Monday, December 31, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

Back to back aces?  Yes, First Nations do indeed have back to back aces in their struggle to counter Harper’s determination to bleed Canada dry of everything that has made Canada respected around the world.  It has become glaringly apparent that Harper respects the rights of none, except those of his own select, very select, tribe.  Certainly our Prime Minister has contempt for all of the rest of us, as well as for our land and water, but he seems especially cruel to First Nation Peoples.  So what are these twin aces, you may ask?
Of course the first one that comes to mind is Chief Theresa Spence.  Chief Spence is just right ticked off about the treaty rights of her people to land and water.   She is putting her own life on the line to demonstrate just how ticked off she really is.  I have long held at least some reservations about hunger strikes. My own philosophy has been one of… “s/he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day”.   Fighting prolonged stand up pitched battles with vicious authorities can sometimes be equal to flirting with disaster.  And while we normally don’t think of a hunger strike in these terms, that’s exactly what they are.  Especially where young people are concerned.  Like Suzanne Jackson.

Suzanne was only 22 years old when we were both arrested while trying to protect an ancient Douglas fir forest in the Elaho Valley in May of 2000.   Suzanne and I both refused to sign the undertaking.  As a result we were sent to the women’s prison in Burnaby (the prison has since moved to Maple Ridge) to await our trial.   A week or so into our incarceration Suzanne decided to go on a hunger strike.  I wasn’t enthusiastic.  Susanne was of a slender build to start with.  She was healthy, but she was well, slender.  And she didn’t plan to even take juice.  And she didn’t.  Only water.  By the end of the first week and a half of her hunger strike I was getting uneasy.   Suzanne’s demands to speak to the premier went unheeded.  My mother mode began to kick in.  I started trying to gently persuade Suzanne that she may be irrevocably harming her health.  My gentle persuasions fell on deaf ears. 

 But Suzanne’s hunger strike began to attract the much needed media attention for our cause.  However, as the days passed I was becoming seriously worried about Suzanne’s health regardless of the attention.  No amount of attention around the destruction of the ancient forests of the Elaho was worth having to watch an intelligent, vibrant, beautiful young woman die before my eyes (she and I were cell mates).  

But it was Suzanne herself who rebuked my solicitations about her health in no uncertain terms: Betty,” she said when she was well into the second week of her strike, “I did expect that some of my friends and relatives would try to talk me out of this, but I never expected it from you.  I thought you, at least, would understand without question why I do this”.

I backed off and accepted Suzanne’s chastisement.  But it was terribly hard.  As the end of her second week of striking approached Suzanne was visibly becoming weak and drowsy.  Prison staff started trying to tempt her to break her strike by leaving big slices of cake, or cookies and milk by the side of her bunk.  Suzanne let the food sit.  A few more days went by and dark circles began to appear underneath Suzanne’s eyes.   The nurse came.  And then, out of the blue, we were both summoned to court.  It seemed that the injunction under which we were arrested had been struck down.  Suzanne was immediately released as it was her first offense.  I was not released, but I was enormously relieved that Suzanne was.  I had truly become afraid that she might die in prison.  I knew other prisoners had died in the prison, from various causes.  And I also knew something had to give with the government.  The pressure was on the courts to release Suzanne. She was hospitalized shortly after her release but recovered nicely.  Suzanne is now well and lives in Scotland.

It’s different with Chief Spence.  Theresa Spence is a chief, an elder, a leader of her people; she is in the full wisdom of her maturity.   And she’s not in prison.    In her teepee camped on Parliament Hill Chief Spence has direct access to the media.  And I applaud what she is doing.  It seems the entire Indian Nation, with only a few aberrant exceptions are holding Chief Spence aloft on wings of love.  And the feelings of love and respect for Chief Spence not only come from First Nations people, the same emotions are sweeping over many non- First Nations people as well, in Canada and abroad.  Chief Spence is a huge ace in the hole for us all.  And the other ace in the hole? 

 I’ll tell you after the New Year’s holidays are over.  Tomorrow I will attend the Comox ”Idle No More”  (Dec.29) and one of my daughters will help me carry the banner that was presented to me by some of the First Nations women who were in my unit in Alouette Prison for Women when I was last released.
I treasure this banner.  It was made by hand in prison, made by the women themselves. The emblem is of two giant eagle heads, one red, and one white.  The eagles are facing each other under a full moon.  “It symbolizes unity,” the women told me.  “Of the Indian and white races”.  
 Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Some said the Mayans predicated that the end of the world would happen on the 21st of December, 2012.  Others said not so much.  More like a new beginning.  As the first prediction didn’t happen, I’ll go with the latter group. I think there will be new beginnings and a most important one will be the rise of women in leadership roles around the world.  And I predict that these women risings will not just occur in our established male dominated hierarchies but in grass roots movements like IDLE NO MORE.

