Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Defenders of the Land, Private Property Abolitionists

Defenders of the Land, Private Property Abolitionists-- By Shiri Pasternak

Indigenous peoples in Canada have marked the geographical limits of
capitalist expansion through more than five centuries of permanent
resistance. Due to the geography of residual Aboriginal lands, they form a
final frontier of capitalist penetration for natural resource extraction,
agribusiness, and urban/suburban development. While much of the focus of
the economic crisis has centred on foreclosures and job losses in the
manufacturing and service sectors, a renewed push for resources – e.g. tar
sands, timber, fisheries, mining, suburban sprawl – may tread in the old
vices of colonialism, but it has also been ushered in by a new political
economy of indigenous dispossession, and with it, spurred a new phase of

The Zapatista uprising made headlines around the world in 1994, but all
across this land, indigenous peoples were also rising up against an
“opening up” of their territories for free-market investment. For example,
by 1995, the resource industries of BC entered a new phase of expansion at
the same point that Aboriginal people were in the midst of establishing
claims to what would amount to 110 percent of the provincial land base.
Confrontation in Gustafesen Lake by the Secwepemc Nation was accompanied
by waves of blockades across the province. In Toronto, native protesters
occupied a Revenue Canada office for 29 days, and the occupation of Stoney
Pt Provincial Park in Ontario ended tragically with the death of protester
Dudley George, killed by police.

A series of policies posing as solutions to self-determination struggles
were also introduced. While “self-government” policies appear to promote
political autonomy, they are designed to download the “Indian problem”
onto native communities by reducing federal involvement and promoting
“self-sufficiency” through competitive economic development – key features
of the neo-liberal agenda – forcing cash-strapped communities to enter
into “fiscal partnerships” with corporations to finance their reserves.

Despite an escalation of militarized responses and assimilationist
policies, collectively held indigenous lands continue to pose major
barriers to capitalist expansion. The reclamation of a suburban
development site in Caledonia, Ontario by the Six Nations of the Grand
River Mohawk nation; the recently formed grassroots network to stop the
tar sands that links indigenous communities, such as the Mikisew, the
Athabasca Chipewyans, and the Lubicon Cree, along the pipelines; the
NO2010 anti-Olympics campaign led by the Native Youth Movement (NYM) and
Coast Salish indigenous nations along the coast and interior of British
Columbia; the jail time served by leaders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug
(KI) and Ardoch Algonquin First Nations (AAFN) to stop destructive mining
on their territory and by the Acting Chief of the Algonquins of Barriere
Lake to gain back control over their forests – these stories of indigenous
people defending their land are not clashes between the market and the
state that dominate the news daily. These are struggles over property
relations – over the jurisdiction of indigenous homelands and their
struggles against both the state and market to maintain control over them.

As Deborah Simmons writes in After Chiapas: “From this perspective,
Aboriginal resistance may be understood as a crucial aspect of the
conflict over the process of continental restructuring and the emergence
of a new capitalist order.” To suppress indigenous peoples struggles is to
eliminate the great obstacle they pose to capitalist accumulation and to
maintain the racist assertion that Europeans discovered this “primitive”

Colonialism didn’t begin with capitalism, but capitalism has always needed
colonialism to survive. Canadian colonialism at home and imperialism
abroad are dynamics at the heart of capitalism; they are regimes of
state-corporate power that fulfill the search for new markets, new pools
of labour, and new commodities. A spotlight must be shone on these
frontiers of property – the “blood and dirt” sources of wealth and
sovereign power governing this nation. Activists can play a critical role
in guiding this light in a number of ways. I work with the Algonquins of
Barriere Lake (www.barrierelakesolidarity.blogspot.com), a small community
3 hours north of Ottawa who are fighting to have a governing say over
10,000 square kilometers of their traditional territory. Canada and Quebec
signed a landmark resource co-management agreement with the First Nation
almost 20 years ago, but has refused to implement the ground-breaking
plan. Barriere Lake Solidarity provides support through fundraising,
film-making (e.g. http://blip.tv/file/1391794), direct action, and
political campaigning. Collective members have also set up a radio station
in the community, Mitchikinabiko’inik Nodaktcigen (Radio Barriere Lake),
and helped pilot a handicraft business of direct sales from the community
to city dwellers.

At a recent conference in Toronto organized by No One Is Illegal (NOII)
called City is a Sweatshop, BC activist Harsha Walia described how
NOII-Vancouver was linking Aboriginal dispossession to migrant justice
work – how indigenous communities were offering sanctuary on reserves to
migrants threatened with deportation, as well as bringing communities
together in protest for each other’s rights, and asking real questions
about who gets to decide which settlers get to make Canada their home.
This movement also highlights the common racial injustices in the
treatment of brown-skinned migrants and the treatment of Aboriginal people
as uncivilized and uncultured peoples.

But the most galvanizing indigenous campaign today is a nation-wide
boycott of the February 2010 Olympics games to be held in
Vancouver-Whistler (www.no2010.com). The campaign is led by the Native
Youth Movement (NYM) and Coast Salish communities and their allies. In a
province that never signed treaties with the indigenous nations and is
comprised almost entirely of unsurrendered lands, the Olympics have
provided an opportunity for the government to spur a construction and
development boom in Vancouver, Whistler, and parts of the interior.
According to the provincial government’s ministry of economic development,
in the summer months of 2007 alone, 843 major capital projects were
planned or underway throughout British Columbia, valued at US$108 billion
dollars. As no2010 reports: “All the expansion in transport infrastructure
(highways, ports, railways, bridges, etc.) is meant to assist in greater
resource exploitation, including ski resorts, mines, logging, natural gas,
oil, etc.” The urban poor of Vancouver, which is comprised of one of
Canada’s largest urban native populations, 2010 has already meant
“hundreds evicted from low-income housing, more homelessness,
criminalization, and increased police repression.” No2010 is also part of
a broader Resistance 2010 campaign that will also challenge the
exploitative resource exploitation, market expansion, and social control
of the G8 summit and the Security & Prosperity Partnership (SPP) meeting
in Canada that year.

Finally, challenging property rights is another way to challenge colonial
policies in the urban context. I work with a group called Abandonment
Issues, which is a Toronto-based project pushing for the adoption of a Use
It or Lose It bylaw that would ensure all vacant/abandoned property would
be expropriated and turned into affordable housing. One of the central
objectives of this project was to push up against people’s understanding
of private property rights and to pose questions about why some people got
to have shelter, while other did not – what is the meaning of this
distribution of ownership? What does it say about our society that we’d
rather protect a land speculator, sitting on a vacant property with the
hope that its property value will escalate, rather than see that building
– not as an investment or a commodity, valuable only in the profits reaped
by its transferability – but as a place where people could live, who are
otherwise on the streets, or trading sex for shelter. If we can re-think
how property rights reflect our relationships to one another – take it out
of the realm of law and economics, into the realm of social justice and
community control – we can unravel the social relations of power that
govern through monopoly ownership and purely commercial interests.

Now is an important time in Canada for indigenous solidarity and
resistance. The formation of a national network of indigenous leaders
called “Defenders of the Land” is developing, and a growing awareness in
cities across the country has meant more activists are rising up and
taking action. The challenge upon us now is to enlarge the way we think of
the city to include these spaces of resistance that underpin the
subsistence of all of our lives.


Oilsandstruth.org is not associated with any other web site or organization. Please contact us regarding the use of any materials on this site.

Tar Sands Photo Albums by Project

Discussion Points on a Moratorium

User login


Syndicate content