Aboriginal Rights Are Human Rights

Dudley George’s friends and relatives should have been celebrating his 43rd birthday with their loved one. Instead, they were among the hundreds of people who turned out for a human rights meeting commemorating the slain activist’s life. George was shot to death by Ontario Provincial Police during a peaceful demonstration in Ipperwash Provincial Park protesting for the protection of Native burial sites located in that park.

The Coalition for a Public Inquiry into Ipperwash under the direction of co-ordinator, Robin Meyers, put together a panel to speak about the human rights issues of Canadian Aboriginal people, the case of Dudley George in particular.

The keynote speaker for the day was Martin Scheinin, a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He was joined by Dudley George’s brother, Sam. Also speaking was Native Women’s Association of Canada president, Marilyn Buffalo.

Scheinin spent most of his time explaining the activities of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, detailing the policies and programs in relation to Aboriginal people and going over its mandate.

Buffalo spoke next with conviction and determination, reminding the men that our society has always been matriarchal and should remain that way. She addressed the general question of why NWAC should be involved in the Dudley George case.

“Dudley has a mother and a grandmother. Dudley has sisters and aunts and nieces who have all been affected by all this.”

She recounted the sad and angry reaction in former Assembly of First Nations chief Ovide Mercredi’s office the day word came of the shooting. She spoke of the helplessness of the people, and of the George family in particular, when the OPP began covering up the events leading up to the death of the unarmed Native man. Buffalo challenged the justice system on it with Native cases.

“What would happen today if Dudley George was a white man, if the shoe was on the other foot?”

She also spoke about the silence surrounding George’s death.

“Nothing has changed from that day. No progress has been made. Why? Because people are afraid.”

Also discussed during her speech was the recent revelation that Aboriginal people were dying at the hands of the police authorities in Saskatchewan who took them to remote areas of the city and made them walk in freezing cold temperatures to find shelter. She discussed, not only the known cases reported in the media as of late, but of all the unsolved murders and disappearances of Native women in urban centres.

“Our sisters’ deaths in urban centres. They are left unresolved.” She told the assembly about a project that is operating out of the Saskatchewan NWAC office called Woman Find, a group trying to obtain the resources and information about missing Native women. She accused the authorities of doing nothing about these cases because of their prejudices.

“Nobody is doing anything about it. Why? Because we are poor, and that is not a crime.”

Buffalo ended her time with a challenge to the audience to go out and volunteer and ask questions, to hold people accountable.

“Aboriginal rights are human rights, ladies and gentleman,” she shouted from the podium.

The last person to speak from the main panel was Sam George, brother of Dudley and primary plaintiff in the wrongful death case against the provincial government. He talked about how difficult the ordeal has been for his family, having no sense of closure or justice since his brother’s murder on Sept. 6, 1995. He said he is not interested in revenge, that the family wants an inquest so recommendations can be made in the hope that no one has to suffer through this kind of tragedy again.

“People often ask me what I want. What I want is just the truth. Their justice system can handle their punishment. That’s not up to me. I just want the truth.”

Mr. George spoke about Ontario Premier Mike Harris’ assertion that no inquest will be conducted as long as there is a court case pending, yet the case itself is still being delayed.

Professor Patricia Monture-Angus, a Mohawk who now lives at the Thunderchild First Nation and teaches at the University of Saskatchewan, was called upon to connect the dots between the deaths of Native people across this country, from the Saskatoon freezings to the slaying of Dudley George. Professor Agnes began by reciting the names of Native men who were convicted and jailed, sentenced to hard labor, for powwow dancing. She then went on to discuss some of the violent acts that have been committed against Aboriginal people in Canada over the past few years, citing that these cases are not isolated incidents, but rather a pattern of behavior within Canada.

“We don’t need any more inquiries. We don’t need any more talk. We don’t need any more statistics. The problem is not what we know. It’s that nobody is doing anything about what we know.”