Tuesday, January 21, 2020

My Log 781, January 21 2020: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 217: Once again the indigenous people have to face militarized poliee violence as they try to defend their lands from developments wanted by the European invaders, and the government that represents them

Well, all I can say, looking back 52 years to when I first looked into the lives of Canada’s indigenous people, is that although the publicity accorded them today is immensely greater than then (when they were hardly ever mentioned in the press) but that in many essential ways things have not changed that much.
In 1968 they were just emerging from many decades of deterioration. A few were going to high schools, a tiny handful made it to university: Their leaders, who had maintained a stubborn, heroic resistance during many decades of shabby treatment,  needed education so that they could confront the huge organized power of the federal government. One of their problems was that  their need for the Euro-eentred education clashed with their primary need, which was to re-discover pride in their indigenous heritage.
They have been working on that ever since, and that aim is largely achieved. But unfortunately their treatment by the Euro law administered by the Canadian government has not moved exponentially. Take a gander at this situation, described  today by the Defenders of the Land, the Truth Campaign and the Idle No More networks:
In December 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada issued the Delgamuukw-Gisday’way decision, which recognized the authority of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs over Wet’suwet’en Territory. Despite that Supreme Court court decision the federal and B.C. governments have approved  the Coastal Gaslink pipeline, a 670 km pipeline from Dawson Creek to the LNG Canada export terminal near Kitimat. It is a project of TC Energy based in Calgary…..As a consequence, today the Unist’ot’en face the possibility that the full violence of the Canadian state will be brought to bear against them.

Get that:  “…the full violence of the Canadian state will be brought to bear against them.” .And they ain’t kiddin’.Later in their document the .Defenders write:

 When they (the Wet’suwet’en people) enforced their own laws and required that industry seek Free, Prior, and Informed Consent for development on their lands, they faced a brutal display of militaristic police violence and an ongoing police occupation of their territories. We have all learned ….that RCMP… are prepared to kill unarmed Wet’suwet’en people if they continue to uphold their laws.

Already, our newly militarized police are being mobilized to uphold developments that ignore ancient rights and enforce injunctions airily granted by various courts.     Already, bulldozers have smashed into unceded Wet’suwet’en lands, making an unholy mess of them.

The defenders, in their document issued today, say that people all over Turtle Island have begun to hold rallies in defense of the hereditary rights of people who have occupied these unceded lands since time immemorial, by protesting Canada’s illegal encroachment on Wet’suwet’en land.  The message of the rally organizers is clear:
“Indigenous law is the law of the land on unceded territories, and traditional title-holders have the right to refuse access to their lands. Disregarding this ancient law in order to further expand fossil fuel production during a time of extreme climate crisis is irresponsible and unacceptable. Agents of the corporate state will face resistance if they continue to pursue resource colonialism during this climate emergency”.
I hope everyone in Canada takes notice of this warning from people who are unfortunately facing the full militarized might of the Canadian government violence machine. Let’s just repeat that warning:
Disregarding this ancient law in order to further expand fossil fuel production during a time of extreme climate crisis is irresponsible and unacceptable.
Somewhere or other our society seems to have got itself screwed up. Here we are with our many universities  and civilized agencies, threatening, and not only threatening, but actually unleashing violence against unarmed people who are defending land that our Supreme Court has recognized as belonging to them, while our agents of destruction smash through their lands in bulldozers, to make way for pipelines to carry energy needed by our society for something or other. In this case, it appears it is needed beeause the owners want to sell it for a huge profit abroad.
Unfortunately the British Columbia government, having not long ago officially recognized the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and declared it part of the law of the land, a declaration that provides that industry must have “free, prior, and informed consent” for any development being proposed for indigenous lands, has nevertheless collaborated in the invasion of the Wet’suwet’en lands by the builders of the pipeline, and of the use of governmental violence used against the peaceful protesters.
This is an argument that is likely to be played out across Canada in future years: the need for “free, prior and informed consent” given by indigenous people who lie in the path of any development, seems likely to clash with the Euro laws under which most projects are built. Indigenous leaders have said that they do not take from the UNDRIP formula that it gives them a veto over all development. At best though, it does give them the right to be consulted in advance, and to have arrived at a conclusion, hopefully a conclusion agreed with the developers, as to he conditions on which any work is done, or on where such work may be done.
And remember this: even if it does mean that they have the right to refuse projects, this would be no more than a mild form of payback for the indignities that were imposed on their people as the Europeans invaded Canada, and pushed the native people aside brutally, because they stood in the way of cutting down their forests, digging up their lands, robbing them of their heritage, and finally gathering most of them into small plots of land known as reserves, most of them on land so poor that thousands of them starved for want of any meaningful way to make a living.
Anyone wishing to support the Wet’suwet’en fight can contact the following:
E-Mail Communications Contact: info@IdleNoMore.ca
Sylvia McAdam, Idle No More Organizer, Cell: (306) 281-8158
Kanahus Manuel, Defenders of the Land, Spokesperson, Cell: (250) 852-3924
Russ Diabo, Truth Campaign, Spokesperson, Cell: (613) 296-0110  

