Day of Action highlights inequality, inaction

For the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation the Aboriginal Day of Action will be marked by inaction.

For the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation the Aboriginal Day of Action will be marked by inaction.

Instead of setting up blockades, the First Nation’s government office will be closed Friday, but only to federal and territorial government representatives whose phone calls will go unanswered, e-mails bounced back and mail left unopened.

“When these governments call upon us, we’re expected to jump and answer their queries,” said Tr’ondek Hwech’in chief Darrell Taylor.

“This is our way of asking our issues are given the same attention when we call upon them.”

The Assembly of First Nation’s day of action intends to highlight the frustrations Canadian aboriginals face on issues of poverty, education, land-claim settlements, substance abuse and the marginalization of aboriginal women.

Land-claim settlements for most Yukon First Nations are different from their southern counterparts, said Taylor.

The full promise self-government hasn’t been recognized because conversations and meetings with governments have so far been largely meaningless, he added.

“The frustration we’re having, even though our lives are getting better under self-government, there’s still a long way to go before the agreements are fully implemented,” said Taylor.

Aboriginal people across Canada are marking the day with protests, including several across the Yukon.

Near Toronto a stretch of Highway 401 that connects the city to Montreal was blocked by protestors and was closed for part of Friday. CN Rail and Via Rail also cancelled several train routes in southern Ontario in anticipation of blockades.

There has not been much advancement in First Nations affairs in Canada in several decades, said Yukon NDP leader Todd Hardy.

“Any problem we have in society seems to be multiplied exponentially in the First Nations communities,” said Hardy.

“At one time in this country the First Nation issues were front and centre and were one of the top issues in any election campaign,” he added.

“It kind of fell to the back burner over the last 10 years.”

Aboriginal groups in Carcross will respond to the call for action by marching through town and rallying in front of the train station, said Marilyn Jensen, a co-organizer of the event.

“We wanted to stand in solidarity with other aboriginal people protesting on this day,” said Jensen.

The group is also singing songs and putting on a traditional story for protestors. Jensen is not anticipating any “serious direct action” like a blockade. She repeatedly stressed the protest will be peaceful.

“There’s still a lot of discrimination and misunderstanding of people who do stand up and go in direct action mode and are labeled as terrorists, which is ridiculous,” said Jensen.

RCMP officials met with aboriginal leaders and chiefs earlier this week to discuss the protests and were assured everything would be peaceful.

There had been no disruptions as of 9:30 a.m. Friday, said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Roger Lockwood.

Officers in Carcross are monitoring the protest and rally. “Often, just having a presence is enough to keep things peaceful,” said Lockwood.

There’s more interest in Day of Action this year from media, politicians, and, perhaps more importantly, aboriginals themselves, said Jensen.

“When people feel oppressed and silenced, and that no matter what direction they go, they’re getting nowhere, then they will react.

“We live in Canada, a First World country. Why are people starving and living in shacks? It’s a First World country with people living like they’re in the Third World.”

The territory’s relationship with the Yukon First Nations has “deteriorated under the (Dennis) Fentie government,” said Hardy.

“This is a government that does a lot of talking but doesn’t really have much on the go and I think the First Nations have realized that,” said Hardy.

“You truly have to believe in the cause of the other person and be willing to resolve the issues side-by-side.”

Fentie and the other cabinet ministers could not be reached for comment.