CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group

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2009 Annual Report of the FNSWG

CUPE 3903 FNSWG Report for 2009

Introduction

The CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group was created at the local’s 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 sovereignty 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.

Since its existence, the FNSWG has been one of CUPE 3903’s most active working groups, and has been at the forefront of indigenous solidarity work in southern Ontario. As per its mandate, the main focus of the working group has been on educational activities, building connections with activists within other trade unions and indigenous solidarity groups, and well as working directly with indigenous activists. Although the working group is not exclusively focused on solidarity work with Six Nations, this has for the most part tended to be the indigenous community with which we most closely work. This is due to the following reasons: Six Nations is located less than a one hour drive from Toronto and is the largest indigenous community in Canada; while other solidarity groups in Toronto focus on supporting indigenous communities in Tyendinaga or Barriere Lake, there are no other groups explicitly focusing on Six Nations; Six Nations is also one of the most politically active indigenous communities in the area and there are a variety of grassroots indigenous organizations wanting to build relations with non-native activists. Our working group has been most closely working the Hoskanigetah (the Six Nation’s Men’s Fire) and Young Onkwehonwe United, a youth group on the territory.

The efforts of our working group in the past year can be categorized as follows.

1. Publicizing the day-to-day struggles taking place at Six Nations.

a. The http://www.6nsolidarity.wordpress.com website. The working group has developed the 6nsolidarity website, which serves as an information clearinghouse on Six Nations struggles. Although there are a number of popular websites on Six Nations land issues, the vast majority of these sites are non-native websites highly critical of indigenous land rights. The aim of our website is to provide a source for information coming directly out of Six Nations but also to give our analysis of the conflict and to counter a lot of the right-wing anti-native backlash that is being promoted by the mainstream media.

b. Hoskanigetah Speaking Tour. In the spring of 2009 we organized a major speaking tour of representatives from the Hoskanigetah (the Six Nations Men’s Fire). The speaking tour was aimed at raising awareness about a number of ongoing issues faced by the people of Six Nations including the criminalization of Six Nations land defenders in Brantford, the Brantford city injunction, the efforts of the people of Akwesasne to block the arming of Canadian border guards in their community, and the problems posed by the reopening of the Edwards landfill in Cayuga. The tour went to several different locations in Toronto, as well as Hamilton, Guelph, Ottawa, Montréal, Orangeville, and Kitchener-Waterloo.

c. Brantford TRUE. The working group has built a close relationship with a non-native solidarity organization in Brantford known as Two Row Understanding through Education (TRUE) which has organized over a dozen public talks in Brantford aimed at educating local non-natives about the real situation with the land claims in Brantford. TRUE events are usually attended by between 50 and 100 people, and FNSWG members have attended many of these meetings and been featured as speakers on TRUE panels.

2. Support around specific issues

a. Anti Militia Rally. In June of 2009, some alarming news came out of Caledonia, Ontario, which has been a major flash point between Six Nations and local non-natives since the 2006 reclamation of the Douglas Creek Estates. A grouping of right wing anti-native activists announced that they were holding a public meeting to form a “militia” to carry out “citizen’s arrests” of native people who were “obstructing” property developments on contested lands. On very short notice, the working group sprang into action and organized a major protest of over 200 people opposed to this militia. The efforts of the working group received large amounts of coverage in the press, and we held a very successful event which received a lot of support from both local residents and people from Six Nations. As a result of the protest, and the supportive media coverage, the Caledonia “militia” was discredited. They changed their name to the “Caledonia Peacekeepers” before lapsing into inactivity. The protests saw members of the working group organize with other non-native activists in a variety of different cities.

b. Cayuga Dump. Non-native residents near the town of Cayuga and people from the nearby Six Nations community have long resisted the reopening of the Edwards landfill — a toxic waste dump that contains large amounts of improperly disposed of waste from a nearby resin plant. The working group has produced video reports on the dump and has also worked closely with Six Nations activists from the Hoskanigetah to publicize the issue. The working group has also built relationships with members of the group Haldimand Against land Transfers (HALT) the non-native group that has been spearheading legal resistance to the reopening of the landfill site. As it became more evident that the dump was going to be reopened, working group members participated in the creation of a rapid response network that could bring solidarity activists together with people from Six Nations to non-violently block access to the dump. These actions have so far proved successful, and the dump has yet to be reopened.

