Our Home on Native Land

Bob Rogers brogers at cet.com
Mon Dec 16 23:07:53 MST 2002


ZNet Commentary
Our Home on Native Land December 15, 2002
By Sarwat Viquar 

Canada is a country which prides itself on its efforts in ‘peace-building’,
always taking care to distinguish its ‘peace-building’ efforts from similar
efforts as claimed by its southern neighbour. Abroad, this peace-building
translates into ‘supporting sustainable development in order to reduce
poverty and contribute to a more secure, equitable and prosperous world.’ 

Volumes can be written and indeed have been already on the nature of and
the pre-conditions attached to this ‘sustainable development’. Whether it
is the schizophrenia of supporting a program for ‘human rights education’
of the Pakistani masses while simultaneously supporting and encouraging its
military dictatorship, or talking about Africa’s poverty while looking for
'investment opportunities' in Sub-Saharan Africa.

But that is 'Canada Abroad.' What about ‘ Canada at Home?’ and what does
‘peace-building’ mean at home? The very suggestion that the department of
foreign affairs and CIDA’s (Canadian International Development Agency)
regular sessions and NGO consultations on ‘human rights’ could possibly
include a review of Canada’s own human rights record is viewed with shock. 

The Canadian government as the great peace-builder has a unique
understanding of how to treat people on (what it considers) its own
territory. It means deporting 24 non-status Algerians back to Algeria while
telling a deported couple that their two-year old son can live in Canada,
but they cannot, because he’s Canadian and they’re not. It means
threatening deportation to a ten week pregnant Algerian woman threatening a
hunger strike that she has to go back to a country where ‘100,000 people
have been disappeared since 1992’ ( see DFAIT Canada's travel advisory for
Algeria). 

The lifting of the moratorium on Algerian deportations culminated in a
crisis last month as an Algerian family ordered to appear at Dorval airport
in Montreal for their deportation failed to appear. They were granted
sanctuary at a local church with lots of support from local activist
groups. Due to this support and local media attention, immigration
authorities didn’t dare to arrest and forcibly remove the couple who have a
two-year old son. 

This comes at the end of a six month long campaign by local activists in
Montreal, belonging to a group called ‘No-one is Illegal’ and the ‘Comité
d'action des sans-statut’. Even now, immigration authorities fail to see
the trauma they are putting these people through as the violation of human
rights it plainly is. The list goes on and will probably increase as
Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Angola and the Republic of the
Congo come under ‘review’ by the Canadian Immigration Council for mass
deportations. 

These are those same "developing countries" that are ‘some of the poorest
countries in the world’ and where "(people) majority women, struggle to
survive on less than $1 US per day" (Canadian International Development
Agency website, section on Africa, http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/africa-e.htm). 

The myth of a humane western democracy that benignly watches over the
immigrants it has granted gracious sanctuary to, is too strong and too well
propagated through the corporate media. Buying into this myth as refugees
and immigrants of colour, we are often told what a privilege it is to be
granted ‘Canadian citizenship’, or American, or British, or Australian. 

That we should be delighted to gain citizenship rights from our former
colonial masters. Being far from our lands of origin and not having been
exposed to the actively colonizing nature of the US and Canada we often buy
into the whole idea of being privileged to be here and strive to be ‘good
immigrants’. 

But there are no such blinkers for Charlie ‘Wolf’ Smoke, an Indigenous
person of Mohawk, Lakota and Seneca heritage who is now being asked by the
Canadian government to ‘prove’ his Canadian citizenship and his right to be
in Canada. Wolf does not identify with being ‘Canadian’. He has made it
clear that he belongs to his community of Indigenous peoples who have lived
here for centuries, which therefore makes him ‘Pre-Canadian’. As a result
he and his family have been continuously terrorized by Canadian authorities.

Wolf has well-founded fears that one day Canadian authorities may try to
disappear him. Recently he has been asked to appear for hearings in front
of Immigration Canada and been threatened with deportation to the US. US
authorities have already refused to accept him, not that he is looking for
their acceptance. 

Canadian authorities may well wish they could deport him to the past, since
that is where, in their minds, indigenous sovereignty belongs. (for more on
the case of Charlie ‘Wolf’ Smoke, see
http://thunderbay.indymedia.org/news/2002/11/2132.php)

Immigrant people of colour and Indigenous peoples have a common ground-
that of being forced to negotiate the barriers of militarized borders that
confine and oppress them and refuse them any sovereignty or
self-determination. For the Algerians, it means being caught in the vicious
cycle of repression, deprivation and outright torture in Algeria and being
penalized and criminalized for seeking asylum against it in countries like
Canada. Countries which either directly prop-up or turn a blind eye to the
post-colonial dictatorships which flourish in the South.

For Indigenous Peoples, it means being told to 'prove' their right to be on
the only land they have ever known. It is Western imperialism that is the
common denominator here and recognition of that means recognition of the
need to fight a common oppressor. 

In Smoke's words "Uncle Sam shot my grandfather in the back, raped my
grandmother, humiliated my parents, then did everything he could to keep me
from even being born. Now he's going somewhere else to do the exact same
thing to someone else. So I should help him? Then come back here where he
will continue to commit acts of genocide against me? What's wrong with that
picture?"

In a march of solidarity for the Algerians facing deportations from Canada,
Shawn Brandt, a Mohawk activist from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
(OCAP) stood outside the offices of Immigration Canada and told the
Algerians that they were ‘welcome on his land’. During a three day
conference on Indigenous People’s Struggles, held in Montreal and entitled
‘Our Home on Native Land’, 

Indigenous activists repeatedly affirmed their solidarity with Algerians,
Palestinians, Colombians, Afghans and others. They voiced their strong
opposition to the war plans being prepared for Iraq and talked about how
Indigenous lands and the people on them had served as the first testing
grounds for the military industrial complex. It is time to give back this
solidarity and to show that we as immigrants are honoured to identify our
struggles with the struggles of Indigenous Peoples in America.

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