[Marxism] Canadian Indians assert their rights
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
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
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
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.
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