the Australia Broadcast Corporation’s Pacific Beat. Her reporting on Hawaiian poverty and homelessness garnered her Native American Journalism Awards. And her documentary, Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawai’i, has received international film festival awards, and is widely taught in university courses focusing on Indigenous Peoples, colonization, Hawaiian sovereignty, and militarism. Keala is an outspoken Native advocate for Indigenous representation in media, and has been a guest speaker at universities in Hawai’i, the U.S., and Aotearoa-New Zealand. She has delivered conference keynotes and participated in conference and community panels and roundtables. She has an MFA in production from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. To learn more about her film, go to

Mari Boine: Imagine the ice and snow of the Arctic landscape, the bitter cold of the Northern wind, the hint of compelling blue under a crystallized lake. Close your eyes. Then listen. Really listen. You’ll feel a voice before you even hear it. It’s like none other. It’s a voice that brings the landscape alive with a mesmerizing purity; a voice that represents a thousand years of ancestral connection to an unyielding frozen space. This is Mari Boine. Musician. Songwriter. Singer. A genre-bending trailblazer with a taste for jazz, folk, rock, and world. An artist whose music is inspired by and infused with her Sámi roots. A woman who knows who she is, where she’s come from and what she stands for. A music icon who has inspired indigenous artists the world over.

Havasupai Prayer Gathering: Indigenous Nations Unite Against Nuclear Colonialism

Havasupai Prayer Gathering: Indigenous Nations Unite Against Nuclear Colonialism

Featured image by Garet Bleir

     by Intercontinental Cry

At the Havasupai Prayer Gathering, Fydel Rising Sun, member of the Havasupai Tribe, sang of resisting uranium mining to the sound of his beating drum. It was 3 a.m., and the sacred fire crackled under the dark outline of Red Butte, a site of great ceremonial importance to the surrounding native nations nations beside the Grand Canyon. The sun soon crested the horizon, and color returned to the land, as well as sweltering heat. Green shrubs poked through the red dirt, their roots a stalwart defense against erosion and increasingly common dust storms, in this parched land being robbed of millions of gallons of clean water.

As explored in our previous pieces within the series, millions of gallons of clean water have been contaminated with uranium and arsenic, directly above an aquifer feeding waters such as those pictured. Moreover, Canyon Mine is accused by conservation organizations and surrounding indigenous nations of desecrating land, medicine, and water surrounding Red Butte: just six miles from the Grand Canyon and from land held sacred by the Havasupai Tribe.

The aqua-marine waters of Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Reservation.

The president of the mine’s company, Mark Chalmers, has denied that that the tribe holds these areas sacred. In response, a four day Havasupai Prayer Gathering, the first in eight years, invited other native nations to come together beneath Red Butte for ancestral ceremonies, inter-tribal gatherings, entertainment, direct action training, and speakers.

Well over 100 people were in attendance over the course of the four-day gathering, many camping out each night for the entirety of the event. Speakers delved into a variety of topics covering past and current illegal land grabs, religious and cultural oppression, spiritual guidance, and stories of resistance. All these narratives came together to now fight the Canyon Mine’s desecration of the land surrounding Red Butte. These are their stories:

Richard Watahomigie, descendant of the first Havasupai leader, spoke to the audience about how he was able to overcome the challenges in his early life and return to his roots to help to lead the Havasupai Tribe. At the event he said he wished he was able to tell this story to more people, but hopes for his words to be shared broadly to help inspire others as well. He is pictured in front of Red Butte:

When I was five I was taken from my family by the white man. They put me in a Mormon school. I wanted to go home and started getting myself in trouble. Eventually they got tired of me and told me I was going home. I was happy. I was going home. Instead they took me to a boarding school in White River, Arizona called Theodore Roosevelt. There I got mistreated by government workers at nine years old.

Some of my relatives and people from Supai went to school there too. I tried to listen and understand them, but could only understand a little. They laughed at me and made fun of me because I couldn’t talk Supai. When I was alone I practiced and tried hard to talk my language.

