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MMIWG2S+ and the Failure of Policing

Tue, 02/14/2023 - 04:05

CW: police violence, MMIWG2S+

It’s time we have a serious conversation about our relationship with the police.

As a Saulteaux woman who has called the prairies home my entire life, I have always known in my bones that policing was never for me but rather about me. It is clear that from its origins, policing holds firm roots in heteropatriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism. Policing was literally created to ensure Indigenous peoples did not slow down the process of land theft that led to the emergence of so-called Canada, and it endures today specifically to protect ongoing settler colonialism.

When we understand colonialism as an ongoing process, we are further able to grasp the way policing legitimizes ongoing land theft, and perhaps more specifically, the industrialization and extraction of resources in this country — much of what contributes to the current climate crisis in which we currently find ourselves. There has been plenty of research and evidence that the extractive industry — and the man camps that are near, or adjacent to Indigenous territories they exist upon — have a direct correlation to MMIWG2S+. This takes a disproportionate toll on the Indigenous women, queer, Two-Spirit and trans people on the front lines protecting the lands and waters.

But colonialism and policing are urban issues as well. In cities across the country, the expansion of policing infrastructure has not resulted in safety for Indigenous people. In fact, we see the opposite happening — the expansion of harm, negligence, apathy, and violence.

Police Don’t Keep us Safe
In late 2022, the city of Winnipeg was shaken after learning the deaths of four Indigenous women, Morgan Beatrice Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois, and Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman), were all linked to the one serial killer. While family members and the community processed the intense grief of the news, Winnipeg Police Services admitted to having reason to believe that the bodies of some of these women were disposed of at a landfill after partial remains of one of the women were found in June. The police believe the crimes took place between March and May of 2022. 

Despite having this knowledge, WPS adamantly refused to search either of the two landfills in the Winnipeg area and bring the bodies of these women home so families could properly put them to rest, claiming that too much time had passed. The police, with their abundance of capacity and resources, went on the public record and suggested that Indigenous women’s bodies are not worth their time and money to locate.

If we, as Indigenous people, as a community, ever needed yet another reminder that police won’t keep us safe, this was it.

Krista Stelkia writes, “The notion of police being there to serve and protect in times of need often does not apply to Indigenous, Black or other racialized minorities in Canada. The notion of ‘help’ more often resembles harm.” And she is right. After blatant disregard for the missing and murdered women and their families from WPS, it was community members who stepped up to show support and have since assembled an occupation camp next to the landfill’s main entrance. The camp, named Camp Morgan after Morgan Harris, has received no help from the City of Winnipeg or WPS, but instead, has stayed afloat with support of the community delivering firewood and supplies. More recently, the group invited community members to hang red dresses around the 790-hectare landfill. Since the call out, well over 100 dresses now honour missing and murdered loved ones.

Photograph by Troy Watt of red dresses hung at Camp Morgan.

The inaction from WPS and the City of Winnipeg, and nearly three months delay from the federal government for search support, is another reminder that it is often the community that steps up in moments of crisis. We would be better equipped to build community networks rooted in safety and care if municipal, provincial, and federal governments adequately funded and stabilized support for mental health resources, harm reduction facilities, affordable housing options, accessible and free transit, and nutritional food options. 

Instead, in Winnipeg, police have expanded their security measures in public libraries, liquor stores, and grocery stores; in Toronto, we are seeing police funding increase requests for more presence on transit; and in Vancouver, there is an expansion of reinstating police officers in schools

We know that higher police budgets do not increase safety, yet, we are witnessing greater police presence in libraries while they refuse to search landfills; an increase in policing in schools when evidence has revealed that this does not make Black and Indigenous students feel safe; and an increase of police on public transit while dropping temperatures have left many people who experience houselessness out in the cold as Toronto city council reject the expansion of warming shelters.

The ever-growing presence of policing in public spaces often means an increase in salary costs and overtime, which eventually leads to municipal budget increases for police services while actively draining funds from community supports that actually would contribute to lower crime rates.

Breaking up with the Cops
It is time to have a pressing conversation about cops’ inability to “serve and protect” us. Our efforts are best spent actively working towards the possibility of a healthier, well-supported community that enables us to have our needs fully met and the opportunity to look after one another.

Justice is best achieved under the direction of families affected by MMIWG2S+. And as for the family members set up at the Brady Landfill in Winnipeg, they say the camp will remain until both major landfills are searched thoroughly and their missing loved ones are located and properly put to rest.

Our due diligence as a community — should we want to imagine a future free of policing — is to step up to calls to justice that come directly from these families.

We have an extensive history of cops getting involved in injustices faced by Indigenous and racialized people only to complicate things further, bringing more pain to those in crisis. Indigenous peoples are experts in their own experiences, and it’s about time those experiences exclude the presence of police.

Justice for Morgan Beatrice Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Contois, and Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman). And justice for all MMIWG2S+.


Photograph by Troy Watt of flag displayed at Camp Morgan. Citation: Longman, Nickita. “MMIWG2S+ and the Failure of Policing” Yellowhead Institute. 14 February 2023.

Image Credit: Troy Watt

Troy Watt is a Two-Spirited Indigenous queer artist from Gods Lake Narrows First Nations who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Treaty 1 Territory. Their main art focus is photography, while also exploring other art forms such as painting and drag.


The post MMIWG2S+ and the Failure of Policing appeared first on Yellowhead Institute.

