A conference was held Tuesday at McGill as part of Indigenous Solidarity Week, dealing with “Overcoming Canada’s colonial agenda.” Russell Diabo, a Mohawk policy analyst and editor of the First Nations Strategic Bulletin, spoke along with Kenneth Deer, activist and editor/publisher of the Eastern Door, an independent newspaper serving the Mohawk community of Kahnawake. Deer replaced Arthur Manuel, a spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET), who couldn’t attend because of a family emergency.
The speakers described the history of indigenous relations with the Canadian government and the international political community.
Reading from his newsletter “Canada’s War on First Nations,” Diabo discussed various legislation concerning indigenous people, amendments, and a list of treaties and agreements broken by the Canadian government.
He described Canadian policies as “a legal, political, and fiscal war on First Nations,” and stated that First Nations need to unite and organize in order to overcome their legal and economic disadvantages.
“First Nations need commitment, organization, and discipline,” said Diabo. “The situation is not new. It has been an ongoing problem.”
Deer opened by describing the history of First Nations in international politics, from Iroqouis relations with the League of Nations in 1923 and 1924 to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People adopted in 2007. He also described the solidarity and shared difficulties of indigenous communities around the world.
“All indigenous people have been dispossessed,” said Deer. “We [don’t] speak the same language, but we have the same problems.”
Deer then articulated his personal feelings on Cornwall Island, a part of the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne located on the border of the U.S. and Canada, which was recently vacated by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) after residents protested the arming of CBSA agents at the customs checkpoint located on the island.
“In my opinion, Cornwall [Island] should be an independent Mohawk state,” said Deer. “[But Canada] won’t allow a single square inch of land to return back to the original owners.”
The panel briefly digressed as members of the Kahnawake community attending the conference questioned the panelists on whether they would join the community in blocking the passage of the Olympic Torch through Mohawk land.
“I would support the [Olympic] Torch coming through Kahnawake if it was on Mohawk terms, not Canada’s. If it was on Mohawk terms, it would be an exercise of our sovereignty,” Deer said.