[Marxism] Canadian Indians assert their rights

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 5 08:46:37 MST 2004

NY Times, December 5, 2004
Natives' Land Battles Bring a Shift in Canada Economy

SKIDEGATE, British Columbia - In this rainy land of scarlet dawns and big 
black bears, workers are busy constructing a 40,000-square-foot extension 
to a museum that sits in a bushy cove where gray whales come to eat herring 
and roll over the shell beach to scratch barnacles off their bellies.

It is an ambitious project, not least because the hundreds of traditional 
masks, carvings and blankets the building is meant to display for the 
native Haida people still belong to some of the world's most prestigious 
museums. Resistance to the return of artifacts is likely, but the Haida 
have become used to challenging the rich and powerful, and winning.

Today they are in the vanguard of what appears to be a renaissance of 
Indian nations in Canada that legal scholars and others say could determine 
ultimate control over many resources vital to Canada's future, including 
oil, timber and diamonds.

The Haida won a landmark case in November in Canada's Supreme Court 
obliging British Columbia to consult with them over land use anywhere on 
their traditional homelands here on the Queen Charlotte Islands. The 
decision is expected to have a sweeping impact on similar Indian claims 
across Canada.

Adapting their old warrior ways to federal and provincial courtrooms, the 
Haida have already managed to slow efforts to clear-cut their lands by 
Weyerhaeuser and other companies. They have stalled plans by Petro-Canada 
and other companies to drill in ancestral waters should a government 
moratorium be lifted along the coast.

They are not alone in their efforts. Native bands are similarly exerting 
increasing control over natural resources across vast stretches of northern 
Canada that promise to be vital economically in a future of global warming. 
The developments have pleased environmentalists. But some legal experts 
warn that the stirrings represent a danger to the unity of a nation already 
struggling to keep separatist leanings in Quebec under control. There has 
not been a full-blown public debate on the issue, partly because most 
Canadians agree that native people deserve better conditions.

"When you wed the notion of sovereign self-governments to land claims that 
are far-reaching and poisonous to investors, you create an ungovernable, 
uneconomic and unharmonious community of Canada," John D. Weston, a 
constitutional lawyer who has worked for the British Columbia government, 
said in an interview.

The balance of power is already tipping in a nation where a vast majority 
of the population lives within 100 miles of the United States border and 
rarely thinks about developments in the far north. In the Northwest 
Territories, the 4,000-member Dogrib band last year won the right to 
control fishing, hunting and industrial development over 15,000 square 
miles of territory.

The nearby Deh Cho band has managed to stall a $6 billion gas pipeline 
project planned by ExxonMobil and several other companies through its 
traditional lands until Ottawa makes major financial and environmental 

In the snowy woods of northern Quebec, the Cree made a deal three years ago 
with the provincial government giving them full autonomy and substantial 
powers to help manage mining, forestry and hydroelectric energy development.

After Eskimos gained their own Arctic territory, Nunavut, in 1999, they 
have since won self-rule in northern Quebec and logging rights over a vast 
forest in Labrador.

"The groundwork is being laid for the possibility that aboriginal people 
will have more power and real participation in national politics," said 
Dara Culhane, an anthropologist at Simon Fraser University.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/05/international/americas/05canada.html

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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