The media largely boycotted the youth-led Power Shift 2012 conference, which took place in Ottawa and Gatineau last weekend. The four-day conference brought together more than 1,000 youth from across Canada (a Google search of "Power Shift 2012" followed by the names of major Canadian newspapers turns up nothing). It called on the Harper Government to act now to stop climate change, and social and racial injustice. The conference concluded with a massive rally in downtown Ottawa on Monday, which called for an immediate end to annual handouts of $1.4 billion in Canadian taxpayer money to fossil fuel corporations ravaging the environment.
The conference featured lectures, workshops and activist training activities delivered by internationally acclaimed thinkers and activists, including Naomi Klein, the international bestselling author of The Shock Doctrine, and Winona LaDuke, a Harvard-educated American Indian economist, orator and activist.
The media's boycott of PowerShift 2012 is shameful. The media plays a vital role in shaping a healthy democracy. In our era of unchallenged Conservative majority rule, we expect the media to inform and educate us with unadulterated truth and harsh realities.
The boycott deprived Canadians of vital insights into the struggles faced by First Nations, especially those in the path of tar sands and pipeline expansions. When the media boycotts national events like PowerShift 2012, it violates the basic tenets of freedom of speech. Canadians deserve unbridled access to alternative views. Aboriginal peoples and other marginalized and racialized communities deserve to be heard.
Most importantly, the media's boycott betrays our collective fear of the potent political power of Canada's aboriginals.
BLOG CONTINUES BELOW SLIDESHOW...
Since 1867, a total of 32 MPs of Inuit, Métis or First Nation origin have been elected to the House of Commons. Leonard Marchand, a Liberal elected in 1968, became the first Status Indian to be elected after aboriginals were granted the right to vote in 1960. Ethel Blondin-Andrew, another Liberal, became the first aboriginal female MP when she was elected in 1988. But, since 1968, only 27 aboriginals have been elected MPs.
The May 2011 federal election witnessed an unprecedented surge when seven aboriginals were elected to the House of Commons. Re-elected were four Conservatives: Shelly Glover and Rod Bruinooge, both Métis; Rob Clarke, a Cree; and Leona Aglukkaq, an Inuit.
Three new MPs were elected: Cree leader Romeo Saganash, the New Democrat winner in the northern Quebec riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou; Jonathan Genest-Jourdain, an Innu New Democrat elected in the Quebec riding of Manicouaga and Innu leader Peter Penashue, who won Labrador for the Conservatives.
As a person of colour, immigrant and humble guest on Turtle Island, it's refreshing to have aboriginal MPs as political role models. In fact, my ultimate immigrant's dream is to see my adopted country elect an aboriginal and female prime minister in my lifetime.
If PowerShift 2012 is anything to go by, the future of aboriginals in federal politics is promising. The conference showcased the best of the future aboriginal political talent; young leaders dedicated to environmental justice, and social and racial justice.
Clayton Thomas-Mueller, who co-hosted the conference's opening night with and Brigette DePape, is of the Mathais Colomb Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba. He's the indigenous oil campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network. He works with grassroots indigenous communities struggling to defend their human and environmental rights against transnational oil corporations. Utne magazine has recognized Thomas-Mueller as one of the top 30 under 30 young visionary activists in the U.S.
Crystal Lameman, is a member of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation. She's an activist and tar sands campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network in Alberta.
Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation, works as a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. She has worked with Redwire Media Society, the Indigenous Media Arts Group, and the Indigenous Environment Network.
These young aboriginals are a new breed of leaders. Their presentations and speeches bedazzled with raw intelligence, passion and fearlessness. They deconstructed the faulty argument that tar sands developments would bring jobs and prosperity to aboriginal communities. They articulated issues based on observed and lived struggles. They articulated the grand betrayal of aboriginal peoples. The aboriginal leaders offered an unapologetic critique of capitalism and lamented the dysfunctionality of Canada's electoral and legislative politics. They echoed the prevailing sentiment in Canada.
However, should these leaders decide to run for federal political office, they face tremendous odds. Especially because they're activists. Under the Harper majority government, Canada fancies itself under unprecedented attack from activists. Dissenters, activists and progressive civil society organizations are targeted, demonized, dehumanized and regarded as enemies of the state.
In a January 2012 letter, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver labeled environmental movements "radical groups" funded by "foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada's national economic interest." He suggested that these groups pursued "their radical ideological agenda." And that their goal is "to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth."
Earlier this year, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews released a brand new counter-terrorism strategy, the Building Resilience Against Terrorism: Canada's first Counter-terrorism Strategy. The strategy targets "domestic, issue-based extremism". It identifies as potential terror threats movements concerned with "various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism."