'Got Land' Hoodies, Sealfies and Missing Women: 10 Stories of Indigenous Note in Canada for 2014

A year of indigenous wins in Canada, plus some defeats and sad moments, with the resignation of Shawn A-in-Chut Atleo and the death of Tina Fontaine.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Among other landmarks in a significant year for Indigenous Peoples in Canada, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a First Nation’s title to its land and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief resigned. Overall, 2014 was marked by victories, as major suits were decided in Indigenous Peoples’ favor and various governments rejected destructive mining proposals—though the continuing, and unaddressed, issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women remained at the forefront as well.

TSILHQOT’IN RULING

What was probably the biggest Native news of the year took place about halfway through the calendar, when the Supreme Court of Canada radically altered the way land claims and treaties would be viewed. In an unprecedented move, the court granted aboriginal title to the Tsilhqot’in of more than 675 square miles of territory. The wide-ranging ruling has implications for everything from pipelines to sovereignty, according to experts. That is because the ruling formally acknowledged that Indigenous Peoples can claim occupancy and control over vast tracts of land beyond the settlement sites to which they have been relegated.

RELATED: Major Victory: Canadian Supreme Court Hands Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal Title

Video: Tsilhqot'in First Nation Ruling Could Affect Pipeline Projects

Mohawk Nation

MISSING AND MURDERED WOMEN

Calls continued for a national inquiry into why indigenous women meet so much more often with violence, often fatal. A report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in May brought stark attention to the issue with its count of more than 1,200 missing or murdered indigenous women in the country, a figure that dwarfed statistics compiled previously by advocates. Before that, the murder of 26-year-old, pregnant First Nation grad student Loretta Saunders, who was researching that very topic for her thesis when she went missing in Nova Scotia in February, broke hearts and drew national attention to the issue. The problem was further highlighted by separate attacks on two First Nation teenagers in Winnipeg—15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River after she ran away from a foster home, and 16-year-old Rinelle Harper, who survived a brutal assault not long after that and emerged from the hospital calling for a national inquiry into the issue. Prime Minister Stephen Harper drew broad criticism just before Christmas when he told CBC host Peter Mansbridge, "it isn't really high on our radar, to be honest."

RELATED: Heartbreak in Winnipeg: Bodies of Two First Nations Citizens Pulled From Red River

Vigil for Murdered Teen and Homeless Hero Draws 1,300 Mourners in Winnipeg

Nearly 1,200 Missing, Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada: RCMP

Aboriginal Women 'Overrepresented' Among Violence Victims: RCMP

Body of Inuit Student Researching Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Found

Photo: Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

A vigil for 15-year-old murder victim Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River along with a homeless aboriginal man who had died trying to save a swimmer, drew more than 1,000 people.

ATLEO RESIGNATION

In May, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo stepped down in the middle of a second term that he had squeaked by to win, citing conflict over the First Nations Education Act. The resignation led to a debate over whether the AFN was even relevant any more, so estranged had it become from the grass roots. On December 10, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Chief Perry Bellegarde was handily elected as the new National Chief.

RELATED: Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo Resigns, Citing Education Act

Is the Assembly of First Nations With Its National Chief Part of the Problem or Solution?

New AFN Chief Declares No New Pipelines Without First Nation Consultation

Photo: Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

A vigil for 15-year-old murder victim Tina Fontaine, whose body was pulled from the Red River along with a homeless aboriginal man who had died trying to save a swimmer, drew more than 1,000 people.

METIS STATUS RULING

The Métis, the third aboriginal group formally recognized in Canada besides First Nations and the Inuit, won a decisive court victory with implications as far-reaching in their way as the Tsilhqot’in ruling. The April 16 ruling gave Métis and other non-status Indians—those not enrolled as members of specific First Nations—aboriginal status under the Indian Act. In rejecting Ottawa’s appeal to overturn a landmark 2013 decision from a case that was originally filed in 1999, the federal court of appeals said the federal government is obligated to extend the same social services to those groups as it does to Inuit and First Nations citizens.

RELATED: Métis in Canada Demand Harper Meeting as Court Upholds Status Ruling

Photo: Ke Ning/Métis National Council

Clément Chartier, President of the Métis National Council

PIPELINE BATTLES

Enbridge Inc.’s plans to build a pipeline through pristine British Columbia First Nations territory continued to run into obstacles as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s June approval—albeit with conditions—of the $7.9 billion project united many groups in opposition, with legal action.

RELATED: Canada Enbridge Approval Unites First Nations, Amnesty, Rights Groups in Opposition

Canada Approves Enbridge Pipeline Through B.C., First Nations Will Sue

First Nations Challenge Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline in Court

Kinder Morgan’s proposed tripling of its pipeline capacity between the Alberta oil sands and the B.C. coast has united tribes on both sides of the U.S. Canada border and spawned protests on Burnaby Mountain, where more than 100 people have been arrested. In the end, those opposed—which included not only First Nations but also Burnaby’s mayor—won a court victory, with Kinder Morgan and its testing equipment ordered off the mountain. But the company has vowed to press on with its plans.

RELATED: Coast Salish Unite Against Tripling Capacity of Kinder Morgan Tar Sands Pipeline

Tar Sands Opposition Unites Burnaby Leaders, First Nations, as 60 Arrested in B.C. Protests

Tensions Simmer After Kinder Morgan Confrontation Over Pipeline Extension in Burnaby, B.C.

Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch

Swinomish Chairman and NCAI President Brian Cladoosby with Cultural Coordinator of the Swinomish Tribe and members of First Nations.

GOT LAND? THANK AN INDIAN … OR NOT

The year kicked off with a controversy over the attire of eighth-grader Tenelle Starr, Star Blanket Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, who wore a magenta hoodie proclaiming, “Got Land? Thank an Indian." School officials were not amused, and sent her home. A public outcry ensued, and she won the right to wear the hoodie anywhere. Meanwhile, orders for that and other “Got Land?” items skyrocketed.

RELATED: First Nation Student Wins Right to Wear 'Got Land?' Hoodie After School Ban

'Got Land?' Hoodie Orders Flood in After School Controversy

Photo courtesy Tenelle Star

TASEKO MINE REJECTION

In February, Ottawa finally rejected yet another proposal from Taseko Mines Ltd that would have decimated pristine habitat and sacred Tsilhqot’in lands to extract gold and copper from a British Columbia wilderness. It was the third rejection of what the AFN had dubbed the worst mine proposal ever, after an environmental assessment that even industry-friendly Prime Minister Stephen Harper had called “very damning.” Undeterred—or unable to take a hint—Taseko sued.

RELATED: First Nations Exult as Canadian Government Rejects Taseko's New Prosperity Mine

Taseko Sues Canada Over Third Rejection of Environmentally Devastating Mine Proposal

Photo: David P. Ball

Pictured outside Taseko Mines Ltd. 2012 annual meeting, from left, Tsilhqot’in National Government Chief Joe Alphonse, Xeni Gwet'in chief Marilyn Baptiste, Union of BC Indian Chiefs vice-president Bob Chamberlin and president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, and Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow.

SEALFIES!

The Inuit were outraged when the European Union banned the sale of seal products, saying that the move undercut the market so severely as to threaten their way of life.

RELATED: Inuit Furious as World Trade Organization Upholds European Union Seal Ban

But the rage boiled over when Academy Awards host Ellen DeGeneres donated some charity money gathered with the A-list selfie that “broke Twitter” to an international organization that opposes the seal hunt. In response, they took pictures of themselves wearing seal products, posing with dead seals and chowing down on seal.

RELATED: Inuit Flood Twitter With 'Sealfies' After Ellen DeGeneres Selfie Funds Hunt Haters

Inuit Answer Hollywood With Sealfie Photo Booths, Giant Group Pic

Photo: via Twitter

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Inuit, sports seal attire in answer to Ellen DeGeneres's donation to opposers of the seal hunt.

MOUNT POLLEY MINE SPILL

In August, a tailings pond dam burst at a mine outside the town of Likely, British Columbia, sending four billion gallons of mining waste into pristine B.C. waterways. The footage was horrific and the incident drew comparisons with the notorious Exxon Valdez oil spill. The mining company’s chief executive’s assertion that he would have no problem drinking the water from the rivers the waste had flowed into was met with derision.

RELATED: Horrific Toxic Spill in B.C. Called Another Exxon Valdez

Video: Watch 4 Billion Gallons of Mining Waste Pour Into Pristine B.C. Waterways

Pour Him a Tall One! Mining Exec Insists He'd Drink Water From Tailings Pond

Beyond damage to the watershed, the disaster led neighboring First Nations to eject the owner, Imperial Metals, from another mining site. And in neighboring Alaska, Native Alaskans and others—afraid of what they saw as lax regulation—requested that the British Columbia government tighten its rules.

Klabona Keepers Ordered by Court to Stop Blocking Imperial Metals Mine

Alaska Natives to British Columbia: Please Tighten Up Your Mining Act

Photo: Global BCTV

Still from video of Polley Mine spill flyover.

PEEL WATERSHED VICTORY

The fate of one of the largest tracts of undisturbed wilderness in the world hung in the balance for much of the year as a lawsuit against the government of Yukon for opening its vast Peel Watershed up to potential mining operations wound its way through the courts. First Nations, environmentalists and others who wished to preserve the wildlife habitat and fishing industry in the remote region had sued the territorial government for scrapping a carefully developed plan for the watershed; a new administration had substituted another plan that opened up much more of the sensitive area to development. In what observers called a precedent-setting ruling, the court told the Yukon government to return to the consultation stage, using the agreed-upon plan as a starting point.

RELATED: Video: Yukon's Peel Watershed Is Imperiled, and Here's Why You Should Care

Peel Watershed: Yukon Judge Sides With First Nations in Historic Ruling

Indigenous Leaders Applaud Peel Watershed Court Ruling as Precedent-Setting

Photo: Juri Peepre/Flickr/protectpeel.ca

The Peel Watershed has been preserved.