One week ago, First Nations community members in New Brunswick, from the Elsipogtog and Mi'kmaq tribes blocked a road, in protest. The blockade was formed in an effort to prevent the passage of vehicles, belonging to American shale gas company SWN Resources, which is engaged in development in the area.
In response, RCMP arrested at least 40 First Nations community members. It was reported that police attempted to break up the protest using dogs, pepper spray, fire hoses, tear gas, rubber bullets and snipers.
It was further reported that the protesters included women, seniors and children. Approximately five RCMP police cars were torched and equipment belonging to the company removed. Reports conflict on who caused the damage to the vehicles -- protesters or an RCMP informant.
What happened in New Brunswick is not an isolated incident.
First Nations communities across Canada are uniting, in the struggle to maintain and preserve their land from environmental destruction, as corporations remove resources on native land with our governments' blessing. In doing so, they are also working to save their individual and treaty rights from further deterioration.
A movement has taken hold. It arose amidst the apathy and racism of mainstream Canadian society that surrounds First Nations people wherever they go.
It arose notwithstanding the torturous abuse First Nations people withstood as children and youth at Canada's residential schools which took place during the course of my generation and previous generations. The after effects of the abuse continue to haunt communities.
It is a movement that exists despite the poverty that indigenous people face daily.
It is a movement that has gained strength notwithstanding the challenges First Nations communities face as a result of addiction, violence and suicide.
And it has been born to oppose a system, instituted by our governments, who remove native control of resources on reserve land and continuously fail to deliver basic necessities such as food, water, adequate shelter and education to First Nations families.
It is a movement that has grown into the worldwide Idle No More, made famous by the fast of Chief Teresa Spence last year at Victoria Island.
Thankfully, it is not going away. And it must not be ignored by Canadians -- including those of us from first and second generation immigrant communities.
Two evenings ago, a film was shown at Octopus Books, an independent book store here in Ottawa, called The People of Kattawapiskak River. The film was the first of three being shown, as part of a series by Cinema Politica, entitled "Divine Interventions".
There, I had an opportunity to hear First Nations activists speak before and after the film as part of a panel.
Among them was Clayton Thomas-Muller. Muller is from the Mathais Colomb Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba. He is the campaigner for Defenders of the Land and Idle No More Joint National Campaign and co-director of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign of Polaris.
Muller is described as being "on the front lines of stopping industrial society's assault on Indigenous Peoples lands". He spoke to the crowd that evening.
"We know that the system is broken," he said. "It was designed to exploit, and we need a new economic paradigm, one that doesn't sacrifice communities at the altar of irresponsible economic policies for the benefit of the privileged few."
It was a reminder that it is not only the human rights of citizens, led by dictatorships, in far off lands, that are sacrificed for corporate business. It is happening here too -- at home.
Landry addressed the failure of mainstream media, at times, to report the entire story; the burden on First Nations activists and leaders to come up with quick fix solutions to problems that developed from centuries of oppression; and the racism and bigotry that promote the removal of both the basic human rights of individuals and land rights. I found myself inadvertently making connections to issues I once believed, long ago, were uniquely Muslim. But they are not.
Stories of oppression all contain common narratives, including the corrupt influences of power and greed, the silencing of oppressed individuals and the demonization of an entire nation.
What must we do?
Inspired by The Creator, their spirits fed by the earth, our First Nations friends are not interested in being "saved" by outsiders. (Who is? Not me or my fellow Muslims.)
As the children of immigrants, it is not our role, no matter how many connections we may make between the injustices we face anywhere and the injustices they face here, to provide the sort of support that may deny, in any way, the existence of qualified leadership within First Nations communities.
We can only stand in solidarity behind our First Nations friends and in doing so, open our eyes to the corporate greed, environmental damage and the breakdown of civil liberties that will soon affect us all. And convey our thanks for the land on which we find ourselves standing.
CORRECTION: A previous version of Clayton Thomas-Muller wrongly stated he is the co-director of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign of the Polaris Institute, a campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and part of the Defenders of the Land Idle No More campaign.