Categories: E1. Indigenous

Constitutional Crisis at the Métis Nation of Alberta

Thu, 02/09/2023 - 06:46

What the heck is going on with our constitution?

In November of last year, the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) voted to adopt an “Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution,” and overwhelmingly so, with 97% in support. While just 30% of the total 56,000 strong members voted, the MNA has taken this as a mandate to pursue Métis self-government and even a modern treaty in the province. 

And yet, questions and concerns about the process linger. Indeed, this article came about because of the disconnect between these results and what I was experiencing on the ground. In the lead-up to the vote, I saw aggressive marketing from the MNA encouraging me to vote “yes,” but when I asked my friends how they were planning to vote or what the implications of a “yes” or “no” vote would be — particularly for our broader community including settlements and historic communities — nobody could tell me. Nobody knew. The mass ignorance felt vaguely engineered before I could adequately inform myself, my ballot languishing on the bedroom floor well past the deadline.

However, knowing what I know now, I am ultimately relieved that I didn’t participate in this circus. The process by which this constitution was ratified, and the potential ramifications, especially as they pertain to the rights of settlements and other historic communities, lead me to ask whether this constitution is a move toward — or away — from a meaningful trajectory toward self-government.

Who Speaks for Métis in Alberta?

The central focus of the new MNA constitution is a proposal for the “streamlining” of the federal consultation processes and to effectively become the only negotiating body for Métis in Alberta. Put another way, the organization would seek to become the de facto and exclusive consultation rights holder under s. 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act. This intent is sought in the current wording of both the MNA bylaws and the Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution. Section 2 declares that “The Métis Nation within Alberta is an indivisible, indissoluble, and united Métis collectivity that is an inseparable and distinct part of the Métis Nation. This section of the constitution cannot be amended.” Section 16 indicates that the MNA will assume responsibility for “negotiation, on behalf of the Métis Nation within Alberta, of a modern-day treaty relationship with the Crown through a land claims agreement or other arrangements as called for and contemplated within the meaning of section 35(3) of the Constitution Act, 1982.”

The MNA is the most recent Métis organization to move in this direction. The Métis Nation of Saskatchewan and the Métis Nation of Ontario negotiated their respective organizations’ right to self-governance with the Crown. In the case of the MNA, it was made official with the MNA-Canada Métis Government Recognition and Self-Government Agreement (MGRSA) in 2019.

But the MNA’s claim to represent all Métis within Alberta has been greeted with swift and intense criticism from many historic Métis communities and settlements, some that have their own independent governance structures and consider this constitution tantamount to a hostile takeover.

In fact, when the draft constitution was released and the vote announced, several historic communities filed a statement of claim against the MNA, citing a “shared concern that the MNA’s proposed ‘Otipemisiwak Métis Government Constitution’ seeks to illegitimately grant a partisan organization the authority to represent our communities, despite our repeated insistence that the MNA does not represent our respective members.”¹

A common misconception about the MNA is that it is an interchangeable term for the Métis Nation proper, but the MNA is only one representative body (albeit the largest) of Métis in Alberta. Our Métis Nation is really a composite of connected-but-distinct communities with their own representative bodies, such as locals, community associations, settlement councils, and so on. Many of these communities were founded under the scrip system², while others have been occupied by our ancestors much longer. In any case, they are as much “their own bosses” as the rest of us.³

Reflecting on the emergence of the organization in late 1920s, the MNA (then known as the Métis Association of Alberta) was considered a rough-hewn grassroots initiative founded by socialists with an eye to Métis liberation and solidarity between what MAA co-founder James Brady referred to as the “progressive” and “nomadic” classes within our community. These classes were conceptualized as being stratified geographically, with “progressives” settling primarily in urban areas and having access to more economic resources, and historical communities making up the “nomadic” population.4 As time has progressed and the profile of Metis in the provincial public consciousness has risen, the MNA has become more corporate in its governance structure, and correspondingly, financial resources have risen significantly.5 The new lodge and headquarters at Métis Crossing are lavish6, a visual signifier of the increasing economic abundance and political legitimacy. 

But at what cost? This is not merely a financial question: who is being lost in this “progress”? Where are our kin? Who is not here? What is missing?7

I am concerned that the MNA constitution is attempting to codify a corporate, homogenous, “progressive” mythic national identity. It is a form of White Paper liberalism, wherein a centralized definition of “national identity” will certainly come to erase others, particularly our kin, from historical communities that are already economically and politically marginalized by settler society. 

Do you Support the New MNA Constitution: Yes or Yes?

We see how far Métis political organizations have fallen in an examination of the constitution ratification process. There was no balance in the conversation; MNA pushed a massive “Vote Yes” marketing campaign with very little discussion of any drawbacks, concerns, or limitations — and with a lack of transparency around funding for the campaign. In my view, the MNA created the appearance of fostering debate by providing citizens with “town halls” to review and ask questions about the constitution, but this debate was in bad faith because it proceeded despite massive outcry from the historic communities and settlements, which the MNA was well aware of during the draft process. The explicit premise underlying the “Vote Yes” campaign material was “either you will vote yes to strengthen our nation, or you will vote no and weaken it.” This ratification vote felt less like a referendum and more like a federal or provincial election, with the MNA senior executive behaving like an incumbent and anyone dissenting or asking questions within the organization feeling like we were an opponent to be defeated in a zero-sum game. 