 Of course there will be a lot of push back from the firmly established government structures, both provincially and federal.  Their spin doctors on all levels study psychology and anti-public participation methods and know how to cut people’s movements into shreds.  They have begun work early on IDLE NO MORE and they   use vehicles that people generally trust, like CBC TV.

I don’t have TV but I do watch CBC “The National” on the Internet.  And I often listen to CBC radio in the mornings because I like the program “The Current “with Anna Maria Tremonti.  And a funny thing happened with the reporting on CBC, an inconsistency between Anna Maria Tremonti’s radio interviews with one of the four women who started the IDLE NO MORE (Dec 19,) movement, and CBC’s TV reporting the following night.

On radio, Sylvia McAdam from Saskatoon told Tremonti that she and three other women stared the group because when they understood what was in Harper’s Omnibus Bill C-45 they were alarmed and very angry at Harper’s government.  McAdam was also personally angry at Grand Chief Atleo.  She stated that Chief Atleo, who had been aware of the dangers for First Nations people, contained in the bill, had not bothered to alert First Nations communities and make sure they understood what was at stake.

Sylvia McAdam was particularly upset by the removal of the protections for Canada’s water that had been contained in the Navigation Act.  The protections of most of Canadian waters have now been removed by the Omnibus Bill which had included protection for fish bearing waters as well as watersheds.  McAdam wanted to ask Chief Atleo why he had not explained to the people  what was actually in the Omnibus Bill, that if the First Nations people had understood what was in the bill from the beginning they might have had time to stop it.  And then she asked the more troubling question…why hadn’t the Canadian public in general been alarmed enough by the Omnibus Bill to do something, anything?

Why, indeed.  Good question, Sylvia McAdam.  Perhaps it was because our chiefs, like your Chief Atleo, are so dazzled by the political structures they have become part of that they are paralyzed and incapable of any real action that might save Canada from political and environmental degradation. Elizabeth May is the only political leader who has been trying her darndest  to alert Canadians to what this Omnibus Bill actually means, that it means total permission for resource pirates, both foreign and domestic, to leap on board for the plundering of  Canada. And Canadians?  From the line of an old country song…”They can drink muddy water and sleep in a hollow log.”

 Stephen Harper is spinning IDLE NO MORE as simply another unreasonable gripe from First Nations about treaties and is nothing new.  And CBC TV is helping to spin this message.  The following evening after Sylvia McAdam spoke on the radio; there were marches and spontaneous gatherings around Ottawa and Toronto. The peculiar thing was that the only people I saw actually interviewed by CBC TV were men, even though women had started the whole thing and there was only a brief mention that Chief Spence from Attawapiskat has been on a hunger strike in front of Parliament Hill for some time. No mention at all of the Omnibus Bill in the reporting.    Only that the IDLE NO MORE commotion was about, and by, First Nations and totally concerned with their treaty rights.  The meaning the rest of us are to take away?

The message Harper is giving out and the CBC TV faithfully reports is:  “Don’t worry, you real Canadians, this is only an aboriginal issue and nothing for you to worry about.  Go back to sleep.”
Let’s not fall for it.  That Omnibus Bill was and is, extremely dangerous and unprecedented.  The bill is worthy only of a man who is shrewd enough and cruel enough to impoverish most who live in Canada by divesting us of our natural resources.  It will take a movement like IDLE NO MORE to jar this man loose from his death grip on Canada.  Let’s stay focused.  IDLE NO MORE is about Canada’s land, water, and resources; it’s about life, it’s about all of us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Okay, scratch what I said about Wally Oppal being the Attorney General in BC when Robert Pickton was doing his murderous worse.  Of course he wasn’t.  Wally Oppal didn’t become Attorney General under the BC Liberals until 2005 and Robert Pickton wasn’t arrested until 2002.  So I apologize for this with no excuses.  Except that I have seen Mr. Oppal so many times in my own court room experience that it seems like he was Attorney General for an awfully long time. In fact it seemed like a million years, and Shirley Bond, his replacement, offers no comfort, either. The BC Liberals first made a comeback in BC politics in 2001 so the NDP government must also wear the burden of not knowing, or caring, what was happening to the women of Downtown Eastside.
Still, it is very suspicious to have a former Attorney General head an inquiry into such an emotional, horrific case, one so affiliated with a party that still bears investigation into possible other ties to criminal gangs (BC Rail).  So just what is the duty of the provincial Attorney General?
From Wikipedia:
“The Attorney General is responsible for ensuring that public administration is conducted according to the law and as such, he is the advisor of law to the government, in addition to overseeing the court system and Sheriff Services.  Under the Queen’s Counsel Act, the Attorney General is automatically appointed a Queen’s Counsel…”
The Attorney General is supposed to be advisor to the government. I think it is the other way around.  I think the BC Government advised Wally Oppal what they wanted him to do about the Pickton inquiry and he did it.  But I have a feeling that this is not over yet. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