From then on I went to other schools, tried to learn the white man’s way. One time I heard a native man, Chief Dan George, make a speech. He said, ‘if you finish high school, you’re going to become a half breed.’ So I ran away. I traveled, hitchhiked. I was 14 or 15 years old and eventually made it back home. Then I started over, trying to speak my own language. I finally got it. I listened to the songs with the elders at the sweat lodges and circle dances and practiced them. Now I claim myself a full blood because I got back my roots.

 After getting a job to help my parents I started traveling around again. But every time I did, Supai kept calling me back. I went home and thereafter just sort of wandered around looking for a stable life. Eventually I found my wife. I quit all the bad things I did when I was young. It was hard to give up smoking, drinking, hard drugs. You might call me a junkie. That’s what I was and now I’m clean.

When I grew older I was nominated for office. I didn’t want to accept that; I wasn’t about that. I’m not a political person, but I said to myself, ‘okay I’ll just let it flow and see how it goes and see what the people think of me.’ My people voted me into office. And now I’m a member of the Havasupai Tribal Council. Now I have great admiration, love, respect for my people, my land, water, wildlife, plants, Mother Earth.”

Rex Tilousi, elder and former Chairman of the Havasupai, spoke to the Havasupai people in both the Havasupai–Hualapai language and English, encouraging the Havasupai to remember their history, continue their traditions, and continue their duty of protecting their lands:

“My great-great-grandfather asked to be buried on top of Havasu Falls. They called him Captain Borough. He got that name when the first trainload of tourists visited the Grand Canyon and saw him hiking up Bright Angel Trail with the harvest. They said, ‘look at that animal coming up that trail, look at that jackass coming up the trail, look at that borough coming up the trail.’

Later President Theodore Roosevelt stood on the canyon rim too. He wanted to make a national park and take it from those before him. Rangers say John Wesley Powell discovered this area, but native peoples were already there and regard the canyon as a place of emergence.

When Roosevelt came to our village, he gathered elders to sign papers even though they couldn’t read them. Then he said, ‘I’m taking your lands. Don’t go up to the rim anymore. No hunting or gathering here, no prayers, no sweat lodges. I don’t want you in the park.’

In 1919, they removed the peoples living there. The last Havasupai chased out was my great-great-grandfather, Borough. He refused to leave the home he loved and gave him life. But rangers went down the trail, stuck him on a mule, and forced him out. That same year he passed away and was buried at the top of Havasu Falls.

Years ago rangers asked me to work for the park. I said I needed to do prayer work before responding so spoke to my great-great-grandfather’s grave. That night I had a dream and his voice said, ‘find out why we were chased away.” I accepted the position.

The park gave me a gray and green uniform and that hat Smokey the bear wears. I found out why. They said they wanted to protect the canyon for everyone who wanted to see its wonders. But they aren’t protecting it. They are allowing this destruction.

We were given a responsibility to protect and preserve this land and water for those yet to come. We have a job to do. The ancient rock writing in our canyon tells us to protect this place. The canyon doesn’t belong to us. We belong to the canyon, to the earth, to the water. It created us and gave us life. We are fighting for our lives and for those who are yet to come.”

Photo: Garet Bleir

Krysta Manakaja, Miss Havasupai, spoke to IC regarding the sanctity of the area of Red Butte and the mission of the Havasupai people at the prayer gathering:

“I am standing here in front of you as an ambassador of the Havasupai, to protect my home land and the waters of the Grand Canyon. Red Butte behind me was our first home, our first land, this was where we first lived. There are a lot of our ancestors buried out here and we are here to protect them.”

In the late 70s, when the Havasupai first heard that the Canyon Mine was being developed upon land they hold sacred, it wasn’t the company who told them. Someone working in the nearby city of Tusayan noticed the development and contacted the tribe. According to Rex Tilousi, “Without letting us know, they had already scraped the ground, the sage, and underneath the dust they destroyed ancient grinding stones, baskets, the pottery work our people traded with other tribes, and even bones. They had scraped everything away getting that place ready for mining.”