Monday, January 20, 2020

My Log 781:  Jan 20,2020: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 216:

Canada caught in the middle; tomorrow’s extradition trial of Meng Wanzhou will challenge concepts of law and order, and is being watched closely by authorities everywhere

Tomorrow the extradition trial of Meng Wanzhou, the  senior executive in the Chinese telecommunications company, Huawei --- incidentally, the largest company in the world in its field of electronics --- opens in a Vancouver courtroom, apparently to the interest of people around the world who regard it as an opportunity to deliver a  lesson to the Chinese Communist leadership of how the rule of law should work.
I have written several times that Ms. Meng should have been released, because it appears that the request from the United States for her extradition was politically motivated, and there is nothing to compel Canada to follow US political direction, especially now under the bizarre influence of Donald Trump. To arguments that Canada is a country that follows the rule of law, I have hitherto argued that since no one except the Minister of Justice can order an extradition, our government’s argument is hollow to the extent that the final decision is a matter for political, and not necessarily legal,  decision.
But in what seems to have been a wide-ranging debate on this subject, that is viewed as reaching far beyond the borders of Canada, some powerful arguments have emerged, especially from some people who have been personally affected by the admittedly brutal Communist concept of and conduct of, law.
I do not underestimate this: in 1978, when China      was in full Communist mode, I remember as we were driven around the town of Shijazhuang,  coming upon what was called a struggle session, in which a line of hapless accused were standing on the back of a big truck, their hands behind their backs, their eyes penitentially cast towards the ground, in an atmosphere of complete subjection as  they were  ]being harangued by some authority figure in the name of justice. The fact was, and apparently still is, that in China under Communist rule, once you are accused of anything, you are almost automatically declared to be guilty, and there is no countervailing concept of impartial justice to protect you. When I put this idea to my lawyer son he replied that the system in Canada was not much different since accused persons have to wait in custody so long for their trial that it could be said of our system, as of theirs, that once you are accused you are in for the high jump.
An important revelation is made in today’s Globe and Mail in an article by their correspondent Nathan Vanderklippe, and it is followed by an article by two North American based, Montreal educated, Chinese lawyers, Times Wang and his sister Ti-ana Wang, who speak of recently meeting their father, Dr Wang Bingzhang, himself a lawyer,  who has been imprisoned in China since 2003 for his advocacy of human rights, and appears to be in for life. Their father made a surprising suggestion to his son, that he should try to be signed on to the legal team defending Ms. Meng. As the two children explained in n op ed article, their father said, “You’re both lawyers …Let’s show them what human rights really means.” That is not likely to happen but one can see Dr Wang’s point: teach and illustrate by showing how a decent legal system works.
There appear to be two routes by which Ms. Meng could be released rather than handed over to the erratic US legal system, which appears more and more to be coming under the influence of this nightmare  President. The first is what will be considered first in this week’s trial, and it is the question of whether the crime with which Ms Meng is charged can be considered also to be a crime  in Canada. The crime  concerns an alleged attempt to dodge sanctions imposed against Iran after the withdrawal of the United States from the five-power agreement with Iran engineered by Barack Obama.  Prima facie, as a lawyer might say, that seems like a closed and shut situation from the start. It cannot be said to have violated any Canadian law, so the case is closed.
The second route to freedom for Ms.Meng could be that our Minister of justice whoever he or she may be, might come to a decision that there is no case for her to answer, once the matter comes into his hands, and cancel the whole proceeding.  There is an assumption that in such a case, China would release the two Michaels who have been held in poor conditions in China for more than a  year, and that normal commercial relations  would be resumed, which would be a relief for many Canadian farmers.
What has happened is that Canada has been caught, not through any action of its own, between the two economic giants, China and the United States. Sine Canada has ben operating as a sort of American vassal in this case, it would appear to have every reason to get out of it by whatever means is available.
It will be interesting to watch the progress of this trial and to see how (and if) Canada can emerge from it with credit.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

My Log 780: January 9 2020: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 215: A tale about the history of the buffalo; a species, at first gravely abused and almost exterminated, and since coddled back to health, that has played a pivotal role in the history of the nation

