Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) Chief Donny Morris said he couldn’t believe it when he heard the RCMP had been “spying” on him and his council.
“It came as a surprise and shock to know that I’ve been spied on and to be put in that category as a dangerous person,” he said.
On Dec. 4, it was revealed that the federal government created a vast surveillance network in early 2007 to monitor protests by First Nations. A unit of the RCMP called the Aboriginal (joint intelligence group) JIG was created and mandated to collect and distribute intelligence about situations involving First Nations that have “escalated to civil disobedience and unrest in the form of protest actions.”
The unit was run by the same RCMP departments that have teams of officers across the country to deal with “threats to national security and criminal extremism or terrorism.”
A report dated June 2009 indicated that the surveillance at the time focused on 18 “communities of concern” across the country, including KI and Grassy Narrows.
KI made national headlines in its fight against mining company Platinex, where the community escorted company representatives off their land and prevented the company from drilling near the community. Six council and community members, including Morris, were imprisoned for their actions.
Morris said he was following Elders’ teachings and protecting his people’s traditional lands.
“We agreed to share and to live together, not where one party should be dominant over the other and that was what I was upholding when we went against Platinex,” he said.
He said their intention was to protest peacefully and “not to be militant.”
“I always said not to wear camoflauge, no angry words and no swear words, and just keep to a level where we’re known as who we are: Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug,” he said. “Not to be categorized as militant or terrorists but I guess we fall into that category and that’s why the government put us on that list. And that’s what really upsets me.”
The revelation of the surveillance network came only weeks after an advocate for First Nations children discovered that the federal Aboriginal Affairs department had been spying on her.
Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCS), an organization that aims to ensure the safety and well-being of First Nation children across the country. It supports Shannen’s Dream, an initiative named after Attawapiskat’s Shannen Koostachin, who died while campaigning for a new school for her and other First Nation communities.
In 2007, the organization filed a human rights complaint against the Canadian government, claiming discrimination against First Nations children.
In December 2009, Blackstock accompanied members of the Chiefs of Ontario to a meeting with Aboriginal Affairs (then known as INAC) officials. As she attempted to enter the meeting room, an INAC official pulled her aside and informed her that she could not go into the meeting, despite her acting as a technical advisor to the chiefs. When a chief objected, the official said the meeting would not proceed with Blackstock present.
As Blackstock voluntarily waited outside the meeting, she found herself being watched by an INAC security guard.
“This all made me wonder why my presence evoked this kind of response,” Blackstock said.
With that reaction, and reports that INAC did not like the FNCFCS, Blackstock filed an Access to Information request on herself. More than a year-and-a-half later, she received a 400-page file that contained her personal information and reports on her activities.
“My grandparents passed away 50 years ago, and their names are in this material, and I have no idea why that would’ve been pulled,” she said.
One two-page report on one of her presentations had been sent to INAC’s Atlantic headquarters and was copied to nine other high-level bureaucrats. She also found out that public employees had accessed her Facebook on their personal time and reported the information to INAC.
With no history of a parking ticket, let alone a criminal record, Blackstock is dumbfounded by all the resources spent monitoring her.
“I’m thinking, really? Why are you tailing me versus getting out there and doing the right thing for kids?” she said.
Blackstock is outraged at what she feels is a misappropriation of funds by the government since it was public officials and not trained people such as the RCMP who monitored her.
“You can’t be using the resources of Canada, and going out and following people,” she said.
“But my biggest concern was for my family, because their private information was on there.”
While Blackstock was telling her story on CBC Radio’s The Current, an INAC official announced that the Aboriginal Affairs minister had asked the deputy minister to conduct an investigation into the surveillance of Blackstock. This did not appease Blackstock, because
“it would not be impartial due to the deputy minister being copied on a number of the documents.”
Blackstock does not believe anything will come of the investigation.
“If I were to do the same thing, as a private individual, to monitor the justice or INAC officials, I can likely be brought up on the charges of stalking,” she said. “But that same process doesn’t apply to Canada.”
While the Aboriginal JIG unit is supposedly dismantled, Morris believes its creation is part of the federal government’s intent to “oppress” his people. While Canada is helping foreign countries oust tyrannical leaders, such as the case in Libya, or helping other countries gain more jobs, and better housing and education, it’s ignoring the people in its own backyard.
“They do what these regimes do in these countries and they do that to us, and that’s the change I want to see happen,” he said. “That’s what we’re tackling here when you say no to development. Wait until we organize ourselves, because we want to take control of our resources under the treaty.”
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