Our Home on Native Land

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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