An interesting article in a newspaper this morning has at last brought me up-to-date with a subject in which I took an intense, but peripheral interest while making a National Film Board film 35 years ago. namely, the fate of the bison.
Once the greatest animals in North .America, by stature as well as by sheer numbers,  with at a conservative estimate some 15,000,000 populating the plains, the bison, or buffalo, as they are now popularly called, shrank to an infinitesimal number, almost to the point of extinction, as a result of being ruthlessly hunted by the invading white settlers in and around the 1880s..
Canada has a huge national park devoted to the bison, the Wood Buffalo National Park straddling the Alberta-Northwest Territories border. The park is so huge that Canadians have scarcely grasped how big it is: marginally bigger, at 44,000 square kilometres, than Switzerland, for example, or Holland, which are both 3,000 square kilometres smaller.
The provenance of the bison population in the park is interesting: one story goes back to the daring of an Indian named Walking Coyote, who crossed the continental divide with four buffalo calves that he began to raise in his native Blackwater reserve, just over the international border in the United States. Walking Coyote was eventually found dead under a bridge in Missoula, Montana, but meantime he had sold his interest in the many  buffalo that had sprung from his four calves to a Mexican rancher. When Michel Pablo  died, a quick-thinking  representative of the Canadian government in Great Falls,  Montana managed to buy the herd, which was transferred north by rail between 1907 and 1912. No one knew how many animals were involved, but the number transferred was around 700.
They soon ate themselves out of habitat in the small park set up for hem near Wainwright, Alberta, and in the 1920s a major debate took place as to whether they should be transferred into the massive northern park, where the last of the pure wood buffalo lived . The prairie sub-species had become impregnated by  cattle during their many years of haphazard management in Montana. The wood buffalo sub-species is an altogether more imposing animal ---- taller, heavier, but slimmer, and with a more noticeable fur coat over its front quarters, a much more  statuesque animal than its prairie cousin. The scientists of the day did not want to muddy the gene pool.
Up to  the time we were making the film the primary interest had been in our need to preserve the distinct sub-species, the wood buffalo. In pursuit of this aim in the 1960s, a group of 40 or so wood buffalo that had not been fatally impregnated with the cattle genes was transferred to a remote spot north of Great Slave Lake, where those that survived the harrowing trip by truck, eighteen in number, were released.  This small number gave rise  in the next couple of decades to a herd of more than 1000, if I remember correctly, a notable success for the animal scientists responsible.
Up to the time I am writing about, the 1980s, the general movement among bison-minders was in the direction of saving their genetic makeup from being corrupted by outside influences. But according to the article in today’s Globe and Mail, in the intervening three or four decades the interest has changed to an effort to re-establish even from these corrupted heirs, something, or at least some pure-bred animals.
A number of indigenous tribes have been collaborating in this effort with the scientists, and appear to have at last won some success.
For their part the scientists have been working on a method of preserving semen by freezing, something they have now perfected and, if I understood correctly what I read (always a careful precaution to enter),  they have managed by careful programmes of artificial insemination to produce some 40 calves that they are convinced have reverted to the pure strain of plains bison, one whose scientific name is now apparently bison bison bison as distinct from the bison bison athabascae, the scientific handle of the woods bison and of bison bison to the original strain of plains bison.
Some Saskatchewan First Nations have been central to this development.  When we were making our film we were interested in what was being done at Elk Island National Park, a small park east of Edmonton, in which herds of plains and wood bison have been kept divided, their progeny to  be later used to implant small herds in different parts of the prairies. We filmed one such transfer, and used some archival footage to show the fruitless effort made earlier to vaccinate  the bison in the huge park to ensure their racial purity.  This effort foundered simply on the immense size of the park: the bison wandered all over it --- imagine, a park bigger than Switzerland and the effort needed to roundup every animal therein.  The rangers never found it possible to round up the whole herd. I seem to remember the best they ever managed to do was to vaccinate 4,000 out of the 12,000 estimated population at the time. So new measures were obviously necessary.
My conclusion from having worked on the film was that it was extremely encouraging  to find that the federal government, through its wildlife service, were going to such lengths to preserve a magnificent animal that had been driven to the edge of extinction by the insensate bloodlust of the early  prairie settlers, who did not hesitate to involve Indian tribesmen in their nefarious effort to wipe the animal from the face of the earth.  It is, however, clear that he Indians had only a small part of the campaign, which was one of the most successful animal extermination projects evr recorded: our archival footage showed scenes that must be familiar to Canadians, of huge piles of bison skulls, amounting to hundreds of thousands.
We discovered that the Americans had gathered the remains of what was left to them after the transport north of the majority of their remaining population into a smaller national park, known as the National Bison Range, which lies in a beautiful hilly countryside,  just south of the border  where we were permitted to shoot. Also, we found an invaluable photographic record of the actual 1907 transfer of the animals to Canada, recorded on the old-fashioned glass plates kept in the University of Montana in Missoula. So we were pleased that our film, overall, managed to give a good sense of the history of an animal species that has played an integral part in the history of Canada. The name of the NFB film is The Great Buffalo Saga, co-directed by myself and Michael McKennirey.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

My Log 779: January 8 2020: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade:214: Some choice we’ve got; between fanatic mullahs on one side and Donald .trump on the other; is it time for wot the hell, toujours gai?