c. Brantford Rally for Six Nations Land Rights. The working group played a central role in the launching of the Six Nations Solidarity Network – an organization made up of a number of community groups and trade unions (including several CAW locals, CUPE locals 3903, 3906 and 3902 and members of USW 1005). One of the first initiatives of this network was to organize a public rally in support of Six Nations land rights on November 7, 2009. The rally consisted of a series of presentations from union activists and people from Six Nations about what the issues at stake in Brantford and why they supported Six Nations land rights. The rally attracted about 300 people, garnered significant local press coverage, and strengthened the ties being made between unions, community groups, and the people of Six Nations. The event culminated in a potluck that was attended by over 100 people. Video footage of the event is available on the Six Nations Solidarity Website at http://6nsolidarity.wordpress.com/multimedia/

d. Media Centre. One area of specific support that members of the Hoskanigetah requested has been assistance in setting up an Independent Media Center with computers, an Internet connection, video equipment, etc. that could use to report on their own struggles and better disseminate news and information about their community. The Media Center is envisioned as a place for activists from Six Nations to learn how to build and develop websites, edit video, and design posters and leaflets for their events. The Media Center is housed in one of the community’s central gathering places, the Six Nations council house, which is operated by the Hoskanigetah. The working group has put out a call for donations of computer and video equipment, and is also organizing workshops and training sessions for Six Nations activists. So far this work has been organized on a shoestring budget, with donated equipment and 100% volunteer labor. In the future it is expected that we will require funds to buy needed equipment that we have not been able to receive as a donation, and also to cover costs that some of the technical trainings.

3. Financial support for other indigenous struggles

a. Requests for financial support. The working group regularly receives requests for funding support from other groups and individuals doing important work in support of indigenous self-determination. In 2009 the working group made contributions to a variety of initiatives, including the before mentioned TRUE group in Brantford; the “No More Silence” group draws attention to missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada; the protest Barrick Gold group which is opposing the dispossession of indigenous people on a global level by multinational resource extraction companies — many of whom are based in Canada; the indigenous community of Grassy Narrows, Women’s Coordinating Committee Chile-Canada who have been focused on linking the struggles of the indigenous Mapuche people in Chile along with doing solidarity work with people in Six Nations; the Hamilton-based Practical Solidarity group which has been working in solidarity with Six Nations; as well as support for a public event hosted by Upping the Anti on the Alberta Tar sands which featured indigenous activists.

Proposed Future Work in 2010.

a. Educational Speaking Tour. The need for education is a continuous one, and the working group would like to follow up on its past successes by organizing a speaking tour with Six Nations activists and members of the working group which could go to various unions and community groups to provide them with information about the history of colonialism in this part of Canada and how union struggles connect to indigenous rights. The idea with this speaking tour is that it would be geared particularly towards union locals and be aimed at increasing union participation for Six Nations struggles for self-determination. A number of different CUPE and CAW locals have expressed interest in hosting events with this tour.

b. Door to Door in Brantford. Because the city of Brantford is so intent on promoting development on numerous sites of unresolved land claims within the Brantford city limits, Brantford is currently “Ground Zero” in the struggle for Six Nations land rights. Importantly, there has been a significant amount of non-native support by local residents for the actions of Six Nations in opposition to local development, as much of these developments are being planned on ecologically sensitive land along the city’s waterfront. This land is currently parkland and many residents want to keep the land as it is. One of the main initiatives that our working group seeks to take in conjunction with the Six Nations Solidarity Network is to organize door-to-door canvassing at a number of locations in Brantford which are close to major land claim struggles and to assess the possibilities for building solidarity across native and non-native communities.

c. Visits to Six Nations. One of the things that has made our working group so effective has been our consistent commitment to making regular visits to Six Nations. We have developed many close relationships with people there, and these visits have been made possible by the fact that the working group has paid for the transportation costs of such visits. On average, members of the working group go to Six Nations a couple times a month.

d. Facilitation and training. The working group is becoming an excellent place for union activists to develop skills and inform themselves about the politics of indigenous solidarity. One area that we would really like to concentrate on in the future is the further development of the skills by organizing “train the trainers” style workshops for working group members to help develop skills in meeting facilitation, anti-oppression awareness, and practical skills such as video filming and editing, public speaking, and press release writing.

In conclusion, we feel that the CUPE 3903 FNSWG is at an important crossroads. With more three years of experience in doing consistent solidarity work with the people of Six Nations, we are at the forefront of some of the most innovative and consistent union/indigenous solidarity building work in Canada. Not only do we have a proven track record of being able to organize hundreds of people in major protests, but we have been working behind the scenes in much less glamorous ways to do the nitty-gritty solidarity of educating rank-and-file members about indigenous land rights while also building personal and political ties with indigenous activists at Six Nations.

