SASKATOON — Finding “Solidarity in Resistance” became the theme of an event at St. Thomas More College (STM) March 24 after scheduled speakers from the Dominican Republic were denied entry into Canada.
Representatives of La Federación de Campesinos Hacia El Progreso were denied travel visas for a cross-country speaking tour to discuss the organization’s work on local farmers’ land rights, sustainable development projects, and their part in the fight to keep Loma Miranda, a mountain outside the city of Bonao in the Dominican Republic, free from mining activities that could pollute a third of the country’s drinkable water.
The event at STM was not cancelled, but instead featured a video message from Esteban Polanco of the Dominican Republic, followed by a panel of local speakers addressing a range of issues.
MC Irena Smith expressed frustration at the Canadian government action that blocked the visit of the farmers from the Dominican Republic. She also spoke against recently introduced federal Bill C-51. Dubbed as anti-terrorism legislation and preying on fear, it will extend the government’s power to “silence and disenfranchise” legitimate voices of dissent in this country, she said.
Smith, Shannon McAvoy and Kristina McFadden spoke about their experience working with La Federación de Campesinos Hacia El Progreso as an introduction to the video message from the Dominican Republic.
McFadden described her time working with a tree-planting brigade and getting to know the struggles of the farmers in the area. McAvoy related the work being done by the grassroots organization to protect the health and livelihood of the people.
In his video message, Polanco described some of the problems being faced in his community, including the construction of a hydroelectric dam, the forced relocation of farmers, and threats from mining operations. He reported on efforts to provide grassroots economic development, including micro loans, as well as efforts to protect the environment, and to encourage working together with a range of groups to protect the long-term interests of the people.
A local panel then related their experiences of advocacy and the need for greater solidarity in addressing a range of justice and environmental issues in this country.
Erica Lee from Idle No More spoke about issues facing Indigenous people in Canada and the United States, pointing to the border between the two countries as one sign of the colonial mentality that has exploited the land and resources of the original inhabitants of North America.
Tracey Mitchell of Nextup spoke about the toll that advocacy work can take on mental health, describing the challenges, stresses and trauma that face those who are working for justice.
“We need support networks, to uphold each other in good times and bad,” she said. She called for greater solidarity and kindness among activists, who too often are harshly critical of their associates.
Panelist Justine Shenher of Just Youth spoke about how she became involved in justice and peace issues through Development and Peace. The work of that organization and others has been hurt by substantial cuts to funding from the Canadian International Development Agency in recent years, she said.
Candyce Paul of the Committee for Future Generations described the serious health and environmental threats to northern communities from uranium mining and tarsands, and the price being paid by those opposing government and industry.
“In the place where I live in northern Saskatchewan, we don’t have a program for Indigenous peoples, we have Cameco,” she said. “They need a labour force to take uranium from Mother Earth and they start grooming our kids in school,” Paul added, describing how the education curriculum has been adapted to promote the nuclear industry.
Mylan Tootoosis, a PhD candidate in the University of Saskatchewan Department of Native Studies, described the continuing oppression of Indigenous peoples and emphasized the need for all to work together for a new, sustainable vision.
“What are the convictions that we are standing by as human beings?” he asked, calling for land-based practice and radical sustainability. “Our grandparents and your grandparents were self sufficient in this place,” he pointed out, challenging his listeners to shake off complacency and look at their own day-to-day practices.
Caitlin Ward, STM Engaged Learning Co-ordinator, presented closing remarks, talking briefly about Archbishop Oscar Romero on the 35th anniversary of his assassination for his work to help the oppressed people of El Salvador.