Despite the headlines of 97% support,8 there is much opposition. In the lead-up to the vote, there were lawsuits by Métis settlements and regional bodies, public disputes in the media, and potential membership attrition from splinter organizations such as the Alberta Métis Federation (which formed, at least in part, in reaction to the constitution controversy). And, worryingly, none of these concerns have yet served to deter the MNA from its dubious course. In preparation for this piece, I spoke to many Métis community members, both on and off-settlement. While I won’t deign to understand the subtleties of our myriad intra-Métis historical relationships, it is achingly clear to me that through its unilateral and federalist behaviour, the MNA has been in breach of its original intent to “provide unified political advocacy on behalf of Métis communities in the face of Crown intransigence.”9 Is this what unified political advocacy looks like — being taken to court by your own people because you just won’t listen, so they have to sue you to get you to cooperate? I am as much in favour of Métis self-governance as the next Métis person, but I don’t want consultation rights at the expense of others.

The MNA has forgotten its political predecessors, its kin, and its responsibilities as an Indigenous government. We have natural laws such as kinship, reciprocity, and humility that are supposed to be guiding our conduct.

Métis communities in Alberta exist in spite of incredible odds, and we should be doing everything we can to bolster, centre and empower them — not override their rights and speak for them. I do not consent to this unilateral approach. I do not consent to our internal funds being weaponized against our settlement kin. I do not consent to the hurling of their consultation rights against the courthouse wall just to see what sticks.10

Finally, I definitely do not endorse the MNA’s generally paternalistic, condescending attitude toward these self-governing communities, as reflected in the constitution and other peripheral documents and statements. Section 19.3 of the constitution pompously declares that “the Métis settlements exist for the benefit of all Métis in Alberta.” This is a completely backward notion according to our natural laws of humility and kinship. The settlements and historic communities do not exist for the MNA’s benefit; we exist for each other! 

I can say with confidence that in this and in a growing number of respects: the MNA does not speak for me. 

Despite the MNA’s best efforts to centralize consultation, many communities already hold their own consultation agreements with the Crown, independent of the MNA, and many others are seeking similar direct negotiation rights, to the MNA’s dismay. A recent court decision has upheld off-settlement consultation rights for now, but it remains to be seen how the constitution will affect the future of these Aboriginal rights for both settlement and non-settlement communities.

Yelling Self-Government

This document, in its current form, constitutes a tyranny of the majority, and I want no part of it. Referring to Justice Feehan’s quote in the aforementioned statement of claim brought against the MNA by a group of Métis communities in November, “the MNA [can]not claim legitimacy to speak on behalf of all Métis simply by writing bylaws that express this claim.”11 It’s like that scene from “The Office” when Michael, overwhelmed by consumer debt and advised to declare bankruptcy, proceeds to walk out of his office and yell, “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY,” at which point Oscar has to come in and gently remind him that you can’t just declare bankruptcy by yelling it. If you want the right to speak for your entire community, your entire community has to give that right to you willingly. The MNA does many good things for the Métis in Alberta and is an important part of our Métis governance ecosystem. But as the MNA forgets it is just one part of a broader Métis community, it is well on its way to forgetting itself, too.


1 Re: Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) constitution. Statement of claim to the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations from November 4, 2022 on behalf of Fort McKay Métis Nation, Willow Lake Métis Nation, Lakeland Métis Community Association, Athabasca Landing Métis Community, Chard Métis Nation, Owl River Métis Community Association, Cadotte Lake Métis Nation Association, and Lac Ste Anne Métis Community Association.

2 The Métis scrip system was a process by which the federal government exchanged “scrip” (land vouchers) in exchange for the extinguishment of Métis title to their ancestral lands. Scrip claimants had to navigate years of bureaucratic red tape, and the system was notoriously vulnerable to fraud. Most scrip was intercepted by venture capitalists who bought the vouchers well below their value and resold the land or settled it themselves. The families who managed to hold on to their scrip allotments and actually settle their land– a truly almost incomprehensible feat– are to be lauded. These territories became known as the “settlements.” 

3 Our prairie nickname is opitisimewak — “the people who are their own bosses.”

4 Swain, M. Victim of Deceit and Self-Deceit: The Role of the State in Undermining Jim Brady’s Radical Métis Socialist Politics, p. 42-43

5 Public facing financial reports are extremely hard to find. However, Métis Crossing has at least five corporate extractive industry sponsors including Husky, Pembina, TC, Cenovus and Enbridge. https://Mé

6 This observation is in no way meant to disparage the phenomenal work of Métis architect Tiffany Shaw. This is a question of resourcing, which is aimed strictly at the MNA.

7 I received this teaching from Kehteya Bob Cardinal from Enoch Cree Nation. This is not to suggest that he endorses or agrees with the views expressed in this piece, but I have been engaged in a process of learning from him and he tells me to always ask patahenow kikway oma — “what are we forgetting/leaving out/missing?”

8 See appended images. Moreover, the “97 per cent” claim is a misleading statistic, because less than half of our MNA membership actually voted. The number of participants was about 16 000 members. So the votes in favour actually amounted to about 30 per cent of our population in favour.

9 Lavoie, “the right to be heard,” in Fort Mackay Métis position paper http://fortmckayMéétis-Nation-Consultation-Position-Paper-2021.pdf).

10 In Fort Chipewyan, MNA local 125 was attempting to prove its authority to consult on behalf of the Fort Chipewyan Métis Nation but “the court concluded that a corporate entity with a membership of less than one-fifth of the total population of a rights-bearing group could not claim to be representative of the entire Aboriginal collective for the purpose of asserting Aboriginal rights and seeking consultation.”