Photo: Garet Bleir

Havasupai Medicine Woman, Dianna Baby Sue White Dove Uqualla, is a third generation spiritual traditionalist, former member of the Havasupai Tribal Council and former Vice- Chairwoman for the tribe:

“Things are simple, but in this world we made it chaotic. Take away that complication and just live and breath love and have faith. The land behind me of Red Butte is sacred land to our people. You step on this ground and you are being blessed, even if you are not doing ceremony or prayer.

“This land is testing each and every one of us to see if we’re meaning what we are doing here. When you speak, speak truth. We have made lying a norm in this world which is not right. We have to go back to truth, because that’s what is the healer. We have once been the little sheep and they pulled the wool over our eyes. But now we have seen through this wool to recognize what is happening to us. We the people have the ability to take down our president but we have to walk in a force of many and share the word of respect and dignity so that all of us and all our children can survive. Right now we are in a dark place. And we’re sitting here thinking that we cannot do anything, but it’s not true. Yes, we will have to stand in the front lines and give life or give some kind of hurt, but if you’re really in the place of saying, ‘yes I do want to protect my land, my people,’ then that’s the sacrifice we make without question.

“Before you begin your journey, question yourself and ask, ‘am I ready?’ Because it does get scary. Your heart is going to flutter. Your feet are going to chatter. Your hands are going to begin to tremble. That’s human. But you can overcome these things, because we have our mind and our mind is so powerful. More powerful than we know and we have all that to give. To give and acknowledge.”

Photo: Garet Bleir

Rex Tilousi, former Havasupai Chairman, also spoke about why it is so important to resist the developments of the areas they hold sacred:

“Water is going to be just as valuable as gold in the future and that is what is happening today. Arizona calls itself the Grand Canyon State. But what are they doing about the Grand Canyon? They are allowing this destruction.

“To those of us who live in the Canyon, our religious stories and our creations stories from our elders say that this is where we all came from. Black, white, red, green, yellow, doesn’t matter what color one is, we all originated inside of the Canyon. When I hear those stories of how humans came to be, I feel this that is our mother, our grandmother, this is where we all came from, inside our mother earth.

“That’s the reason why we are fighting. Fighting for a home that gave us life, is still giving us life, and is still protecting those that lived down below. Not only us, but the many visitors who come below the rims. The visitors who have been there, if they knew what was going on today, I am sure they would sign the petition that is going around to help stop uranium mining around the Canyon.

“Projects like the Canyon Mine and the casino and tramway they want to make to the bottom at the Grand Canyon with the Escalade Project serve to make more money for those that are developing these things. It is not the idea of the native people. This idea comes from the lawyers, the developers, and the people that are going to disturb this area. Drilling holes, pumping our waters, and pumping the springs that was created by these waters. We have been told many times, when you come to a spring, talk to it before you drink, thank it after you leave, do not bother the spring. Even though I may not be here to see the end of it, I will look down from behind the clouds and say I am very proud of my people.”

Members from the Havasupai Tribe, Navajo Nation, and Haul No take their message to the gates of the Canyon Mine, located just 6 miles south of the Grand Canyon on the site of the sacred Red Butte.

Klee Benally, volunteer with the indigenous-led activist group, Haul No and member of the Navajo Nation taught direct action trainings for the camp in preparation to resist the Canyon Mine:

“Two of my uncles worked at Canyon Mine back in the ‘80s. They helped lay concrete and build the headframe for the uranium mining shaft. Today I feel a great sense of responsibility to rectify their transgressions.”

Photo: Garet Bleir

Photo: Garet Bleir

Guardians of the Grand Canyon, a group of Havasupai dancers, tour Arizona and the world while bringing back a lost tradition to the Havasupai people. The group performed the Ram Dance at the prayer gathering and IC spoke with Richard Watahomigie, who reignited these once-lost traditions:

“My brother in law and I were out hunting one day and we came upon a trail of blood. We tracked it and found two bighorn sheep. They were slaughtered. Hidden underneath bushes. I took them back to the village, did the proper blessings and buried them. The bighorn sheep are sacred to the Havasupai. When we pass away we reincarnate into the bighorn and travel along the rim of the Grand Canyon, back and forth, guarding it. That’s why the ram dancers call themselves the Guardians of the Grand Canyon.

