Dec 9: Russ Diabo and First Nations’ relationship with Canada; a statement on why Occupy Windsor is leaving the park

Listen to entire program here: 

Russ Diabo: 2:55

Statement on Occupy Windsor: 45:45

Saturday, Dec 10 was the UN sponsored Human Rights Day.

Click image for statement on Human Rights Day

I’m always somewhat conflicted about highlighting a day for this and a day for that because in the end the things celebrated need to occur all year round – something like peace and goodwill only put into action around Christmastime.  However I get the fact we need to remind ourselves of efforts to make the world a more just place. 

I couldn’t think of a more apt place to start with human rights in a Canadian context than with First Nations. The emergency declared in Attawapiskat is another example of the unjust relationship between Canada and First Nations who have for centuries been trying to co-exist with a settler nation unwilling to admit we live on occupied land. Don’t we need to once and for all enter into a real agreement with First Nations governments and establish a just and enduring relationship built on sustaining the land, water and air? After all, these three things we all rely on for everything in order to survive.

All over the world Indigenous people are fighting resource extraction corporations such as miners and loggers for not only a share of the economic benefits but also to make sure that whatever is extracted is done so in a sustainable manner. We live in a finite world that will need to provide the same resources for future generations yet it is said we will need another Earth by 2030 at the rate we are using resources. Indigenous people in Canada have been fighting globalization for 500 years and today we are all at risk from a system of exploitation that is now out of control and “managed” by a global elite who answer only to themselves.

To help get some context for Human Rights Day I spoke to  Russ Diabo from his home in Innisfil near Barrie: Russ Diabo is a First Nations policy adviser and a Mohawk from Kahnawake, in Quebec

We spoke about the recent biannual conference by the Assembly of First Nations, Attawapiskat, the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples which followed on the 1990 Oka crisis, and what is expected from a meeting of First Nations with Prime Minister Harper in January. Mr Diabo also spoke about what sustains him in his many years of struggle for justice. He named community and allies who help in the struggle and family. It is children and grandchildren who will be left the remains of this world and who deserve our best efforts to preserve all that sustains us. Diabo also named Defenders of the Land  as an important “… network of Indigenous Communities united in defense of our lands, Indigenous rights, and Mother Earth.”

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Statement from Media Conference held Friday Dec 9 regarding Occupy Windsor :

Media Release:

December 9, 2011

Good morning and thank you for coming.

 I’mPaul Chislettand a participant in Occupy Windsor. I have a few words before others speak on their experiences so far with Occupy Windsor and I ask that you bear with me.  

 We have been in the park for almost three months and have learned a lot about ourselves, the city, and how to come together as a community to seek ways to make change. We came to the park in solidarity with others around the world to speak out against inequality built in to the undemocratic economic and political systems that fail to meet the needs of people.

 Our purpose was to conduct political actions such as marches and rallies to alert people to the dangers of another free trade deal, this time with the European Union, a dangerous crime bill that seeks to criminalize minorities and those in poverty, high tuition fees, and inequality inWindsor. We conducted teach ins, we held general assemblies that are a hallmark of direct democracy, we learned to work together as a group of people largely unknown to each other three months ago to build a community that was inclusive and non-judgmental. We intended to be in the park for as long as we felt it necessary.

 Our presence in the park was itself a form of civil disobedience and made the statement that we have a right to freely assemble in our own parks without impeding access to anyone, including hundreds of people for the Remembrance Day ceremony. Over the last several weeks we began discussions on whether to maintain our presence in the park. The logistics of maintaining the park was overtaking our other purpose – to organize and conduct political action and outreach with the park as our base. What we found was that homeless people and those suffering from addiction and in some cases mental illness came to the park where we sheltered, fed and befriended them. Some of those people will speak in a bit. They stayed because they found community here. In the meantime we did not have a strong enough committee structure to maintain the camp properly and over time, MOSTLY only the people with nowhere else to go were staying overnight in the park. Our discussions over the last few weeks were around our moral responsibility to people who came for the community and learned about our cause, yet had no place to live. We decided about two weeks ago that some people needed to work on political action separately from the park while others would help maintain the presence in the park.

 I must STRESS here that at this point I am speaking for myself in that the park had become untenable and a decision was needed whether the camp was still a political expression or had become a camp for homeless people. As it turned out, the authorities had the same question. They said they were concerned for the welfare of the people staying overnight. The question we asked ourselves however was why do the authorities care about these homeless people and not the many others who are out there now under bridges, in abandoned buildings or what have you. What our presence in the park has done is made the invisible more obvious and right on the steps of city hall. The city has stated they will help the people who need it who are in the park and we ask: where is the help for the hundreds or more, who need adequate housing, food and community now?  Workers at the mission, Street Help, Windsor Youth Action Centre, and the church next door, for example, do all they can and we all know it is not enough.

 What we found inWindsorwas that the city prioritizes spending for pools and tax breaks for foreign corporations to locate here while so many people exist in need. We could add the problems of infrastructure that go unheeded as well with hundreds of flooded basements as a testimony of how spending is misdirected. All of this highlights our reason for being in the park. We get to vote once every few years and then we sit and wait to see what happens. OccupyWindsoris an expression of a desire to NOT sit and wait any longer.

 While it is a controversial decision and not everyone agrees with it, the park will be cleared out this weekend and I must stress that this is not a unanimous decision. It is quite possible some tents will stay under the banner of Occupy Windsor. I am one those who chose to de-camp and continue movement building with the allies I have found in the park. I think it is the right thing to do because we cannot fight injustice and look after people in need at the same time. Other allies include First Nations people in Windsor who we have negotiated with to share a large Teepee to be located in a place yet to be decided, and will be jointly used for ceremonies by First Nations people, and for educational purposes by all of us. I believe the park has served the purpose we intended it to. Now we must organize ourselves to regain our community in such a way that no one is left out and that we do not need to rely solely on corporations and their political allies to make decisions for us. We need to take back our own power neighbourhood by neighbourhood.

 In closing, it is important to note that the park we are in is named after Senator Croll, and it’s not that title that means anything; what’s important is that Mr Croll was Mayor of Windsor during the depression. During that time he insisted the city go into deficit in order to provide relief for people in need. How different politicians are today, yet the needs of people are just as pressing as they were in Mr Croll’s day. I am part of the 99% and I refuse to be silent. I believe that leaving the park will make the movement a stronger and  more effective political force that can draw more people to it in order to create a more fair and inclusive community.

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