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Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Fri, 11 Jul 97 15:28:26 CDT
From: Workers World <ww@wwpublish.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: First Nations protest celebration of genocide
Article: 14360

First Nations protest celebration of genocide

By Mahtowin, Workers World,
10 July 1997

As Canada celebrated the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Newfoundland and Labrador, Native protesters came out to demand justice and to commemorate the genocide of Indigenous peoples.

First Nations demonstrators trailed Queen Elizabeth II of England throughout her tour of Canada. The queen had traveled to Canada to be part of Cabot 500, a multi- million-dollar celebration of the Italian mercenary sailor John Cabot's voyage to Newfoundland. Cabot arrived there in his ship, the Matthew, on June 24, 1497.

Columbus' Caribbean landfall in 1492 marked the beginning of the Spanish and Portuguese invasion of the Americas. In British and Canadian history, Cabot's 1497 voyage is considered more significant, because it signaled the beginning of the British and French assault on the land and Indigenous peoples of North America.

Born Giovanni Caboto, Cabot was sponsored by the English King Henry VII. Henry empowered Cabot and other mercenary sailors to search out territories of heathen and infidels and to enter and seize them ... to occupy, possess and subdue [them] ... as our vassals.

Explorer John Cabot's landing, the queen said in a speech, represents the geographical and intellectual beginning of modern North America.

What the queen did not say was that, less than 350 years after her pirates and thieves invaded the sovereign Beothuk territories in Newfoundland, the Beothuk nation had been exterminated. Shanawdathit, the last of her nation, died of tuberculosis in 1829.

The other Indigenous populations in Newfoundland and Labrador have come perilously close to extinction since the European arrival.

Innu leader Katie Riche said: I see nothing to celebrate. Along the way a whole nation, the Beothuks, were wiped out. We don't want that to happen to us.

Newfoundland and Labrador First Nations people had been invited to participate in the Cabot quincentenary. They declined.

[The First Nations of] Newfoundland and Labrador are still waiting to be `discovered' by the federal government, said a Native spokesperson earlier this year.

Many Native people thought the millions of dollars poured into the Cabot festival would be better spent settling land claims or taking care of human needs.

Some of the First Nations protesters asked that the queen intervene on their behalf with the government of Canada.

On June 26, two 6-year-old Innu children gave the queen a written message from the Innu People of Nitassinan--Labrador and Quebec--which read in part:

The history of colonization here has been lamentable and has severely demoralized our People. They turn now to drink and self-destruction. We have the highest rate of suicide in North America. Children as young as 12 have taken their own life recently. We feel powerless to prevent the massive mining projects now planned. ...

The Labrador part of Nitassinan was claimed as British soil until very recently (1949), when, without consulting us, your government ceded it to Canada. We have never, however, signed any treaty with either Great Britain or Canada. Nor have we ever given up our right to self- determination.

The fact that we have become financially dependent on the state which violates our rights is a reflection of our desperate circumstances. It does not mean that we acquiesce in those violations.

We have been treated as non-People, with no more rights than the caribou on which we depend and which are now themselves being threatened by NATO war exercises and other so-called `development.' In spite of this, we remain a People in the fullest sense of the word. We have not given up. ...

We have many friends in Great Britain where thousands of ordinary people have spent many years supporting our rights. We would like to count you, Your Majesty, as one of those friends.

Unsurprisingly, Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, one of the wealthiest people on the planet and the titular head of the British Commonwealth, was neither moved nor amused by this Innu request for assistance.