“I took the death of those two bighorns as a sign that we needed to recreate the Ram Dance, a forgotten tradition of the Havasupai practiced over 100 years ago. With the help of a friend, a former council member as well, we got together, made replicas out of the real bighorn, and figured out a way to recreate the dance in order to honor them once again.”

Photo: Garet Bleir

Ruth Havatone, member of the Havasupai Tribe, spoke to an audience regarding new ways of resistance to colonization through the legal system and how colonization has forced the tribe from an agrarian society to a tourist economy:

“Nowadays we can’t fight with arrows or guns, we have to educate our children and send them to college and law school so we can understand how to fight back with the white man and their language, their laws, and their regulations. It is very sad what is going on here. We want to stop the uranium mining and we want the public to recognize that we the Havasupai are here and the dangers of the uranium contamination. It’s not right.

“After the federal government took away most of our land and pushed us into the canyon, we don’t even know how to make money down there. We barely survive with the tourists. In winter we don’t have much money. No tourists buying our groceries or eating in our cafes, only us natives are there surviving on little money. But we survive.

“We are not used to the public view. The tourists don’t see some of us because we are shy of the white people that arrive to our village. Some of us, the older ones, we are watching but they don’t see us because we are hiding in the bushes or the canyon rocks, watching them walk by.”

Photo: Garet Bleir

Uqualla, a Havasupai Medicine Man and Spiritual Traditionalist, spoke throughout the four-day gathering about returning to listening to the earth and finding balance within one’s self. Uqualla also facilitates workshops and ceremonial life coaching sessions throughout the Southwest.

“Everyone that is birthed on this Mother Earth has dark and light, good and bad, masculine and feminine. Learn how to bring that into a magnificent balance. The Mother Earth stated at the beginning, ‘I will give you what it is that you ask for. Not what you ask for from the language or the voice, but what you put forth in your actions.’

“Everything about Mother Earth speaks in symbolism. Learn how to pull from the information given by the surroundings. The medicines of wind, the medicines of the water, the medicines of fire, the medicines of rock. The Mother Earth knows how to take care of itself. And it will take care of itself. It’s going to be the greatest teacher for all of us so go out to her daily and allow for yourself that connection in whatever way you wish that is comfortable for you do so. Even if it is just a step out there. That one moment of total blankness will allow for that infusion of Mother Earth to come through. Allow for yourself to make a connection with the Mother Earth and have her be a constant watcher, healer, teacher, and leader for you.

“We are the children of the Mother Earth and every single one of them walk and trash and abuse the earth beneath them. It’s a surface that gives us the ability to walk, talk, breath, sing, dance. And that is important for us to understand. Without that where would we be? We would not be.”

Garet Bleir is an investigative journalist working for Intercontinental Cry documenting human rights and environmental abuses surrounding uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region. To follow along with interviews and photos highlighting indigenous voices and to receive updates on his 12 part series for IC, follow him on Instagram or facebook.

This article is a part of #GrandCanyonFutures, an ongoing deep journalism series published by IC in partnership with Toward Freedom.

Settler-colonialism and genocide policies in North America


By Intercontinental Cry

In this lecture, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States,” discusses the reality of former US policy and practice towards Indigenous Peoples not merely as “racist” or “discriminatory” deeds but as precise occurrences of genocide.

Noting that Canadian history holds a similar–albeit less severe–legacy of genocide, Dunbar-Ortiz demonstrates how the United States carried out all five acts of genocide as identified in Article 2 of The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG).

The event was Hosted by the Institute for the Humanities at Simon Fraser University and Co-sponsored by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement and First Nations Studies, and UBC’s First Nations and Indigenous Studies Program and Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies.

