LETTER TO EDITOR
April 10, 2013
This letter is in response to the news article "Native elder on fifth day of hunger strike jailed for Muskrat Falls protest" that appeared on the April 10, 2013 edition of the Daily Herald. According to the news article James Learning, a 74 old elder, has been arrested for slowing traffic on a highway near the $7.7 billion Muskrat Falls Hydro Project.
Elder James Learning is a member of the NunaktuKavut Community Council representing the Inuit-Métis of southern Labrador. On the fifth day of a hunger strike, his family and friends fear for his life because he is also battling prostate and bone cancer. He has told his children that he is prepared to die trying to defend his Aboriginal rights.
Elder Learning is defending Aboriginal rights to be consulted and to be engaged in negotiations with the province regarding the hydro development project. The province is refusing to negotiate with the Muskrat Falls group and Inuit-Métis peoples of southern Labrador. The federal government has taken the position that the Muskrat Falls Group has no land claim in the area.
I believe the Newfoundland Labrador and federal governments have greatly underestimated the implications of their decision to incarcerate an Elder who is sick and dying for standing up and defending constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights. And although many Canadians do not fully understand the wisdom and spiritual significance of Aboriginal Elders, it is the Canadian and provincial government’s responsibility to recognize the rights of all Canadians of freedom of speech and the right to protest.
This is a democratic country or so it is said. Jailing a sick elder who is only defending his Aboriginal rights appears to be less than democratic. Would this be happening to an old and dying non-Aboriginal man standing up for his constitutional rights to protect the lands and resources for his children and grandchildren?
Is this backlash against the recent Idle-no-more movement in which Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples across Canada are speaking out against unilateral decision making by federal and provincial governments? Someone needs to ask these questions? Where is democracy and the ideology it clings to - “for the people by the people”?
By jailing a sick Elder who is only defending Aboriginal rights, all Canadians should take note... mis- management and exploitation of Aboriginal rights under the guise of economic development is a shadowy trickster. Canadians may think this is an “Indian problem” but look a little closer – could it be your backyard next? Your home town, your sleepy little village that may have the next surveyed resources the government’s plan to harvest in the name of prosperity?
The Aboriginal peoples of this country take their responsibilities very seriously to nurture the lands and resources and to protect these from exploitation. Do we not share the same vision for a healthy Canada for all the future generations?
All of Canada should take notice of what is really happening when governments put our Elders in jail for standing up for what they believe in...and they are willing to die for it!! Can you say you have that strength of conviction and courage to do what is right for your children and grandchildren?
Chief John Dorion