11 These communities were comprised of Fort McKay Métis Nation, Willow Lake Métis Nation, Lakeland Métis Community Association, Athabasca Landing Métis Community, Chard Métis Nation, Owl River Métis Community Association, Cadotte Lake Métis Nation Association, and Lac Ste Anne Métis Community Association.

Citation: Simpson-Denig, Wesley. “Constitutional Crisis at the Métis Nation of Alberta.” Yellowhead Institute. 9 February 2023.

Image Credit: Seth Arcand ‎


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Categories: E1. Indigenous

Canada 2030: Drone Colony?

Tue, 01/24/2023 - 01:01

“As I helped my grandmother in the field, I could see and hear the drone hovering overhead […] When the drone fired the first time, the whole ground shook and black smoke rose up. The air smelled poisonous. We ran, but several minutes later the drone fired again […] Now I prefer cloudy days when the drones don’t fly. When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear.” – testimony of 13-year-old Zubair Rehman to US Congress in 2013, about the American drone strike that killed his grandmother Momina Bibi in Pakistan

When it comes to Canada’s plans to acquire its first armed drones, what we do know and what we don’t know both provide cause for alarm. So far, we know that the drones will be equipped to carry at least two “precision-guided” missiles each and cost up to $5 billion in total; that the government expects to award the final contract by 2024 and for the drones to be in full operation by 2030. We do not know what legal restrictions will apply – even in theory – to the drones’ activities inside and outside Canada, or what protections and remedies will be available – even in theory – for the targets. How terrifying, that Canada has managed to provide even less transparency than “the European Union and even the United States […] regarding the law and policy framework for their use of armed drones,” as law professor Craig Martin has pointed out. And yet, these plans are being permitted to unfold with minimal outcry and scrutiny.   

In the government’s 2016 Letter of Interest (LOI) to potential suppliers, a sample series of future anticipated drone use “scenarios” are described. Chillingly, in these scenarios the many faces of Canadian state violence are masqueraded as exercises of virtue: anti-Indigenous dispossession, anti-migrant border enforcement, international policing, domestic policing, war.

“Arctic Sortie” (meaning: Asserting Settler Arctic Sovereignty)

Drone launched from a base in Inuvik, to monitor and ensure military rescue assistance for an environmentalist ship convoy as it crosses the Northwest Passage “to highlight the state of the world’s oceans and the impact climate change is having on our planet.”

Perversely, the ecocide unleashed by colonial extractivism on water and land is now cited to justify drone colonization of the skies. From the Ekati mine to Enbridge pipelines – the destruction wrought by settler “resource” exploitation rationalizes increased surveillance in the name of environmental monitoring, enabling further exploitation: a vicious colonial circle. Tired of oil spills tarring the image of your tar sands? Too many fish deaths damning your dam? Try greenwashing 2.0: drone-washing, for all your “environmental protection” needs! Simultaneously, these drones depicted as implements of environmentalism are also deployed to ruthlessly suppress Indigenous nations’ own land and water defence – whether at Unist’ot’en Camp or at Standing Rock, where pipeline resisters were not only subjected to police aerial surveillance and assault, but criminally charged for using drones themselves to reverse the gaze. Some writers now critique drones’ presence in North America for bringing the domain of war into the domain of peace; as if these settler states haven’t been zones of war and occupation all along.      

“Security Event West Coast” (read: Surveillance of “Illegal” Migrants)

Drone to covertly track and gather data on “ship carrying approximately 300 illegal migrants […] suspected to be heading to an unknown destination on the west coast of North America.” 

Colonial borders, carved through Indigenous lands, facilitate the flow of state and corporate power while barring the gates to those fleeing their effects. Primary sources of “irregular” migration to Canada include primary sufferers of Canadian international arms dealing, de-democratization, and mining devastation: Haiti, Yemen, Nigeria, Colombia, Sudan. Across the ocean, in “Cyber-Fortress” Europe, drones have emerged as a favourite mechanism for exerting human powers of border surveillance, without incurring human obligations to rescue seafarers in distress – a way of keeping an eye on migrants from a distance as they struggle and drown. Or if they survive, to severely criminalize them using drone footage as “evidence.” Meanwhile, the same corporations enriched by fuelling conflict and ecological breakdown in the Global South now make a second killing, from arming the borders against the displaced and dispossessed. This border violence is predicated on epistemic violence: the persistent erasure of Indigenous practices of international relations challenging state boundaries and the brutality through which they are sustained.

“Expeditionary Maritime Sortie” (a.k.a. “Armed Reconnaissance” of Somali “Pirates”)

Hellfire missile-armed drones deployed to protect oil tankers and other “large merchant vessels” in “counter piracy operation” off the Horn of Africa/Somali coast. 

While borders are made impermeable to the most precarious, drone power travels across oceans and continents unchecked. Don’t come to Canada, Canada’s drones will come to you. From Canada to  Somalia, Indigenous responses to violence are treated as the source of violence, securing the means for colonial plunder to persist. Somali “pirates” are a product of international depredation of Somalia’s waters, exploited as an “aqua nullius” from which unregulated foreign fishing trawlers extract massive catches – three times more than impoverished Somali fishers – while toxic industrial and nuclear waste is freely dumped. These waters are also a vital shipping corridor for the global fossil fuel industry. Drone infrastructure erected by the US in East Africa in the name of countering piracy, originally represented as restricted to unarmed surveillance, has since been turned towards drone-bombing Somalis in the “War on Terror” as well. In less technologically advanced decades, Canadian and American soldiers had to put their boots on the ground to torture and massacre (see: Canada’s 1993 “Somalia Affair”). Now, the atrocities can be conveniently conducted remotely and hands-off. Like other sites of American and Canadian imperial aggression – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – Somalia too has been referred to by soldiers as “Indian country.” It’s a reminder that imperialism, by gun or by drone, starts at “home,” with the occupied air we breathe and the colonized land beneath our feet.