“Settler-Colonialism and Genocide Policies in North America”–A free public lecture by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Governmental policies and actions related to Indigenous peoples, though often termed “racist” or “discriminatory,” are rarely depicted as what they are: classic cases of imperialism and a particular form of colonialism—settler colonialism. As anthropologist Patrick Wolfe has noted: “The question of genocide is never far from discussions of settler colonialism. Land is life—or, at least, land is necessary for life.” The history of North America is a history of settler colonialism. The objective of government authorities was to terminate the existence of Indigenous Peoples as peoples—not as random individuals. This is the very definition of modern genocide. US and Canadian history, as well as inherited Indigenous trauma, cannot be understood without dealing with the genocide committed against Indigenous peoples. From the colonial period through the founding of states and continuing in the 21st century, this has entailed torture, terror, sexual abuse, massacres, systematic military occupations, removals of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral territories, forced removal of Native American children to military-like boarding schools, allotment, and policies of termination.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma, daughter of a tenant farmer and part-Indian mother. Her grandfather, a white settler, farmer, and veterinarian, was a member of the Oklahoma Socialist Party and Industrial Workers of the World. Her historical memoir, “Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie,” tells that story. Moving to San Francisco, California, she graduated in History from San Francisco State University and began graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley, transferring to University of California, Los Angeles to complete her doctorate in History, specializing in Western Hemisphere and Indigenous histories. From 1967 to 1972, she was a full time activist and a leader in the women’s liberation movement that emerged in 1967, organizing in various parts of the U. S., traveling to Europe, Mexico, and Cuba. A second historical memoir, “Outlaw Woman: Memoir of the War Years, 1960-1975,” tells that story. In 1973, Roxanne joined the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the International Indian Treaty Council, beginning a lifelong commitment to international human rights, lobbying for Indigenous rights at the United Nations. Appointed as director of Native American Studies at California State University East Bay, she collaborated in the development of the Department of Ethnic Studies, as well as Women’s Studies, where she taught for 3 decades. Her 1977 book, “The Great Sioux Nation: An Oral History of the Sioux Nation,” was the fundamental document at the first international conference on Indians of the Americas, held at United Nations’ headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Two more scholarly books followed: “Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico” and “Indians of the Americas: Human Rights and Self-Determination.” In 1981, Roxanne was invited to visit Sandinista Nicaragua to appraise the land tenure situation of the Mískitu Indians in the isolated northeastern region of the country. In over a hundred trips to Nicaragua and Honduras, she monitored what was called the Contra War. Her book, “Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War,” was published in 2005. “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” was published by Beacon Press in September 2014.

Bright green colonialism: massive solar project threatens sacred Indian sites and wildlife

By Edward Helmore / The Guardian

Of the many projects commissioned by the Obama administration to showcase its commitment to renewable energy, few are as grandly futuristic as the multibillion-dollar solar power projects under construction across broad swaths of desert on the California-Arizona border.

But at least two developments, including the $1bn, 250-megawatt Genesis Solar near Blythe in the lower Colorado river valley and the Solar Millennium project, are beset with lengthy construction delays, while others are facing legal challenges lodged by environmental groups and Native American groups who fear damage to the desert ecology as well as to ancient rock art and other sacred heritage sites.

Out on the stony desert floor, Native Americans say, are sites of special spiritual significance, specifically involving the flat-tailed horned toad and the desert tortoise.

“This is where the horny toad lives,” explains Alfredo Figueroa, a small, energetic man and a solo figure of opposition who could have sprung from the pages of a Carlos Castaneda novel, pointing to several small burrows. Figueroa is standing several hundred metres into the site of Solar Millennium, a project backed by the Cologne-based Solar Millennium AG. The firm, which has solar projects stretching from Israel to the US, was last month placed in the hands of German administrators and its assets listed for disposal.

Figueroa is delighted with the news. “Of all the creatures, the horny toad is the most sacred to us because he’s at the centre of the Aztec sun calendar,” he says. “And the tortoise also, who represents Mother Earth. They can’t survive here if the developers level the land, because they need hills to burrow into.”

Figueroa, 78, a Chemehuevi Indian and historian with La Cuna de Aztlán Sacred Sites Protection Circle, has become one of the most vocal critics of the solar programme and expresses some unusually bold claims as to the significance of this valley: he claims it is the birthplace of the Aztec and Mayan systems of belief. He points out the depictions of a toad and a tortoise on a facsimile of the Codex Borgia, one of a handful of divinatory manuscripts written before the Spanish conquest.

On a survey of the 2,400-hectare site Figueroa points out a giant geoglyph, an earth carving he says represents Kokopelli, a fertility deity often depicted as a humpbacked flute player with antenna-like protrusions on his head. Kokopelli, he says, will surely be disturbed if the development here resumes.

The area is known for giant geoglyphs, believed by some to date back 10,000 years. Gesturing towards the mountains, he also describes Cihuacoatl – a pregnant serpent woman – he sees shaped in the rock formations. All of this, he says, amounts to why government-fast-tracked solar programmes in the valley, where temperatures can reach 54C, should be abandoned. It is a matter of their very survival.

“We are traditional people – the people of the cosmic tradition,” Figueroa explains. “The Europeans came and did a big number on us. They tried to destroy us. But they were not able to destroy our traditions, and it’s because of our traditions and our mythology that we’ve been able to survive. If we’d blended in with the Wasps – the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants – we’d have been lost long ago.”

At the Genesis Solar site, 20 miles west, Florida-based NextEra has begun to develop an 810-hectare site. The brackets that will hold the reflecting mirrors stand like sentinels. Backed by a $825m department of energy loan, Genesis Solar is planned as a centrepiece of the administration’s renewable energy programme, with enough generating capacity to power 187,500 homes.

But local Native American groups collectively known as the Colorado River Indian Tribes are demanding that 80 hectares of the development be abandoned after prehistoric grinding stones were found on a layer of ashes they say is evidence of a cremation site “too sacred to disturb”.

Read more from The Guardian:

KI First Nation envisions a saner world, continues resistance against colonialism

By Sarah Rotz

In 2008, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) Chief Donny Morris, along with five other community members, were criminalized and jailed for saying “No” to mining exploration on their land. Although the Ontario government ultimately settled the case with Platinex Inc. (by providing the company with a $5 million handout), the government was unwilling to assure KI that unwanted mining exploration would stop categorically. Moreover, the Ontario Mining Act continues to enable free entry for mining companies like God’s Lake Resources; the newest gold mining company to stake a claim on KI land.

KI First Nation—a remote fly-in Oji-Cree community located roughly 1,400km northwest of Toronto—has governed and cared for their land since time before memory. This immense and rich area of lakes, rivers, boreal forests, and wetlands provides KI (with a population of 1,300) with the essential elements of life, including a clean and consistent supply of fresh water. Indeed, one of the many reasons that KI has chosen to say no to mining exploration on its Homeland is that it would contaminate much of the local water system. As a result KI has created an official Watershed Declaration and Consultation Protocol, which declares that “all waters that flow into and out of Big Trout Lake, and all lands whose waters flow into those lakes, rivers, and wetlands, to be completely protected through our continued care under KI’s authority, laws and protocols. We look at protection as restoring our land and waters to their original condition and preserving them in that condition for future generations. No industrial uses, or other uses which disrupt, poison, or otherwise harm our relationship to these lands and waters will be permitted. This includes no mining exploration…”

Clearly, KI has a vision for their land and environment that benefits the KI people, and all life. If nothing else, this vision must be respected. However, the incompatibility of KI’s philosophy with that of unfettered capitalism and economic growth held dearly by our colonial government, makes any form of authentic, unconditional adherence to KI’s declaration unlikely.

Development as Environmental Injustice in Canada

In Canada, environmental and health advocates are often dismissed on grounds that they are unable to present clear causal links between the activities of industrial companies, and the effects experienced by the community. This strategic dismissal of causality—and indeed, dismissal of the people most affected by the injustice—is typical in cases of water, soil and air contamination. It is a common legal position deployed with unconscionable regularity by the Canadian government, as well as various federal and provincial Ministries including Environment Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Energy Mines and Resources and Natural Resources.

While it may be true that the diffused and ambulant nature of ecological elements may make causal patterns of contamination difficult to identify, the Canadian government has done little to facilitate research or exploration into the impacts of corporate activities on people and environments. Indeed, there are many instances in which the government has actively concealed the demonstrable truth of these claims. They have suggested that claims of environmental injustices are simply untraceable and unprovable, all without any due diligence. This position of willful ignorance and plausible deniability is an effective green light for any and all environmentally destructive corporate activity, as well as a legal bulwark against those who would seek to hold them accountable for their actions.

Communities affected by corporate activities on their land, or attempting to prevent such activities, face a tireless search for scientific evidence to corroborate their lived experience. Such endeavors require a great deal of resources. Of course, most communities simply do not have access to the required time, money, knowledge or power. More importantly, they are often unable to prevent the perpetrator—likely a potent mix of public and private entities—from using aggression, violence, intimidation, coercion, or even extortion to destroy the community’s capacity for resistance. The kicker here is that most cases like this are occurring on unsurrendered First Nation lands, which are to be governed by the First Nation community, and off limits to unwanted development, period. No trial should be necessary, because as long as the land is being used against this Nation’s wishes, the community should have full right to say “NO!” This continuous disregard for such rights means that all communities—in Canada and elsewhere—must step up and support them in their resistance.

Indeed, cases like this are typical within geographically, politically and/or socio-economically isolated or oppressed communities. First Nation reserves such as Aamjinaang know these battles well, and bare the scars to prove it. Aamjinaang is a Chippewa (Ojibwe) community just south of Sarnia. As a result of various oppressive forces, Sarnia’s chemical valley and various other industrial areas have been built directly around the community, enclosing it in the chemical debris of some of the largest industrial corporations.

Consequently, Aamjinaang has been dangerously exposed to toxic levels of industrial chemicals. And the effects are devastating. Residents suffer physical ailments ranging from persistent and debilitating migraines to a multitude of cancers: lung, liver, colon etc. Still, the trifecta of legal, political, and corporate hand-washing insists, there is no causal evidence that proves these effects are directly related to the ongoing industrial activity. This fails to explain why the male-female birth ratio has been dramatically altered. Presently, twice as many girls are being born than boys—an effect often caused by chemicals that imitate endocrine hormones. The release of industrial chemicals has also affected the community’s cultural practices and livelihood activities including hunting, fishing, ceremonial activities and medicine gathering. Nevertheless, those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in Aamjinaang, have clung desperately to the claim of insufficient causal evidence. Most disturbingly, this claim is being laid to protect industrial producers, and allow them to continue operating on land that is not theirs in the first place, while drawing an immense profit.

Although this community has been fighting a battle with the government and industry for years, little has been done to protect the community from ongoing chemical contamination. The longstanding issue for Aamjinaang, as with many health and environment cases, is that the government continues to disregard cumulative effects of pollution, contamination and toxicity by preventing legislative regulations limiting these effects. In fact, Environment Canada issued an approval for increases in pollution by local industry. In November 2010, residents of Aamjinaang launched a full lawsuit challenging this development. That being said, Aamjinaang has been working on proving their case for years and they are now just shifting their efforts towards government. This change in tactics is a response to the industry’s statement that they abide by regulations that the government sets. What this statement ignores is the pressure the industry puts on governments to regulate in their favor. The tremendous power held by companies is used to coerce government action and/or inaction. According to Aamjinaang, the government follows a long-standing modus operandi when responding to community health and environment claims: “deny, divide, delay, discredit”.

In contrast to environmental contamination cases such as Aamjinaang, mining represents some of the most explicit and traceable forms of ecological and social destruction and injustice. The sources of the toxic burdens of mining are highly physically concentrated. Thus, the “deny, divide, delay, discredit” approach taken by powerful polluters, would seem to be much more difficult to seriously adopt. That said, the situation in KI demonstrates the importance that power itself plays within our colonial society. Of course, Platinex, De Beers and God’s Lake have certainly done their fair share of lobbying, and their unabashed government support should be proof enough.

