Planting Seeds of Self-Determination & Decolonization

Anonyme, Domingo, Diciembre 26, 2004 - 00:03

Sue Collis

The Midwinter Harvest Food Program is an inspiring project of grassroots
organizing and self-determination that was initiated by community members
of Tyendinaga, a Mohawk territory 4 hours south-west of Montreal. The
following article, written by Sue Collis, a resident of Tyendinaga and a
member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, provides an overview of
the many different aspects of the program, and highlights the importance
of forging links of solidarity and mutual aid within and amongst
communities as a means of fighting forwards, against colonialism and
oppression, and for community security, autonomy and self-determination.

While plans for the Midwinter Harvest Food Program are in place and, in
many cases, have been in progress for several years, support has been
requested by the organizers to help strengthen these initiatives. The
Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement in Montreal has been asked to
circulate this request, along with the article below, amongst allies and
organizations in the region to ask for your solidarity with the Midwinter
Harvest Food Program. Financial support is needed, as is volunteer support
in the ongoing construction of the ‘Harvest House.' Cheques can be made
out to “Midwinter Harvest Food Program

Midwinter Harvest Food Program Overview:
It almost goes without saying that hunger, malnourishment, diabetes,
substandard housing and suicide disproportionately affect First Nations
communities. It is the children of these communities that bear the brunt
of these issues and are at substantially greater risk than those of the
general population. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Aboriginals
in Canada between the ages of 10 and 44. The chances that a 16 year old
treaty Indian boy will wind up in prison at least once by age 25 is 70%,
while likelihood of the same for a non-native youth is 8%. In 2001 the
Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority put out an emergency request
for food for 2,100 people – including 1,900 children – who they said would
face imminent peril without intervention. Child welfare legislation
introduced under Mike Harris has translated into the removal of literally
thousands of children, many ending up in foster homes thousands of miles
from their families, communities and culture. New definitions have meant
that in most First Nations communities, all children can now be declared
at risk and are subject to removal. It is not uncommon to have entire
families of children scooped from their beds at four of five o’clock in
the morning and many Northern communities are left to exist, virtually
childless. The pain and havoc such legislation leaves in its wake cannot
even begin to be quantified.

Midwinter Harvest emerged in response to this ongoing crisis. Using food,
and the traditional practices around its harvesting and provision as a
focal point, Midwinter Harvest extends its reach and influence into the
wider social, political and economic needs of First Nations communities.
As a grassroots initiative, we have demonstrated a capability of
encouraging a sense of pride and purpose in our young people in
communities across the province where there was none. We believe that
hope, pride, purpose and the belief in one’s ability to exert control over
his or her life are the cornerstones from which concrete strategies can
develop to begin to restore health and balance to lives choked in grief
and chaos. We are cognizant of the experiences of communities like
Kahnawake who saw a marked turn around in suicide rates, depression and
apathy immediately following the closure of the Mercier Bridge and battle
with police in 1990. We operate under the same principle in Tyendinaga and
resist outside intervention and incursion by Government, police and
military on daily basis. Ultimately we strive for sovereignty and
self-government, however we understand that First Nations self-government
is so often spoken of in the abstract, it has lost much of its meaning.
We understand it to mean both self-sustainability and self-determination
on the social, economic and political issues that affect us as a people.

On Tyendinaga, we have worked consciously for the cultural, social and
political development of our people for the last 15 years. Midwinter
Harvest is a part of that initiative that is ongoing. Our food stores
have been drawn on to fill family freezers, for community gatherings,
ceremonial purposes and school functions here on Tyendinaga, and elsewhere
across the province. Our people take pride in our ability to reach out
and assist other communities in need. However we make it a point to
expand our operations beyond those of a strictly charitable model. We are
ever cognizant of the fact that regardless how we may be able to increase
our harvesting and distribution capabilities, the existing crisis is
simply too large for us to handle. Nor do we believe such an approach is
sustainable, or even helpful in the long run. It is from personal
experience that we know fundamental and far-reaching positive change will
not come from any charitable source, from Government grants or programs,
nor will it come from any other outside body. Rather, transformation is
dependent upon the engagement of the people affected at the grassroots.
Further, Midwinter Harvest applies this concept beyond First Nations
communities and forges links with non-natives organizations in an effort
to support their struggles for justice. Many of the resistance movements,
whether in the present, or the past, that have been able, with any degree
of success to have impact on the systems that oppress them, understand the
vital importance of developing components within their organizing that can
deal with the daily hardship that is the result of poverty and injustice.
Providing steaks, roasts, chops or fish serves not only as a means of
alleviating some of that burden, but it also provides tangible evidence
that the organization does more than just talk. It further serves to
diminish the legitimacy of governments that have long since abdicated any
real responsibility for feeding, clothing and housing such vast segments
of the population, and offers a greater credibility to the organizations
that would confront them.

Specific Projects
(i) Northern Outreach
Pikangikum is a remote Northern community that can be accessed by boat in
the summer and only by air in the winter. In 2001 it had a suicide rate
34 times the national average and was deemed the suicide capital of the
world. In the late spring of 2001, Pikangikum was reeling from a string
of suicides, including four girls that joined a suicide pact involving
seven 13-year olds. As word of the crisis began to spread, media persons
started to visit the community and other aspects of life at Pikangikum
began to emerge. The community sits directly south of land the Federal
Government is keen to explore for diamond mining, hydroelectric dams and
forestry purposes. Any roads, exploration and future development would
occur in Pikangikum’s traditional territories. The Band and the Feds were
locked in a dispute over such access, exploration and development. In the
words of Pikangikum Chief, Louie Quill, “Pikangikum wants to be clear on
this. We would never stop any other First Nation from working with the
Minister (of Indian Affairs) to develop their lands North of us. We only
want to be in the driver’s seat with respect to resource development on
our Traditional Territories. We have our own initiatives, including the
Whitefeather Forest Initiative, which are based on community tenure and
outside partnerships. We only… want to ensure the developments of our
lands are sustainable and that we benefit. We use the knowledge of our
Elders to ensure that what we do is sustainable.

The page talks a bit about the Midwinter Harvest Food Program in brief
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