INDIGENOUS PEOPLES & NGO'S: BUILDING BRIDGES FOR THE FUTURE OF THE TAIGA
From Taiga News no 11, October 1994
Prior to the 2nd International Taiga Rescue Network Conference in Edmonton this August, Indigenous members and representatives from across Canada held a Mother Earth gathering which was hosted by the Lubicon Cree First Nation Community at Little Buffalo, Alberta.
The location of this gathering had a dramatic impact on everyone in attendance - the glaring effects of the ongoing oil, gas and forestry developments on the Lubicon people's territory were evident all around us, including the lack of clean drinking water. Water had to be trucked in from 70 km away.
The circle of Indigenous peoples at the Mother Earth gathering shared their experiences with one another about the ongoing impacts of industrial developments in their respective territories. The most common impacts are:
Chief Bernard Ominiyak of the Lubicon community summed up the common experiences of those at the gathering by stating that "what is happening to us is cultural genocide".
The indigenous people at the gathering agreed that the federal and provincial governments of Canada are issuing permits for these industrial developments to proceed without resolving the outstanding Aboriginal and treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples across Canada.
Many of the indigenous people who attended the mother Earth gathering travelled south to the city of Edmonton to participate in the 2nd International TRN Conference, where an excellent dialogue was established with environmental NGO delegates.
The evidence of the positive effect the dialogue between Indigenous peoples and the NGO delegates had is reflected in the outcome of the workshops as well as the adopted resolutions. Many of the environmental NGO representatives have asked for indigenous content and participation to be integrated into the proceedings of the next TRN conference. This could be done in memory of Lew Gerwitz.
Lew Gerwitz, an American lawyer, attended the TRN conference representing the Lubicon Cree First Nation Community. Lew worked as an activist on Indigenous issues for well over twenty years. It was on the last day of the Conference, after dancing to Laura Vinson's song "The Spirit Sings" - a song about the Lubicon Cree's struggle - that Lew passed on to the spirit world by natural causes in the Conference room.
I had only met Lew during the TRN Conference and I was struck by the intensity of his commitment to our cause. I regret not being able to know him longer, but I am sure he will be watching our efforts in protecting Mother Earth and building bridges between our respective peoples, Indigenous and non-indigenous.
Algonquins of Barriere Lake, Quebec