Posts tagged ‘First Nations women’

Water Walk sets out from Machiasport for Wisconsin

Joan Dana (left) of Indian Township, and Josephine Mandamin (center) of Ontario, carry a copper bucket filled with water from the Machias Bay as they prepare for a ceremony at Bad Little Falls in Machias on Saturday, May 7, 2011. Dana, of the Passamaquoddy tribe, and Mandamin, of the Ojibwe tribe, are among the dozens of participants in the 2011 Mother Earth Water Walk, which brings together Native Americans from across the continent to raise awareness concerning the importance of clean water. At far right is Donald Soctomah, also of Indian Township. Kate Collins Photo

By Sharon Kiley
Bangor Daily News

MACHIASPORT, Maine — Josephine Mandamin, an Ojibway Indian from Thunder Bay, Ontario, stooped under the weight of the water in the copper bucket she carried from the sea, across the rocks and a field, to the roadway. Beside her was her sister Melvina Mandamin and her grandson Josh Metansinine, who carried a staff adorned with an eagle’s head.

Walking behind them, a band of flowing skirts, tribal headdresses and leather fringe, were Indians from Passamaquoddy, Cherokee, Blackfeet, Penobscot, Micmac and other Maine and Canadian tribes. Among them was Joan Dana of Indian Township, who at age 74 led five generations of her family. They walked from Picture Rock, an ancient petroglyph site where they gathered the water from the Atlantic Ocean, on through Machiasport, every so often switching water carriers and staff bearers.

This was the Eastern Direction of the Mother Earth Water Walk that will culminate at Lake Superior in Wisconsin in June. The walk symbolizes the need to care for water to ensure clean water for future generations. Women, many of them tribal elders from the four directions of North America, are carrying water in identical copper buckets from the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and Hudson Bay. In mid-June, the waters will be reunited as the walkers reach Lake Superior.

As the bucket was dipped into the Atlantic Ocean around 4 a.m. Saturday, Donald Soctomah of Indian Township said, an eagle flew overhead and a seal watched from the sea.

“This is why we walk,” he said. “It is for them — the creatures — too.”

Soctomah said, “This is the very essence of who we are as native people and human beings. Without clean water, we have nothing.”

From the petroglyphs, the walkers carried the water to Machias where 100 people had gathered for a ceremony at Bad Little Falls to officially kick off the Eastern Direction of the walk. As they walked, they sang.

“Every step is a prayer,” Soctomah explained.

Three days earlier, Soctomah and other Passamaquoddy Indians had built a sweat lodge on the sacred petroglyph site to allow natives to purify themselves before the walk.

After lunch and rest, provided by the Beehive Collective of artists at the historic Grange in Machias, they headed through Whitneyville, Jonesboro, Harrington and on into Milbridge, where the group took shelter Saturday night. On Sunday they continued along Route 1 toward Ellsworth, making for Bangor. From there they will walk along Route 2 to Skowhegan then make their way through western Maine to cross the border into Canada at Coburn Gore by the middle of next week. There can be anywhere from two to about 15 walkers in the group at any given time.

Every time the walkers passed water on the side of the road, a spiritual offering of tobacco was made, and as they walked, they sang songs of praise and hope. Native women are the carriers and protectors of water so the pail cannot be carried by a man. An Ojibway man asked Faye Bauman of Machias, a Blackfeet woman, how it felt to carry the pail.

“Powerful,” she answered.

East Coast organizer Madeline Hjunter of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, said she was holding back and letting the Passamaquoddy tribal members take the lead on the first leg of their journey. Soctomah said he would join the walkers off and on along the way.

Maureen Robichaud and Wendy Langille, non-natives, drove from Hampton, New Brunswick, to Machias to experience the beginning of the walk.

“It is really true that we don’t appreciate water as we should,” Robichaud said.

The women held a drumming circle at their Canadian home to help raise money for the walkers.

“This is so important, we just wanted to be here to send them off,” she said.

“Whatever we do to the water will impact the children of future generations,” Hjunter said. “People need to start looking at how we live and the importance of clean water.”

The Mother Earth Water Walk began in 2003, according to the project’s website, as “a prayer for the water, for Mother Earth, for the animals, the birds, the insects, the trees and for us, all two leggeds. Together the walks were one prayer for life.” This is the first year that water will be carried from the four corners of North America, and non-natives are encouraged to join the walkers.

The Western and Southern legs of the walk have already begun, although Soctomah said the Southern contingent was forced to stop for a while because of tornadoes in their path.

Hjunter said people along Routes 1 and 2 in Maine can assist the walkers by placing signs along the way asking trucks and other traffic to slow down and take care when near the walkers.

Kehben Grier of the Beehive Collective is still seeking rest stops for the walkers along Routes 1 and 2 in Maine. Those who want to open their doors to the walkers or provide a place to rest may contact her at



E-mail Money Transfers (Can & U.S.):

Cheques may be made out to:  Mother Earth Water Walk and mailed to:

Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig
Attn: Joanne Robertson, WW Coordinator
1550 Queen Street E
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
P6A 2G3

Direct Deposit:  Northern Credit Union
Acct#: 14492 828 0161405641


Native Women face the Tax Man

Tina Pelletier, Photo

International Women’s Day highlights the plight of First Nations women

First Nations citizens, no matter where they choose live, have the right to tax exemption.  No nation has the right to impose taxation on another nation’s citizens without due process, including consent, tax implementation agreements and even further treaty provisions.

So why is it that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is going after Canada’s most impoverished citizens: First Nations women?

Over the past few months, current and former employees of OI Employee Leasing-Native Leasing Services (OI-NLS), have been contacted by the CRA to address outstanding tax assessments, begin paying significant tax bills, penalties and interest.  To me, this indicates that the CRA is starting to move toward aggressive collection and enforcement of income taxes.