We encourage all members of CUPE 3903 to get involved with our working group and to become a part of this important work.

In solidarity and struggle,

The CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group
3903fnswg@gmail.com

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March 4, 2010 Posted by | reports | Leave a comment

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

2007 FNSWG Annual Report

Introduction

The First Nations Solidarity Working Group is a new working group that was struck at last year’s AGM. The working group has four primary aims which are 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 land reclamation.

The first year of the working group’s existence has been one of slowly but steadily laying the groundwork for doing this kind of work in a sustained fashion. There are over a dozen members of the working group, and the working group has been quite active to date.

Working Group Activities

In March of 2007 members of the working group worked with the Caledonia-based Community Friends organization to hold an educational and organizational meeting where trade union activists could learn about the struggle at Six Nations and figure out what concrete steps they could take in support of the people of Six Nations. Over 50 people representing a dozen different unions attended the meeting in Hamilton.

The working group co-sponsored and helped to organize the event “Hip-Hop for Six Nations” held in June of 2007 in conjunction with Toronto’s Black Action Defense Committee and the family of Chris Hill, the Six Nations political prisoner. This work was particularly useful in building links between the Black community in Toronto, trade union activists in 3903, and the people of Six Nations. The working group paid for organizers from BADC to drive down to make links with youth at Six Nations; helped to organize a meeting at the BADC offices where friends and family of Chris Hill spoke about the reclamation and the situation of political prisoners; and paid for the bus which took CUPE 3903 members, Black youth organized by BADC, and other Toronto area activists to the hip-hop show held at Chiefswood Park in Six Nations.

In June of 2007 the working group financially and politically supported the holding of a community potluck organized by the Community Friends group in Caledonia which brought together people from Six Nations and Caledonia area residents to build links of solidarity and mutual understanding.

Members of the working group participated in the June 29 AFN Aboriginal Day of Action by marching in rallies in Toronto and also by going to support the protests in Tyendenega Mohawk territory.

Members of the working group organized carpooling to attend the Six Nations of the Grand River powwow in July of 2007.

Members of the working group traveled to Caledonia during the Sterling St. standoff in October of 2007.

The working group endorsed and financially supported the Native Youth Movement Anti-2010 Olympics tour in February of 2008.

In January of 2008, tensions between natives and non-natives in the Caledonia-Brantford area again began to increase as news spread of a planned neo-Nazi weekend retreat that was being held on a Brantford area farm. Increased sightings of neo-Nazis in the area were reported including well-known Canadian neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier Paul Fromm. In this context a group of Brantford area non-native supporters and trade union activists held an organizing meeting in Brantford which eight members of our working group attended in January of 2008.

The meeting of some 30 people decided to organize a public educational forum in Brantford on March 6 to take some proactive steps in educating non-native residents in the area about the history of Six Nations and their land rights. Given that over one half of ongoing Six Nations land claims are within the Brantford area, Branford is a likely flashpoint for further protests and land reclamations. The working group has endorsed the March 6 public meeting and has made a donation of funds to help pay for the meeting hall for the event.

Conclusion:

Over the course of the past year, the working group has served as a space to facilitate CUPE 3903 members making regular visits to Six Nations to support the reclamation site when anti-native protests have taken place, and has also assisted in the developing of more mundane and low-key links of solidarity and support. Members of the working group are building ongoing networks and relationships with people at Six Nations and it is our hope that this will continue into 2008. Some work is also taking place within the working group to develop an educational documentary film about the struggle at Six Nations that can be widely distributed amongst union activists and the general public.

Most recently, the working group has been building links with members of the York Aboriginal Student Association and is looking forward to holding a series of public educational events for the purposes of better in forming our union’s membership about ongoing indigenous struggles. We also have a lot of work to do in continuing to build links with other trade union activists active in supporting indigenous struggles. In particular, the Hamilton area Steelworkers of Local 1005 and the CUPE National Aboriginal Council, are two union groups with which we hope to build ongoing working relationships.

And of course, another area that we need to improve in is in reaching out more effectively to the CUPE 3903 membership and involving you all in our work. If you’re interested in getting involved with the working group or would like more information about our activities, please contact 3903fnswg@gmail.com for details.

In solidarity and struggle,

The CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group.

June 5, 2008 Posted by | admin, reports | Leave a comment