Six people have been sitting in prison since March of this year. Their crime? They were defending their right to a clean environment and decent well-paying jobs, which just happened to conflict with the interests of big business and the government of Ontario. Chief Donny Morris and five other council members from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) have been convicted with contempt for attempting to block uranium exploration by Platinex, a major mining company based in Toronto.
This attack on working class natives is occurring in the run-up to the May 29th Native Day of Action. Last year, the event against native poverty roused road and rail blockades as well as large demonstrations – but this year the KI arrests are acting as a lightning rod to channel even more action around the country.
The area in which Platinex has proposed to start exploration has been claimed by the KI First Nation for a long time, but the land claim has yet to be heard by the Ontario government. Under current Ontario law, Platinex does not need to file any form of environmental assessment if it is only seeking minerals, and as long as the exploration occurs in “public lands”. Naturally, the natives are concerned about the effects that uranium mining will have on their environment and they are sick and tired of corporations extracting billions of dollars with no benefit to the community. Morris and the band council demanded that their concerns be heard and that Platinex, and other companies like it, respect their right to live in a clean community, that the natives be consulted and in the event of the band consenting to mining operations that there would be revenue sharing plus training and jobs for working class natives in the mines.
In response to this, Platinex filed a $10-billion lawsuit against the KI First Nation in April 2006. In a press release dated on 26th Feb. 2008, Platinex humorously stated that they had reduced their lawsuit from $10 billion down to $10 million in the hopes that there would be an “establishment of a positive and mutually respectful working relationship with the KI community and looks forward to continuing dialogue and reconciliation such that further litigation involving Platinex, KI, and Ontario would not be necessary”! The law suit and the litigation have virtually bankrupted the KI First Nation.
This is not the first time that northern Ontario’s (mainly Native) communities have been impacted by mining and their demands ignored by the Ontario government. Several years ago, a couple of communities along James Bay needed to be evacuated after the government finally realized that drinking water in the communities had been poisoned after years of mining in the area. Current mining laws in Ontario allow mining companies to seek out minerals without the need for environmental assessments and consultation with surrounding communities. Although exploration may sound harmless, it requires the destruction of forest, the construction of roads and infrastructure, and the actual removal of minerals through excavation and blasting.
This is what the KI First Nation has been protesting: the destruction and poisoning of their home without their consent. The KI First Nation is not necessarily against mining, but they want to have a role in the decisions surrounding the mining in their area, especially since they are going to literally be the only ones affected by it. They want the mining to be done in a manner that is not going to destroy their environment and an in a manner that will benefit the native community through safe well-paying jobs. We fully support this fight; all development needs to be rationally planned and through the active participation of everyone that will be affected. However, this is not what the bosses, or the government, want. The KI First Nation are not the only nation to be protesting the pillaging of northern Ontario by resource companies but are the ones that have now been targeted by the state as a lesson to others that would protest capitalist interests. This is a lesson directed at both natives, and non-natives.
The struggle of the KI First Nation has been largely ignored by the corporate media. As well, much of the rest of the left has focused this struggle as just one by natives against a non-native state. In our view, this is a mistake. This is a struggle of a local community against corporate interests and for the right to a decent environment and good jobs. In that way, KI is similar to the struggles being fought by working class people across Canada. The KI First Nation is far from the only community to be furious at the freedom that the mining companies enjoy. In fact, Ottawa city council also passed a motion calling for a change in Ontario’s mining act for fear that mining exploration would destroy the Ottawa River basin.
The struggle of the KI First Nation is also only the latest in an increasingly long list of Native struggles. A couple of years ago, we published an article on the Six Nations’ occupation of a housing development in Caledonia, an occupation that the State has been unable to crush for over two years.
The First Nations’ struggle against Platinex needs to taken up by the rest of the working class as a larger struggle against capitalism. These happen to be Native communities but you can be sure that companies like Platinex wouldn’t hesitate to sue any community that opposed its interests, and that the government wouldn’t hesitate to arrest any person that violated the sacred rights that corporations seem to enjoy. The Native struggle against this oppression can be easily sidelined if it’s isolated. However, it is a much different story if it is part of a movement of millions of workers across the country.
On May 29th, thousands of natives and their supporters will be protesting across the country to free the KI prisoners and to end native poverty. The conditions working class natives live under, both on and off reserve, are a scandal. This is due to the theft of native land, the destruction of native culture and communities, decades of abuse under the residential schools system and plain and simple racism. These actions have been perpetuated by Canadian corporations and the Canadian capitalist state. The protest by natives to get a fair deal and lift themselves out of poverty should be supported by every working class activist. All workers face the same enemy of the bosses and the state regime and therefore we should all unite.
To their credit, the Ontario NDP and some sections of the labour movement have taken up the KI struggle against the corporations and government. This is a good start, but to end the ability of Platinex and their friends to continue exploiting we need to run society in a different way. The best way to guarantee environmental safeguards, training, jobs, and a share in the benefits of resource extraction is if the mining is done by a nationalized company run by the natives and the wider working class. This is a socialist solution of solidarity, cooperation and production for need, not exploitation, arrests and production for profit. This is what the indigenous working class miners of Bolivia are demanding. The Venezuelan government is also putting serious controls on mining companies in favour of local communities. If it can be done there, then it can be done here.
Free the jailed KI band council!
Support the May 29th Day of Action!
For a united struggle for socialism!