CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group

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FNSWG 2008 Report

Report of the CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group to the 2009 AGM

by Tom Keefer and Tyler McCreary (Working Group Co-ordinators)

The First Nations Solidarity Working Group was created as a CUPE 3903 working group at our March 2007 AGM. The mandate of the working group is as follows:

1. To educate and organize the CUPE 3903 membership about issues relating to matters of indigenous sovereignty and solidarity and to encourage membership participation both within the working group and the local on this issue.

2. To work within and to help build rank and file networks of union activists working on issues of indigenous solidarity and solidarity.

3. To co-ordinate efforts in support of indigenous sovereignty with other local, regional and national (union and non-union) projects in support of indigenous sovereignty and solidarity.

4. To actively participate in supporting indigenous struggles such as (but not limited to) the Six Nations struggle to reclaim the Haldimand Tract.

In the second year of the working group’s existence, we have continued to be quite active, primarily in supporting the struggle at Six Nations and in working closely with the Haudenesaunee Men’s Fire at Six Nations. Unfortunately, working group activity largely ceased during the strike and resulted in us losing some momentum, but things are now picking up again with a variety of new initiatives on the horizon. There are currently 30 formal members of the working group and about a dozen active members. The working group plans to meet monthly, so if you would like to get involved, please e-mail tomkeefer@gmail.com to get added to our mailing list.

Working Group Activities

Although the land claim struggle and Six Nations has generally moved to Brantford as conflict over development has intensified there, California remains an important flashpoint. Following OPP aggression against the Mohawks of Tyendinaga in April of 2008, people from Six Nations blockaded the Highway 6 bypass near Caledonia. Members of the working group were present on the barricades, produced a short five minute video update of the action that was distributed online, and also contributed several hundred dollars in food and supplies for the action. See http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=-3174571808308323266 for the video.

On May 10, the working group organized an event entitled “Building Solidarity Across Struggles: A Conference on Supporting the Struggles of the People of Six Nations.” The half day conference was held in conjunction with the Black Action Defense Committee and the Anarchist Black Cross Federation – Toronto Chapter. The event included film screenings of several short films on the Six Nations reclamation, a panel of Six Nations community members (Wes Elliott, Ruby Monture, Melissa Elliott, Doreen Silversmith) who provided context and background information about the struggle of Six Nations, a panel discussing the role of non-natives support for Six Nations including Chris Harris from the Black Action Defense Committee, Joanne Webb of the CUPE National Aboriginal Council, and Tom Keefer from the CUPE 3903. The final panel focused on issues of incarceration and resistance and included a statement from former Black Panther party member and political prisoner Robert Seth Hayes on the Six Nations struggle, as well as panelists Skyler Williams (a former Six Nations political prisoner), Sarah Dover (a lawyer for Six Nations activists) and Sara Falconer (of the Anarchist Black Cross). The venue was filled to capacity and was successful in providing a space for members of the local and interested community activists to find out more about the struggle of Six Nations and the opportunities for being involved in solidarity work.

One of the most significant areas of working group activity in 2008 was focused upon organizing the August 2008 Peace and Friendship gathering at Six Nations in coordination with the Haudenesaunee Men’s Fire. The working group was an absolutely central part of organizing this event, and members attended ongoing meetings at the Onondaga language center in Six Nations from April until August. One of the most central contributions of the working group was in raising almost $5000 from local trade unions to support the gathering. Contributions were received from locals including: CAW 27, CAW 2458, OPSEU 349, CUPE 3908, CUPE 3902, CUPE 4156, CEP 975, CEP 34, CUPE 4400, CUPE 4207, USW 1998, CUPE 3261, CUPE 2331, and CUPE 2316. Getting this kind of support from local unions was an important way of connecting union struggles to indigenous struggles, and it helped us build the beginnings of a relationship with other locals around supporting indigenous struggles. One major challenge for the working group will be to follow up on these links and to try and bring out actual participation as well as financial support from these locals. The Peace and Friendship gathering itself was a great success, as over 600 people came to a weekend of discussions and workshops on a wide variety of issues relating to indigenous struggles and solidarity building. Organizing for the festival in the four months leading up to it provided an ongoing way for the working group to build relationships with activists in Six Nations and also to connect with other local community organizations.

The other major area of work that the working group has been involved in has been in supporting and working with a group of non-natives solidarity activists in Brantford (Brantford is a town of hundred thousand people adjacent to the Six Nations reserve). The Brantford group, known as the Two Row Understanding through Education (TRUE) has organized regular meetings on a wide Friday of educational events in Brantford that are geared to educating the local non-native population about the real issues behind the lamp. These events have included talks about the local residential school, environmental issues, the history of land claims in Brantford area, and media representations of the conflict. Working group members have been involved in organizational and planning meetings of TRUE and have also attended and spoken at TRUE public events.

In the spring of 2008, the working group applied for and received a $3000 grant from the anarchist Freedonia foundation to support antiracist organizing and non-native communities surrounding Six Nations. So far, $1000 of that grant has been disbursed to TRUE to help cover the cost of their public events while the other $2000 will be spent in 2009. To date, TRUE has held over a dozen events, with the average attendance at meetings being between 100 and 200 people.

Although activities of the working group slowed down during the strike, we were able to invite members from the native youth movement at Six Nations to speak on the picket lines on November 12. These NYM members walked to each picket line and after speaking with strikers gave out warrior and Haudenesaunee Confederacy flags to fly on the lines in solidarity with our struggle. The video of their talk on the Sentinel picketline is available at http://cupestrikevideo.wordpress.com/?s=six+nations

Other activities of the working group involved cosponsoring and organizing the visit of a Solidarity delegation from Venezuela to Six Nations. We also sent a working group member to a weeklong visit in support of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation through a solidarity delegation organized by the Christian Peacemaker Teams. We attended and helped to publicize the “Mother Earth Protectors” sovereignty camp out at Queen’s Park in may of 2008 and also attended the Six Nations Youth Gathering in July of 2008.
We have also continued to work closely with the York Aboriginal Student Association, via their President, Melissa Eliott from Six Nations.

Looking forward to the future:

One recent initiatives of the working group has been to work closely with a variety of different groups in half a dozen cities in southern Ontario to organize a speaking tour of Haudenesaunee Men’s Fire activists to speak about their ongoing efforts to block development in the Brantford area. So far, we have commitments from activists in Brantford, Guelph, Hamilton, Toronto, Kitchener Waterloo, London and Six Nations, to organize a seven city speaking tour in May of 2008. The tour will feature local community activists and Men’s Fire members speaking together on the political issues they face in their struggles.
Another initiative that we are working on is to organize a panel on indigenous Solidarity at this years left forum in New York City which will feature activists from Six Nations.

We are also working with activists from TRUE to build a website/blog to cover news coming out of Six Nations in regards to the ongoing land claim struggles in Brantford as a way to get around the mainstream media’s failure to cover the details of this important struggle. To date, Six Nations community members have stopped over $2 billion worth of development, Haldimand Tract and the struggle is only likely to intensify over the coming months and years.

How to get involved:

The working group will be moving to a schedule of having regular monthly meetings. Our next meeting will be on Tuesday March 17 at the Black Horse (928 Bloor St. Across from the Concorde Café). Please come to the meeting if you’re interested in getting involved with the working group. Or contact us at 3903fnswg@gmail.com . We are also developing the beginnings of a website for the working group at https://3903fnswg.wordpress.com/

November 15, 2009 Posted by | FNSWG Events, reports | Leave a comment