“Domestic Overland Sortie” (in other words: Policing Anti-Capitalist Protesters)

Drone “tasked to support Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)-led security operations at a G20 Summit,” against protesters and “radical elements” who seek to “exploit the presence of international media to further their anti-capitalist cause.” For example, thanks to drone surveillance, activists attempting to “hang a banner concerning global warming” are “intercepted.” 

Key to upholding this fundamentally unjust economic, political, and legal order is the “pacification,” i.e. violent subjugation, of resistance. Armed drones would supplement and augment the means of repression honed by Canadian cops at the previous Toronto G20 and other policing opportunities such as homeless encampments, where protesters and encampment residents have been brutalized by police assault rifles, chemical weaponry, mounted cavalry, and “kettling” – caging – en masse. As political theorist Mark Neocleous reminds us, these are not aberrations but an expression of policing’s original function: the offensive defence of capitalism and private property, whether in stolen Indigenous lands (eg. the RCMP) or stolen enslaved lives (eg. “fugitive” slave patrols). 

“Expeditionary Strike Sortie” (translation: Targeted Killing in Afghanistan) 

Drone “spots a group of three Fighting Aged Males (FAMs) standing near a long wall close to the road that the [occupation coalition] convoy is traveling on […] One of the three FAMs appears to be holding a small radio or cell phone in his hand […] It appears on the camera that there is a shovel leaning against the wall. This is reported [and] the three FAMs are now labelled as combatants. The legal and controlling agency authorize the use of force […] The [operator] launches a GBU49 [missile].”     

This hypothetical killing casually described in a government procurement document – in which the victims are marked for extermination on no basis other than their ascribed age, gender, location, proximity to a shovel, and possession of a cell phone or radio; in which, effectively, their identities become their death warrants – would undoubtedly be labelled “terrorism” if committed by some “enemy” other. For example, by those same Afghan boys or men on the other side of the bomb.

Here are a few other (non-hypothetical) examples of drone strikes against “fighting aged males”:

“Daraz Khan [and] two others […] had walked 10 miles up into the snowy mountains to collect scrap metal. The day promised only modest reward, not much more than 40 or 50 cents each for a camel’s load of twisted steel, but enough to make a difference for three families living on the edge of subsistence […] The missile struck without warning from a clear sky. […] A civilian spokesman for the Pentagon added, ‘We’re convinced that it was an appropriate target,’ although ‘we do not know yet exactly who it was’” (Afghanistan, The New York Times, 2002).

“A US air strike killed a civilian man named Mohamud Salad Mohamud, age 53, at his Masalanja farm […] [His younger brother] described to Amnesty International what he saw at the scene of the attack. ‘When we arrived at the farm, we saw blood all over the place, especially near the irrigation canal and near the banana trees. His body was cut into pieces. I recognized his face and his left leg. I collected the pieces of his body parts and flesh and put them into a sack.’ […] Relatives and colleagues of Mohamud said they were not contacted by any official to explain what happened or offer compensation” (Somalia, Amnesty International, 2020).

“Adel Al Manthari’s body was ravaged. His entire left side was burned […] The U.S. military claimed that Al Manthari and the others in the vehicle were ‘terrorists’ from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but independent inquiries said otherwise […] While the U.S. has millions of dollars in funds earmarked for civilian victims of U.S. attacks, the military ignored pleas on Al Manthari’s behalf, leaving the 56-year-old to rely on a GoFundMe campaign earlier this year to save his life” (Yemen, The Intercept, 2022).

And then, there are all the mass drone killings of women and young children – misidentified as “fighting aged males,” through drone cameras the US military boasts can “spot a terrorist from 20,000 feet.”  Of course, the “errors” are only detected after the slaughter is already complete.

With drones, the principle of unilateral application of terror – christened in the colonial air-war massacres and torture chambers of earlier centuries – is elevated to new levels of perfection. Drones permit their wielders to inflict death and surveillance, while remaining absolutely invulnerable and invisible themselves.

What can one do, in the face of faceless violence? (Perhaps invest in some of the drone surveillance-blocking “burqas” sold by an American artist for over US$2000 a pop. Orientalist stereotypes included.) In the US, not a single drone death has been prosecuted. At best, the bereaved families may receive a couple of thousand dollars in “condolence” payments as the price of a taken life – in contrast to the $1.3-million paid by the US government when a European aid worker was accidentally struck. 

Colonial states reap the profits of these experiments in mechanized domination at least twice over. Once, from the ongoing accumulation by dispossession they enable. And again, from selling the technological fruits to other buyers. The candidate models for Canada’s armed drone force, for example, are General Atomics’ MQ-9 SkyGuardian – successor to the infamous Predator and Reaper, pioneering agents of US terror from Afghanistan to Somalia to Standing Rock – and L3 Technologies’/Israeli Aerospace Industries’ Heron – marketed as “battle-tested” on Palestinians trapped in the open-air prisons of their occupied lands.   