The Missing Women’s Inquiry is a good example of how to hold a huge public inquiry, spend lots of money on lawyers (all for the police, none for the murdered women’s relatives) and yet not discover one relevant thing that wasn’t already known.  Sometimes I am almost grateful for the time I have spent in the women’s prisons in BC over environmental issues.  Those long months, three and a half years’ worth all told, incarcerated with women in the trade and other occupations, have given me a perspective on BC politics that I probably never would have gained anywhere else. However, what I learned there was not comforting.

Still, without this association with so many women who have been blamed, cursed, damned and destroyed, I would never have been conscious of the huge part that criminal gangs play in our society.  Certainly one did not hear a whisper about any possible gang connections in Oppal’s inquiry.  So I will tell you out loud what the women in prison told me and you can make up your own mind.

 Among other things, the women in prison told me that gangs were behind the murders of the missing women whose DNA was found on Pickton’s farm. They told me that the women were murdered, dismembered, and hung on meat hooks and eventually fed to pigs in the process of making “snuff” films.  And they told me that some of the police knew about the film making and the murders all along and for whatever reasons, deliberately refused to investigate the killings as long as they could.

Mad, scrambled, criminal rantings from mad, scrambled, criminal women?  Perhaps.  But, In the first place the women who talked to me in prison were not mad.  They were addicts, but they were not mad.  Nor were they criminal in the broad sense of the word.   In the main, they were survivors of the street.  And in the main, they were First Nations, victims all, of losses of such magnitude that non- aboriginals can’t even begin to fathom them.  But when Wally Oppal spoke of these losses in his report, he pointed fingers at society as a whole as being indifferent to the losses of First Nations women.  There is an element of truth in this accusation.  However, I believe Wally Oppal is using this as a smoke screen, along with police incompetence, to divert attention away from the reasons the women were murdered.

This is the main element in the Pickton trial itself that gives me pause...  Robert Pickton’s lawyers got his charge of first degree murder reduced to second degree.    How did they do this?  By convincing the jury that Robert Pickton could not have killed all these women, dismembered them, and fed them to his pigs all by himself.  Pickton’s lawyers convinced the jury that Robert Pickton had help in all of this, that other people were involved in the women’s murders.   If the jury believed this, and recommend that the charge be lessened, and the judge accepted this, then where are the investigations into who the other murderer(s) might be?  There were no investigations then or now.   Well, what about media investigations as to why there are no ongoing investigations to find the other accomplice(s)? Why aren’t independent investigative reporters bugging the government about looking for the other accomplice (s)? 

And most importantly why didn’t the Attorney General demand an investigation into the possibility of other accomplices immediately after the trial? Police and the RCMP don’t have to wait for the outcome of any possible appeal, or the outcome of anything, to investigate criminal activities.  In fact, why wasn’t this search given the highest priorities?  And why was Wally Oppal given the job of conducting the no- nothing inquiry in the first place?   He was the Attorney General while much of the murdering of the women was going on.  Talk about a conflict of interest.

I believe Wally Oppal was the choice to head the inquiry because the BC Liberal government wanted a no- nothing inquiry.  Wally Oppal fit the bill as he was part of the problem the Liberals wanted to deny.  In my opinion The BC Liberals seemed to fear any connection between possible gang activities around the Pickton murders both then and now.   I think the BC Liberals picked Wally Oppal to head the inquiry because they knew he would scuttle it.  And why would the BC Liberals want this?  Because they were afraid of any information coming out that might reveal the power of the criminal gangs in relation to much that goes on in this province, including the Pickton murders.   
Enough of this. The killing of approximately fifty women (Pickton’s boast and I believe him) on a pig farm with their bodies afterwards fed to his pigs is not something that a no-nothing inquiry can gloss over and then we can all forget about. We need a federal inquiry into the most depraved, nightmarish, grisly serial killings that have happened anywhere in the world.  If Canadian First Nations and including Canadian citizens in general are refused a federal inquiry then the refusal could be taken to the United Nations.  The UN would not refuse, they could not refuse.  The entire world has to look at this case.  The injustice of it is just too wrong, too inhuman to be borne quietly.  And we don’t have to bear it quietly.