Sylvia McAdam: Canada and a devastated indigenous land

February 10, 2013 16:46 0 comments

The recent passing of laws allowing exploitation of indigenous territories is causing irreparable damages to communities, communities who ask for respect for their sovereignty and their essencially life-giving natural resources.


Sylvia McAdam

Benjamin Serra


Sylvia is a direct descendant of one of the leaders who signed the Numbered Treaties between indigenous peoples and the Canadian government.

She is originally from Treaty 6 territory, a nation called Nehiyaw, made up from lands of Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. “It’s very important to honour these treaties but Canada is acting dishonorably and they are harming our people” says Sylvia.

She is referring to Bill C-45 that Stephen Harper’s conservative government has put through which allows oil, gas and nuclear industries to enter in the native’s territory. Which threatens to destroy these people’s life and culture.

Along with Nina Wilson, Sheelah McLean and Jessica Gordon, Sylvia is one of the founders of ‘Idle no more’. A movement that seeks to highlight global struggle for indigenous peoples’ rights in Canada, their culture and natural environment.

She spoke to The Prisma about her people’s situation as well as their defence, in a meeting organized by ‘This is not a gateway’ that brought her to London.

What does it mean being an indigenous nowadays in Canada?

What makes us indigenous is that we have our own culture, language and land. And this land is where Canada is extracting resources whilst we get nothing. But this is not the issue. The issue is that in doing this, our lands and our way of life are being damaged.

How does it affect to your people?

Many of the industries operating in the area are contaminating our waters and possibly causing cancer. However not just for the humang beings, but also for the animals. It is becoming increasingly difficult for my people to hunt and that’s part of our life and how we sustain ourselves.

The land is becoming contaminated and devastated. We cannot even get the medicine that we need from nature. We rely on this medicine. All of this is impacting our culture, ceremonies and traditions, our lifestyle.

How do you arrive in this situation?

The Canadian government has written several bills including points that directly concern all of the indigenous people. They are the “Navigable Waters Protection Act” and the “Indian Act”. Both of them have been changed in a terrible and devastating way to our people. Effectively because it is going to redesignate our land meaning that extractive industries will be able to exploit our territories.

Stephen Harper

What kind of problems will Bill C-45 cause?

Despite all our efforts and asking the government not to pass it, bill C-45 became law in December. And now the corporations can enter onto our land and without hardly any environmental assesments start to extract the resources. We should be concerned about that because Canada has the most untouched forests and waters in the world and they are going to be contaminated and hurt. We will leave nothing for our children and our waters will be undrinkable.

Why is Canadian government not respecting the Treaties?

Canada is a very wealthy country and it has a lot of natural resources. Extractive industries are interested in that, that’s why the government allow them to damage our lands and water, which causes us poverty and even suicides.

There has not been a parliamentary debate about these bills. C-45 was approved so quickly despite all its opposition and despite a petition with thousands of signatures. So Canada is not acting democratically or honourably and it’s not following the treaty terms of which the Canadian state is buit on.

However, are the corporations responsible for this situation?

Yes, they are going to attack our land and I ask them to stop. Don’t come to Canada and take the resources; do not enter in indigenous people’s lands. You are hurting us. Thousands of us are dying because of diseases caused by their activity.

Against that, you decided to found ‘Idle No More’?

Yes, we are a peaceful organization. Our aim is not a fight; we are deffending ourselves against these attacks. Our resistance is a creative resistance; our elders and our children are attending the actions to witness our peaceful resistance to protect our lands and our waters.

We have organized walks to Parliament, delivered petitions asking to speak with the PM, we have sent letters to the Queen of England, blockades roads, falshmobs and we still have a lot of work to do.

Are these actions involving non-indigenous people?

Yes, ‘Idle No More’ is a combination of non-indigenous and indigenous people. The protection of water concerns all of us. In fact, one of our four founders is a white woman.

Are there any cooperation networks with the same aim?

There are several organizations helping us. Council of Canadians, Defenders of the land, Oxfam or Amnesty… We are in communications with the UN, they know what it is happening in Canada. We inform them about it and, in fact, ‘Idle no more’ has been invited to speak in the UN concerning these matters. The World needs to know that Canada is violating the Human Rights of its indigenous people.

Is it possible to compare the Canadian situation with other places such as Latin America?

It’s the same story anywhere in the world where indigenous people have been colonised by other nation. It is a global concern, not only in Canada because there are other companies impacting other parts of the World. There are several indigenous communities that are taking legal action, but it takes a long time, and for example, in 10 years a lot of irreversible damage could be done to the land.

Which part of your culture is being mostly affected?

Everything. Our lands, our medicines, our food… Being an indigenous means that our bodies cannot tolerate food like milk or pizza. We have our own food and our health relies on these waters. Chemical products directly affect my people.

We want protection for the resources and the water and the respect for our sovereignty. We need to let the world know. We cannot do it alone.

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