And yet, bizarrely, it is those on the receiving end of colonial violence who are condemned and criminalized for waging “asymmetric” warfare. Their stone-throwing and slogan-shouting is prohibited as “terrorism,” their presence on their own ancestral lands is proscribed as “trespass” and “belligerence,” even their starvation and deaths are aspersed as aggressive “PR stunts.” Conversely, the high-tech tortures and “precision” carnage of the powerful are heralded (by themselves) as acts of benevolence – undertaken, in the recent words of one leading American taser manufacturer promoting taser-firing drones as the solution to school shootings, “because we care.”  

Resisting armed drones means resisting not only the instruments of violence themselves, but also the underlying “hierarchy of being.”

The hierarchy that reduces people born on the wrong side of the colour-line or the border-line to “pirates,” “illegals,” and “terrorists” in life, and to anonymized statistics and mutilated body parts – a shattered face, a dismembered left leg – in death; mere “lumps” and “ants” to be annihilated, which is how drone operators have said their human prey appear through the machine-eye of the drone. We know that these colonial ways of carving up the world are potent and insidious, because they sometimes seep into our resistance as well: when we separate violence “over here” from violence “out there,” injury and terror against “us” versus against “them.”        

For us to truly see and hear and know one another, for us to grieve and organize together, across the lines constructed to divide us – this is a powerful force of its own. Another term for it is love. A love that doesn’t narrow and “privatize” our ambit of care, but expands it; a love that manifests itself as justice (Cornel West), as revolution (Assata Shakur), as decolonization (Leanne Betasamosake Simpson), as “the practice of freedom” (bell hooks). A love that builds movements as deeply interconnected and mutually supporting as the forms of oppression and brutalization we confront: from Secwepemc territory to Standing Rock to Somalia, from Haiti to Haudenosaunee 1492 Land Back Lane, from the Arctic to Afghanistan to Anishinaabe-aki. 

And so, here’s another hypothetical “scenario,” an alter-scenario – a love story for a possible future, one radically different from that depicted in the Canadian government’s drone purchase LOI.

Sky Back  

Having restored right relations between humans and with other-than-human animals, air, plants, waters, and land, the “need” for drone war-police withered away. Few remember anymore how gruelling the struggle was, to shut down the drone profiteers and redirect resources towards supporting our collective survival and making reparations to those who had been harmed; a struggle that many at the time said was impossible, unthinkable, naive. Now, looking back so many decades later, it seems impossible that things ever could have gone any other way. Certainly, aside from the widely reviled Make America Drone Again Faction (MAD AF-ers), almost everybody imagines they would have been part of the anti-drone resistance, if they even think about that period at all. Elders and history books tell the stories of that other, nightmare time: that time when economic and political systems predicated on mass immiseration and extraction enforced themselves with weapons of mass destruction, and those fleeing the ravages were punished and left to drown in poisoned seas. How backwards, how barbaric! People know in their brains that this is how the world once was, but it’s difficult to believe – a ghostly memory of death buzzing in the sky. 

For future updates and organizing to resist Canada’s armed drones purchase:

Citation: Kanji, Azeezah. “Canada 2030: Drone Colony?” Yellowhead Institute. 24 January 2023.

Image credit: James Bridle

The post Canada 2030: Drone Colony? appeared first on Yellowhead Institute.

Categories: E1. Indigenous

Accountability Mechanisms for Child Welfare Advocacy: An Interview with Naiomi Metallic

Thu, 01/12/2023 - 06:33

In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that Canada discriminated against First Nations children by knowingly and chronically underfunding child welfare services, and failing to meet Jordan’s Principle. Some changes have occurred as a result, but this required going back to the Tribunal over 20 more times, and there are still outstanding questions about compensation from the ruling and long-term reform. Meanwhile, in 2019 the Federal Government passed An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, designed to empower communities to re-assume child welfare jurisdiction and impose national minimum standards to protect children and families in provincial systems in the meantime. But communities are still struggling to realize the promise of these changes, with disputes still common. In an effort to resolve these conflicts, Naiomi Metallic co-wrote a proposal for the Dept. of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) called “Doing Better for Indigenous Children and Families: Jordan’s Principle Accountability Mechanisms.” This interview offers an overview of that proposal, its rationale, and potential outcomes. 

Hayden King: It seems like child welfare legislation and policy is sort of the crux of this government’s record on Indigenous issues. We have a really important court case being heard at the Supreme Court around self-government in relation to child welfare, and maybe generally, and we also have the settlement agreement which has ultimately led to a breakdown in the relationship between the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the Caring Society in Canada. So I wanted to ask, at the outset, where are we at in child welfare in Indian country right now? What are you seeing across the country in terms of the actual implementation of this legislation?

Naiomi Metallic: It’s a really fascinating time, and I think the trajectory is a good one, although never perfect. We have the court case, which has so many layers to it, and so many questions, and I don’t think the Supreme Court will be able to answer them all. Nor do I think it necessarily should at this point, either. So there is that. There are communities that are passing their own laws right now, and some that have been in place for about over a year. It’s a mixed reaction in terms of the provinces. We have Quebec’s saying the legislation is unconstitutional, while B.C. has changed its own provincial legislation to accommodate First Nations in light of C92. And Alberta is just like, “No, we don’t want to deal with any of this. We’re pretending it doesn’t exist.” So all of these communities are moving forward but the legal architecture is still a bit of a mess — not a mess in a bad way; it’s like a mess that is propelling us in a better direction.