Before proceeding, I want to preemptively consider a potentially dangerous, and indeed popular, counter argument to analyses like this one. The argument goes as follows: perhaps the practice of displacing a small indigenous population in order to secure massive amounts of raw resources that would service an entire nation, is not, at bottom, unethical. That is, perhaps, at least in theory, there is some way to justify, or balance the initial moral deficit of the endeavor. The Canadian government views itself as a representative of an entire nation—a nation they say, which is predominantly concerned with jobs and economic growth. The government is therefore obligated to demonstrate their competence in providing relevant resources and services to the nation we call Canada. Of course, if they could do this inexpensively without polluting indigenous territory, they would. If they could do this without forcing themselves into indigenous lands, they would. But, they say, they cannot. That being said, surely there must still be a win-win situation to be had? Somehow we can strike a deal that will make “both sides” happy. What would this look like? In it’s abridged version there seems to be two steps. 1. Carefully, and with foresight, the government would relocate the affected indigenous population. 2. As compensation, offer them a sizable funding package. The population will be better off because they do not have to bear the health and livelihood effects of mining, and Canada can continue its upward economic and consumptive trajectory. No harm, no foul.

The problem with this perspective is that it fails to recognize that indigenous people never overtly surrendered their lands to the colonial government at any point in the treaties. The government of Canada’s ongoing act of dispossessing First Nations is based on a flawed assumption that, through treaties, the colonial government acquired full ownership over what is now off-reserve indigenous land. The fact that these unsurrendered lands were unilaterally placed under federal and provincial management, and are now are being used for the purposes of lumber, mineral, water and oil extraction (among countless other forms of extraction and dispossession), patently illustrates the ingrained nature of this flawed assumption. To deeply reconsider this assumption means that a vastly different process of engagement would have to take place between the government—and the corporations it alleges to regulate—and First Nations. Under the traditional application of First Nation minority rights in Canada, when dispossession occurs, indigenous communities cannot simply decide, voluntarily, to leave or to accept whatever compensation the government is offering. Indeed, if the “deal” presented by the government is not accepted, the government can simply revoke it, along with many ‘rights’ that the government has granted the indigenous population. The indigenous community will ostensibly be labeled an enemy of the colonial state and forcefully relocated, and any contractual obligation for compensation is largely null and void. Although the government actively conceals this process, it has been physically, socially, environmentally and culturally destructive for indigenous peoples in Canada—indeed, one need to look no further then the Attawapiskat case to see the devastating consequences of dispossession, encroachment and dislocation. The issue here is that this traditional and ongoing mode of engagement between the government and First Nations is based on a profoundly flawed assumption of ownership (both of land and people) by the colonizer, and is being continuously reproduced in the interests of the state. From an indigenous perspective, the argument is one of sovereignty. Thus, to speak of land and natural resources in Canada as if they are all part of a unified, uncontested whole under the Canadian government is to erase a 400-year history of violent colonization, dispossession and indigenous resistance. In essence, this line of argument is missing an important consideration. At the same time, this kind of discourse necessarily frames a particular group of people and their land claims as simply something that can be bought and paid for, rather than a sovereign right. This objectifies and commodifies and entire group of people based on nothing more than a combination of their race and geography. Surely our collective memories are not so shortsighted that we need to be reminded of where this kind of ontology can lead? Ahem…. slavery?

Lastly, it should be noted that the resource in which Gods Lake Resources is pursuing in KI is not farm land to feed Canadian’s, it’s not even oil to keep us living the comfortable life we have grown accustom to. It is not lumber for houses, it’s not coal for power—that’s not to say that if it was oil, coal or lumber it would be acceptable. Indeed, the resource is gold: the penultimate expression of opulence, indulgence and extravagance. This is not about maintaining our industrialized living standards; it’s about making money for some of the wealthiest companies on the planet.

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