This is truly alarming, given the significant financial repercussions on these First Nations families.

The reality is that the majority of the OI-NLS employees are First Nations women.  Many are single mothers.  Most earn less that $37,000 per year.  They are among Canada’s most marginalized and impoverished people.

Proceeding with the collection and enforcement of taxes and penalties will result in extreme financial hardship, countless personal bankruptcies, and even homelessness.  The very few homeowners among this group may lose their homes.  These actions will further contribute to First Nations poverty and is, most definitely, not in the public interest.

The issue dates back to the early to mid-1990s.  OI-NLS provided a service whereby status Indian employees could be “leased” to off-reserve aboriginal organizations.  Because the employees are status Indians, and their employer is a First Nations employer located on-reserve, their incomes were considered to be situated on-reserve and thus exempt from income tax.

In the early 1990s, the CRA changed their interpretation of these rules.  CRA now required these duties to be performed on-reserve for the benefit of on-reserve citizens in order to be tax exempt.  As a result, most of these employees would be required to pay taxes, back taxes and penalties depending on individual assessments.

OI-NLS publically challenged these changes and CRA’s interpretation of section 87 of the Indian Act, which exempts personal property for status Indians. What followed was a number of tumultuous years, which included strained relations with CRA, high profile demonstrations across the country, and “Revenue Rez” – the occupation of the CRA office in Toronto.  Eventually, the Deputy Minister of Revenue Canada agreed to support four test cases and keep individual tax files in abeyance pending the result of the cases.

Over the years, the good and loyal employees of OI-NLS continued to practice their right to tax exemption, given that they were indeed status Indians who were paid by their First Nations employer based on-reserve.  These “connecting factors”, which are the central tenets to the CRA policy, have never changed.

Sadly, the test cases, which the employees hoped would affirm their right to income tax exemption, were lost and the court ruled in favour of the CRA.  In 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada decided they would not hear an appeal.  Many of the cases are being taken individually to the Tax Court of Canada have also lost.  In another bizarre twist, the Tax Court has recently stated it would not hear any further individual cases that have similar circumstances.  If individuals insist on bringing their case forward, they would be fined upwards of $2500.

Sure, this fight must, and will continue.  Tax exemption is fundamental to our view of aboriginal rights as well as First Nation-Crown relations.  However, given these mounting losses and growing tax bill, we also have to consider the best interest of these individuals.  For these employees, it’s not only about their aboriginal rights, or a political issue.  It’s not even about principle.  For them, this is very real.

The action of the Canada Revenue Agency in collecting these taxes will have an immediate, long-term and irreversible affect on their lives.  Literally, this is about their ability to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and take care of their children.

It’s clear, that in the circumstances of the OI-NLS employees, the Government of Canada needs to examine this further.  This is about the best interests of the individuals affected as well as their families and their children.  It is not in their best interest or in the public’s best interest to move forward with stringent tax collection.

Diabetes trends not slowing

Diabetes kills.

It’s a disease that kills everyday and it’s been so apparent for so long.  It affects First Nations people far more than it affects non-native people. It affects far more First Nations women than any other demographic.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal illustrates the alarming numbers of First Nations people with diabetes. It examined 8275 aboriginal people in Saskatchewan between 1980 and 2005. It compared the trends with 82,306 non-native people over the same time period.

The study found that in 2005, 20 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men living in First Nations communities had Type-2 diabetes. That was an increase in 9.5 percent of women and 4.9 per cent in men. These trends are not about the slow down.

It also found that the root causes of diabetes among First Nations are not necessarily genetic or hereditary. It is environmental. It was about the food we eat and the lack of exercise and care we have for our bodies.

In my short lifetime, I’ve seen the disease ravage the bodies of many of my friends, family, Elders and even not-so-Elders. I’ve seen feet amputated, legs amputated and numerous people go blind. I’ve known many people forced to go on dialysis in order to live.

I’ve also seen them die.

I wrote recently about Helen Bobiwash. The certified management accountant from Sudbury took up the sport of triathlon to improve her own health with the hopes of staving off the onset of diabetes which runs in her family. Her mom Alice died of diabetes complications at the ripe age of 73. However, it was back in 2002, that Alice had to bury her son due to complications from diabetes. Rodney Bobiwash was only 42 when he passed on to the Spirit World.

I had only known him briefly and had the pleasure of hanging out with him on occasion when I lived and worked in Toronto back in the late 90s.

Rodney was a class-act. A vibrant young leader who garnered the respect of so many, both on the urban reserve and in the wider First Nation community. He was a tireless advocate of anti-racism and First Nations rights. He was vocal against hate speech. He stood up for human rights and was even an adjudicator for the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Most of all he was a teacher who taught me something new in every one of our few talks together. He was a teacher of so many people like me.

But I never knew the affliction that he endured. Apparently he put on a brave face. He faced incredible hardship, even pain as he took on the disease. He was taken from us far too early.

Today, I have diabetes. I’m approaching my 40s. Damn it… and I missed taking my pills again this morning. I’m not a very good diabetic at all. I’ve got to start looking after myself because, no matter how hard my Loved ones try, only I can do this for myself.

We all need to heed the message of good health, especially our Anishinaabe women. As Anishinaabe men, it’s our traditional role to protect our women and children. Given these latest facts, we all need to do more to prevent diabetes and promote better health in our families and in our communities.

Unlike Helen Bobiwash, I won’t be climbing in for a cold swim, followed by a bike ride and a 10 km run anytime soon. But I will strive to listen to the doctor, exercise and take my pills everyday – so help me God.

So help me, Rodney.