Kelsi Balaban:  We want to get into the specific barriers faced in the child welfare system that might help communities as they work through the inconsistencies. You’ve written this report on accountability, of course, and the need for independent accountability mechanisms. First, can you tell us what is an accountability mechanism?

Naiomi Metallic: Yeah, it’s a broad concept. Essentially, it refers to various mechanisms that allow for government institutions to be monitored and held accountable for their actions. Norms or standards may not have been followed, like human rights standards, or the norms of the Department of Indigenous Services Act or constitutional standards or UNDRIP.

Mechanisms are ways to make sure governments do the things they should and are caught when they’re doing things they shouldn’t. You can have a whole spectrum of mechanisms that speak to accountability.

This can include data gathering of government activities, monitoring how a service is delivered. There can be internal accountability mechanisms, whistleblower legislation, or somebody internally who’s a human rights champion that you go to with concerns. If there’s something going wrong internally within an institution, somebody can raise a complaint or concern. Somebody can look into it, and there’s a resolution. We say in the report that given Canada’s (and the provinces’) track record on services for First Nations’ children and families, we need more than this. We need external accountability bodies. 

External accountability is where the oversight body is arms-length from the government. In this model there are different layers of oversight. Some can have softer oversight powers where they’ll talk to the institution and have the authority to work out issues. They might have the authority to ask for information and data and not have it be withheld, and make recommendations up the chain of command. This is the sort of work an ombudsperson often does. We call for this in the report, but we also call for a Tribunal as well. Independent tribunals exist to hear complaints and can make decisions that bind the government to take action.   

In the report, we say that some sort of ombuds body is needed (we call it an Advocate so that it’s clear that it can advocate on behalf of Indigenous children and families, but it is a form of ombuds), as well as a Tribunal.

Hayden King: As I was reading the report, I was like, okay, all of these seem to be ways to address but also mitigate conflict. Is it the case that C-92 is just so imperfect that we have all these potential sources of conflict that need to be addressed through accountability processes? Or is this something that is common to legislation?

Naiomi Metallic: Whenever governments provide any services, it’s possible for there to be conflict and complaints. And it’s normal to have external accountability bodies to oversee government actions. Ombuds and other accountability bodies already exist for provincial services and for some federal services, but nothing exists for oversight of ISC. In all likelihood, this lack of oversight facilitated the discrimination that was found by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal against ISC. 

C-92 is the first piece of legislation attempting to address short-comings in Indigenous child welfare, which, actually, is not perfect at all – it’s unclear on federal funding obligations, for example. But it nonetheless provides some internal accountability on the feds as well as the provinces in terms of child welfare services. We suggest in our report that C92 should be one of the laws overseen by the accountability bodies that we’re recommending. But, recall, our report is not just about C92, it’s about accountability on Jordan’s Principle and services to Indigenous children and families more broadly.

For the longest time, there has been no legislated standards to hold ISC accountable. C92 is a start, but it doesn’t cover the field by a long-shot. There is a lot more we need to see for real accountability.

Now, in the recent Department of Indigenous Services Act, some delivery standards are laid out and can be used to hold ISC more accountable, but for the longest time there was nothing. And when there is nothing, it’s really hard to hold the government accountable. So actually, I think legislation is helpful. Legislation can be a mechanism for accountability in itself, because it has standards upon which you can point to very directly and say you must do X or Y.

Every province has their own child welfare legislation, and almost every province has a child advocate, or an Ombudsman, to hear complaints and act as a sort of accountability mechanism. But in the process of government institutions carrying out their day-to-day functions, there will be conflicts, there will be issues, and there will be mistakes. In ISC’s case, add over 150 of colonialism, paternalism and the Indian Act to the mix, and the chances of problems is that much higher.  And so it’s a way of holding the machines of a government to account — short of having to go all the way to court. It’s a faster, cheaper, easier, more accessible way for people to do this. That model exists in every province for every provincial child welfare. But the problem is, there’s nothing for ISC or at the federal level, and that’s actually a big gap. Canada acts like it’s normal, but it’s a massive gap. 

Kelsi Balaban: That’s a really helpful breakdown. So, you’re talking about these gaps in standards that are there right now and some accountability needs. Can you elaborate on what those needs are and how we can address those needs through accountability mechanisms?

Naiomi Metallic: Yeah. Well, I guess the thing is that for the longest time, when ISC has made any decision — and they make so many decisions that really impact the lives of First Nations people — there has been virtually no recourse. So, sticking with the example of children and families, ISC provides social assistance (basic income for families), assisted living services, child welfare services, housing, and other essential services. They don’t provide anywhere near the level of funding or services that citizens in the provinces take for granted. So there’s another big gap. And then you ask for a service, which your neighbour off-reserve gets, but you’re denied. What is your recourse? Except for going to court or to the human rights commission, there isn’t any. That’s not normal. 

A lot of this has to do with Jordan’s Principle, the idea that the federal and provincial governments should not be denying services based on fighting over who pays for First Nations. Dr. Cindy Blackstock and Caring Society has been fulfilling an advocacy role, I’d say, since the Tribunal Rulings to ensure governments are fulfilling their obligations under Jordan’s Principle. They help children, families and communities fight for services when these have been denied. They ask questions of ISC, poke and prod them on the reasons for denials, they get pro-Bono lawyers involved, and are prepared to take matters to court or human rights if needed.  It’s amazing that the Caring Society does this, but, at the same time, deeply concerning that children and families have to go to these lengths to get basic services that everybody else gets to take for granted. 