This week’s exchange of pleasantries between Donald Truup’s America and the mullahs of Iran brought me almost face-to-face with the possibility of global war for only the second time I can remember in my long life.
I have to be tentative about making this claim, because our Western nations appear to have been fighting one war or another almost continuously over the many decades I can remember, but only once before had we been called upon to confront such competing threats as Trump and Iran have exchanged this week.
The only other dangerous occasion I remember so very clearly came in response to what is now called the Cuban  missile crisis, a crisis caused, as we can now see with the benefit of hindsight, by the impetuosity of Nikita Khrushchev in deciding to plant nuclear-armed missies in the island of Cuba, which had only fairly recently declared itself a member of what we thought of as the  socialist bloc of anti-western nations.
In those days the world was more starkly divided than it is now, first between the socialist and capitalist blocs (represented militarily by the NATO alliance (American-dominated) and the Warsaw Pact countries (of the Soviet-dominated nations), and secondly between developed (primarily western, capitalist) nations and developing (primarily impoverished former colonies),with the Group of 77 forming an additional group of impoverished nations that were exercised with the difficult task of winning a fair slice of the trading pie, in those days totally dominated by the prosperous west.  I believe the Group of 77 still exists although it now is said to have 132 member countries.
These groupings were not mutually exclusive, but tended to spill over into each other at certain points. This was particularly so in relation to what was eventually called the non-aligned bloc, which was inspired originally by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, who had spent his long periods of imprisonment under the former British rulers in writing several books, on which I have to add in what they nowadays call  full disclosure, that I feasted as a teenager.
Nehru, along with the soviet-block rebel, Marshal Josep Broz Tito, of Yugoslavia, combined their immense global prestige to set in motion the idea of the non-aligned bloc, and they were helped along by the second most powerful man in the Chinese Communist hierarchy Chou en Lai, who was in those days the favourite Chinese communist among western thinkers.
Thee were 24 nations at the 1961 conference of these non-aligned, most of them from Africa, the Middle East and south-east Asia. They agreed five principles: namely mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and  sovereignty, mutual non-aggression. non-interference in domestic affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.
In those days it was the non-aligned attitudes that most appealed to me. My enthusiasm for Nehru led me in 1951 to India as a so-called social worker, a trip and a job for which I was completely unprepared, and in the advancement of which I did not do anything for India, but certainly received an education about the world as I mingled and worked briefly with that country’s huddled impoverished masses.
Ten years later, in October of 1962, by which time I was established in London with a good job (make that a miraculously good job) working for The Montreal Star newspaper, I found myself standing in Trafalgar Square as part of a huge crowd, with my eighteen-month-old son hanging on to my hand, listening as the eminent philosopher (and also, as Wikipedia reminds me, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, essayist, social critic, political activist, and Nobel laureate), Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest men of our age, an old man of
ninety years, who had to be lifted on to the plinth carefully because he looked as if, were he to be dropped, he would probably have shattered into pieces, vigorously, in spite of his age, and in a high-pitched squeaky voice, haranguing the two principals in the Cuban missile crisis which was hanging in the balance at that very moment, as the Americans were surrounding the ship carrying the missiles to Cuba. Russell described Khrushchev and Kennedy as two madmen, and warned of dire consequences if hey did not pull out of this suicidal demarche. We were left in no doubt by Bertrand Russell, that the dire consequences in question would be a nuclear apocalypse.
Well, it turned out that Khrushchev and the brothers Kennedy were open to reason, and they did negotiate their way out of this grave crisis, which to this day remains the closest we have ever come to the nuclear disaster that has hung over all our heads since the Americans took the fateful decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
But can we say the same of the principals in our current crisis? The circumstances are peculiar, first because of the election to the top job in the United States of a man temperamentally unsuited to fulfil the task; secondly, his behaviour as president has been so erratic, so inchoate, so lacking in the balance and thoughtfulness required of any president, that with the exchange of insults that followed his impulsive and unnecessary assassination of the leading soldier in Iran, we onlookers had every reason to fear for the worst. His threat to blow up 52 Iranian cultural sites put the fear of god into most of us, and although we do not know anything about what happened after the Iranians replied moderately to the assassination, we could only hope that as the world’s foremost bully he would react as all bullies do, that when confronted they tend to retreat, especially if the person they are bullying has the wherewithal to hurt them.
So, today we are in this odd position in which the Iranians are saying the Ameircans backed down while Trump, a man who never admits to a failure, boasts  that he has taken the moderate course.
But think of it fellows: the fate of the world lies between the fanatic mullahs of Iran, and the narcissistic boastful egotistical Donald Trump.
Who wouldn’t be worried? .Would you be worried, archie? No, boss, wot the hell,  wot the hell, toujours gai, toujours gai.