From flickr this photo entitled: John Cutfeet, spokesperson and councilor from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation speaks at Queen’s Park in front of the Ontario Provincial legislative building in Toronto.
I am not sure if he is one of the six incarcerated today on contempt of court charges in connection with protests about Platinex drilling for uranium on land the tribe considers its traditional area. But the picture nicely captures the conflict of cultures.
This case, the jail terms included, captures an incredibly difficult and contentious situation that is critical to mining—and incidentally the honor of the Canadian crown.
Background: Last December, Superior Court Justice Patrick Smith found the six members of the KI First Nation in contempt of a court order dated Oct. 25, 2007. That order had allowed Platinex, a junior exploration company, to proceed with the first phase of its drilling project and prevented KI members from impeding, interfering or obstructing company access to the exploration property near Big Trout Lake, which is not on the KI reserve but is on their traditional lands.
This morning I posted on this blog (just below) an opinion on troubles the Chinese are having with Tibet and its monks who are protesting. I got roundly criticised in the office for my perspective: my critics told me they consider the Canadian jailing of the First Nations six to be of the same order and nature of injustice as the suppression of the Tibetan monks. And they told me I should be protesting injustice at home as well as abroad. They told me that both cases involve an indigenous group whose territory has been invaded and taken over by an alien tribe who now control it for their benefit. In both cases, in their opinion, the natives are being punished for trying to assert their rights.
There is a difference, is my gut instinct. But the counter argument is that the difference is only in the inessential details–and justified only by my western-oriented instinct. I argued that in Canada we have a clear case of violation of the law, a failure to continue to negotiate, and an attempt to turn back the clock of reality. The key are what the judge said in his reasons for sentencing:
“KI has repeatedly and publicly stated its defiance of the order of this court and has stated that it will continue to disobey any court orders allowing Platinex or its representatives to enter onto the property. To allow a breach of an order of this court to occur with impunity by one sector of society will inevitably lead to a breach by others or to the belief that the law is unjustly partial to those who have the audacity or persistence to flout it. If two systems of law are allowed to exist – one for the aboriginals – the rule of law will disappear and be replaced by chaos. The public will lose respect for, and confidence in, our courts and judicial system.”
In isolation, every court must insist on the sanctity of its orders. Thus the fault, if there is one, lies not with the court, but with the system, the laws, and the politics within which the court operates. Just as I am sure the Chinese fellow in charge of calming Tibet is justified in claiming that what he says is to be done, should be done. He is not personally at fault, although it can be argued the systems, the law, and the politics involved are at fault.
My emotion tells me that Tibet should be free, the Chinese are the invaders, and should go home. My emotion is founded on skilfully public relations by the Dalai Lama–and I would like to believe the logic and justice of the issue. But does the same logic and justice apply in Canada? Is it that the KI simply do not have a Dalai Lama to plead their case in the court of public opinion?
This all happened before–more or less–in South Africa when I was growing up. I recall the same arguments–the legal niceties–the discussion of the rights of the original inhabitants versus the rights of the immigrants–the right to protest—the right to jail the intransigent–the opinion of the international community–the right of the United Nations to interfere—and the protests by Canadians who did things so much better and could always tells us how to do it decently. After all , that is why I was proud to come to Canada–to be part of a decent society–and that is why I write this piece—to prompt vigorous debate and discussion—just like we did in South Africa.
I am sure that none of my debate and protest in South Africa achieved anything or changed aught. Similarly with this piece……but then….who knows….no reason not to try.