That raises a whole problem about ISC’s approach to Jordan’s Principle. Jordan’s Principle is just a band-aid for a gap that was recognized by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal — that all of ISC’s services for families and children are underfunded and underserviced. Jordan’s Principle requires ISC to fill those gaps individually as people come to ask for them. But that is not the long-term solution to the bigger problem; the long-term solution is to fix those programs to ensure they meet the substantive equality needs of children and families. Jordan’s Principle program is only a short term solution; it is wrong for ISC to think otherwise. 

Part of the problem here is also the culture of bureaucracies. At ISC, there are levels of racism and ignorance but also a desire to do good. People get so wrapped up in this system and following policies and funding authorities, that they fail to see how their own individual actions impact First Nations children and families — some of the most vulnerable people in Canada. It’s almost like a gravitational pull. People may have gone into public service with the best of intentions but then find themselves as a cog in the wheel. And in an environment where there’s all these other issues — colonialism, racism, paternalism —  there’s just all this stuff that’s been stewing at ISC for ages. 

Hayden King: Yes, absolutely. There is a certain path dependency at ISC as well, where anything resembling a new precedent is terrifying. But that’s exactly what we’re talking about there a model for concrete change. So can you tell us about the accountability mechanisms you’ve proposed? Because it’s not just one accountability mechanism; we’re talking about three accountability mechanisms.

Naiomi Metallic: We’ve proposed three accountability mechanisms: a Tribunal, Child Advocate, and National Legal Services for Indigenous Families.

Initially, we thought of proposing a tribunal as the sole accountability mechanism. However, once you have a tribunal at play, everything gets very adversarial very quickly. People dig in. They don’t talk; they don’t share. You’re just putting everything in front of this decision-maker. And we’re still in a world where things are extremely unbalanced when it comes to litigation. The government has unlimited funds from taxpayer dollars to fight lawsuits. And First Nations communities and the individuals do not and often find themselves buried in court procedures that they cannot afford. So other options are required. 

Still, a tribunal is important. There is definitely the need for a body with the power to make binding orders against the government. Look at the impact of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal: we’ve seen how critical that has been because the government gets told to change their ways, and they change a little bit. Having the Tribunal give further rulings after the main 2016 decision to hold Canada in check has been key. It shows the need for ongoing oversight.

The other mechanism we called for was a Child Advocate. Every other province has one, and what they do is soft advocacy, meaning they don’t make binding decisions like the Tribunal, but work behind the scenes to address complaints and problems and encourage change. They have the authority to be able to communicate with the government to compel them, to give them information, to work with them to solve problems. We also suggest that the Child Advocate, when communities and families decide they want to go to the tribunal or the courts or some other forum)\, has the ability to refer them to paid legal services (our third mechanism). This is to address the extreme resource imbalance between government and First Nations when it comes to litigation that I mentioned earlier.

Taken together, we say both the hard advocacy of a tribunal, which can be effective but take longer and be expensive, and the softer advocacy of a Child Advocate to attempt to solve problems informally, as well as make systemic recommendations, are necessary to hold governments accountable in the area of Indigenous child and family services.

We also say these two paths should also remain open; parties can go to the Tribunal at any time, for instance, or try to have the Advocate address their issues. More avenues — and capacity — means greater accountability.

Kelsi Balaban: We started this conversation talking about this being a really interesting and exciting time with a lot of movement forward. And then, throughout this conversation, it’s been illuminated how this history has been really laborious and hard-fought and dependent on the goodwill of the government of the time. What do you expect to happen to the child welfare landscape if we don’t have accountability mechanisms in place?

Naiomi Metallic: One thing I fear is again just returning to the status quo after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ends its supervisory jurisdiction over the Caring Society case, and then starting from scratch when there is backsliding. There have been changes, and I am more hopeful about that, despite the inconsistencies and challenges remaining.

But we need these accountability pathways. Even though Dr. Cindy Blackstock and her wonderful band of volunteer lawyers do amazing advocacy on a shoestring budget, this is not sustainable, nor is meeting all the needs. The other existing forums–provincial child advocates, using Canadian and provincial human rights when available, have their limitations, as we discuss in the report. That’s why we wanted a one-stop shop in the form of the Child Advocate/Ombuds and Tribunal. 

I hadn’t talked about it too much, but the three mechanisms we discussed would have jurisdiction both over the federal government and the provinces. Many provinces’ ombuds are doing enough on Indigenous issues, and, in Canada, it’s a weird anomaly that there is no way to bring both the federal and provincial governments before the same human rights body at the same time. Such siloing just exacerbates the Jordan’s Principle problem.

So, without these changes, it just means more of the status quo. It’ll mean no oversight of ISC; it’ll mean uncertainty when a new government gets elected. And it will mean Dr. Blackstock and others will have to continue these fights indefinitely with limited capacity. Children and families will continue to fall through the cracks.

Citation: Balaban, Kelsi-Leigh and Hayden King. “Accountability Mechanisms for Child Welfare Advocacy: An Interview with Naiomi Metallic” Yellowhead Institute. 12 January 2022.

Image: Victoria Ransom

The post Accountability Mechanisms for Child Welfare Advocacy: An Interview with Naiomi Metallic appeared first on Yellowhead Institute.

Categories: E1. Indigenous

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