19th October, 2012
News that should warm the heart of any supporter of native rights and critic of Stephen Harper — that native activists will finally get a voice at OPEC (however weak) — has been greeted by the silence of the liberal lambs. Where are voices of reason? Where is the opposition in Canada’s so-called democracy?
The only public response to former Roseau River chief Terrance Nelson’s efforts to help his people — Canada’s First Nation (as opposed to the settlers who stole the land and who export and destroy our resources) — is to accuse him of treason, of consorting with the enemy, the enemy being a nation which has never threatened Canada, the US or any other nation with aggression. A nation which is instead the victim of harsh sanctions and unrelenting subversion by Canada and its ‘friends’.
Nelson and former Dakota Tipi chief Dennis Pashe were in Iran this week meeting with government officials and academics. According to APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network), the Iranian government is willing to back First Nations leaders if they want to address OPEC at its next confab 12 December in Vienna, to get a better deal on the 2.5 million barrels a day of oil that is pumped from Indigenous territories and sent by Canada to the US.
Nelson plans to tell OPEC that the native people of Canada are the true owners of Canada’s petroleum resources. “We call upon the government of Canada to consider the experiences of other countries regarding fair distribution of the natural resources’ income. The OPEC nations have had a similar history in dealing with colonial powers,” said Nelson in Tehran.
Nelson met with Mohammad Javad Larijani, Iran’s secretary for the High Council for Human Rights. “As we defend the rights of people in Bahrain, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine in the international organizations, we will also defend Canada’s Aboriginal population. Canada has exploited and even committed genocide against the Aboriginal people rather than investing in their treasure of cultural and civilization wealth,” said Larijani.
“We were warned not to go to Iran, and Western media have consistently tried to dehumanize and demonize the Iranian people. The people of Iran are nothing like the lies told in Western media,” said Nelson on Iran’s PressTV. Even as he spoke the EU was blacking out PressTV.
Nelson visited several university classes. The Iranian NGO Peace Lovers Society agreed to provide university scholarships to 10 First Nations students to study in Iran in the area of oil and gas, medicine and economics. Iranians have a lot to teach Canadians about oil and imperial greed. Britain and Russia occupied Iran during both WWI&II, and Britain and the US orchestrated a regime change in Iran in 1953 to make sure the oil kept flowing to the ‘good guys’.
Lesson number one: there are no ‘good guys’ in imperialism; there are only exploiters and victims.
Lesson number two: the exploiters are always right and the victims always wrong.
Lesson number three: if the victims manage to take control of the oil, asserting their rights, they better watch out, as the exploiters will do everything in their power to snatch back the black gold.
Lesson number four: if you manage to unite your people and keep control of the oil, you can survive even the most aggressive aggression.
For a half century now, the Canadian government has tried to whitewash its exploitation of natives. Wrote New Democratic Party MP Thomas Berger in 1966: “They began by taking the Indians’ land without any surrender and without their consent. Then they herded the Indian people onto reserves. This was nothing more nor less than apartheid, and that is what it still is today.”
*Aboriginal people were deprived of their land and cultural traditions. Children were removed from their families and forcibly sent away to residential schools where many were sexually abused by their white teachers.
*Aboriginal people are three times more likely than non-Aboriginals to be victims of violent crime, and at even higher risk of sexual assault.
*Aboriginal people are six times more likely to be in prison. Only 2.8% of the Canadian population, natives account for 18% of federal prisoners. In the Prairies, 50% of prisoners are Aboriginals.
*First Nations children in western countries live in Third World conditions, with an estimated 80% of urban Aboriginal children under the age of 6 living in poverty.
Harper refused approval of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. Canada’s ambassador John McNee complained at the time that the UN declaration gives “Indigenous peoples the right to the lands and resources which they have traditionally owned”. He said this language was too vague, leaving the government open to expensive law suits. Instead Harper issued a cost-free apology in 2008 for the “lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language” resulting from Indian Residential Schools.
Canada is facing a fateful moment in its history: will it stand up to the oil industry and safeguard our resources and environment for future generations? Native leaders like Nelson are allies in protecting the future, but are treated like enemies. ‘Friends’ are those who destroy the environment through oil spills and destructive extractive processes, so-called ”extreme energy”, the notorious ‘oil sands’ that the Harper government is promoting now in traditional native lands.
The real equation is: Extreme energy= extreme methods= extreme disasters= extreme opposition. The campaign against Nelson is a toxic spill of anti-native racism, blatantly supporting both the oil-mongers and war-mongers. The real terrorist in the equation is not Iran or Nelson, but Canada’s angelic-looking prime minister and his shrill chorus in the mainstream press, urging war on Iran, denying natives their long-infringed rights, and preventing them from even talking to those who are sympathetic to them.
For those who believe the demonizing depiction of Iran in the media, the US travel writer Rick Steves provides a healthy corrective in his 2008 travelogue about Iran (www.ricksteves.com/iran/). He met hundreds of ordinary people and returned convinced that whatever the differences, Iran was no enemy and deserves our understanding.
He points out the irony is that Iran represents what a sensible Christian (American or Canadian) would like culturally — modest dress for women, no alcohol, religious education, promotion of family values, the discouraging of lewd public behavior, drugs and premarital sex. “Both societies seek a defense against the onslaught of modern materialism that threatens their traditional family values.”
The difference for fundamentalist Harper being that Iran combines that with national independence and use of the country’s resources to help the people, not a handful of rich executives.
This supposedly makes Iran ‘undemocratic’. In contrast, the ‘democratic’ EU last week was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, for “the advancement of peace, reconciliation and democracy”, even as it fuels the war fever against Iran and infringes “reconciliation and democracy” by banning PressTV from European airwaves and imposing even harsher sanctions.
John Berger is one of the NDP’s great elders. Why isn’t the NDP defending native rights today, especially with regards to resource management and environmental protection — where the natives have a lot to teach the white man? Why doesn’t Harper apply for Canada’s admission to OPEC, and make Canada a vigorous, independent voice in world affairs?
He was awarded the 2012 World Statesman of the Year for his work as a “champion of democracy”. His achievements include increasing Canada’s arms spending, keeping troops in Afghanistan, militarizing the Arctic, and beginning construction of the $880-million Communications Security Establishment in Ottawa to “distinguish Canada as a leader among its intelligence allies”.
In other words, to remake Canada as a security-obsessed adjunct to the US. In our Looking Glass world, this makes Canada ‘democratic’. In the words of Humpty Dumpty, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”