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Highway 6 Blockade

November 4, 2010 permalink

On October 29 the protest march-CAS office (Little Current) temporarily blocked off highway 6 south of Birch Island Ontario. The Manitoulin Expositor covered the story below, and there is a collection of photos drawn from Facebook.



Rose Beaudry and Neil Haskett
Protestors Rose Beaudry of Wikwemikong and Neil Haskett of Sudbury hold up signs requesting oversight from the provincial ombudsman of the Children’s Aid Society, during a protest that turned into a road blockade last Friday.
photo by Lindsay Kelly

First Nations protestors block Hwy 6, seek redress from CAS

WHITEFISH RIVER—A rally calling attention to the dissatisfaction of First Nations people with the Children's Aid Society (CAS) and its policies temporarily stopped the flow of traffic on Highway 6 last Friday afternoon, as protestors blocked the road, demanding that the CAS be held accountable for the alleged mistreatment of Aboriginal wards.

Traffic came to a stop on the Whitefish River First Nation, just south of Birch Island, for about 15 minutes last week, before police were called in to free up the thoroughfare. Upon their arrival, protestors agreed to open up one lane to traffic, at which time vehicles from alternating directions were directed through the protest area, and representatives with the OPP and the UCCM Anishnaabe Police remained on site to ensure the safety of protestors and drivers. The protest ended without incident, and traffic was returned to normal at about 1 pm.

The rally had originally been planned to take place outside the CAS Little Current office, but when demonstrators' pleas went unanswered by CAS representatives, organizers moved the protest to the Whitefish River First Nation where they parked vehicles across the highway in a bid to stop traffic altogether.

Protestors had intentionally relocated to the Birch Island area because of the belief that there would be no interference from police and other non-Native influences.

One of the organizers, John Fox of Wikwemikong, said the rally was precipitated by a lawsuit filed with the Superior Court of Ontario in February that seeks roughly $1.5 billion in compensation for the children of the "1960s scoop"—a policy initiated by the federal government between the 1960s and 1980s that approved the "scooping up" of Aboriginal children from their families for placement in non-Native adoptive or foster families.

Thousands of children are estimated to have been affected by the policy, which many claim robbed them of the opportunity to preserve their culture, language, and heritage. Some First Nations have claimed that, in many cases, consent for placement was never given by the families.

"Their genocidal, oppressive policy against our people will not be accepted anymore," Mr. Fox said during the rally. "We want to make that very clear to them."

Mr. Fox argues that the policy of mistreatment of First Nations peoples remains in place today, and that Aboriginals across the country are seeking a stand-alone organization to take the place of the work currently done by the CAS.

Whitefish River Chief Shining Turtle (Franklin Paibomsai) said he was given no foreknowledge that the rally would be taking place in his community, and he expressed disappointment at the way the incident was handled.

"This is not sanctioned by the Ojibways of Whitefish River First Nation, and so I've invited the OPP to come and deal with this," he said, upon arriving at the scene.

The chief had been informed by a band council member, who happened to be near the site of the rally, of what was taking place, and was called out of a ceremony honouring a recently deceased community Elder to address protestors.

Not only did the organizers not request permission to hold the rally on band land, but they also didn't approach the UCCM Tribal Council—of which Chief Shining Turtle is chair—for direction on how to address their concerns, he said. The chief was especially disappointed by the lack of respect shown by organizers.

"If they had shown respect, I gladly would have helped in a different situation," he said. "But I'm absolutely disappointed for more than one reason."

Constable Al Boyd, community services officer with the Manitoulin OPP, said the police service recognizes that all Ontario citizens have the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but emphasized that a balance must be struck between those rights and the need to maintain public order and movement.

"Whether they're First Nation or not, you cannot impede traffic flow at all," Constable Boyd said. "Protestors' activities may interrupt normal traffic flow, whether they're Native or non-Native; however, it's usually advised so that it's less inconvenience to the public, so they know that if they're travelling through that area there may be some traffic slowdowns. But they can't stop traffic 100 percent; if that happens, and it can't be negotiated peacefully, it's quite possible that arrests can be made and the protestors would be moved."

Constable Boyd noted that the police had not been advised of the protest, so were unable to get the word out to the public, and as a result, both the public and police services were caught off guard with the protest.

However, Friday's protest was negotiated peacefully, said Constable Boyd, and traffic was rerouted along Old Village Road, which skirts Highway 6, and drivers were able to continue on their way unimpeded, the result of a co-operative effort between the OPP and the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service.

Protestors remained undaunted, however. After moving their vehicles into position across the road, they marched along the highway with signs reading, "Fight for CAS oversight" and "Baby stealers not wanted on our rez." While a drum group led the gathering in song and flags were raised, many ralliers approached parked vehicles directly, shouting their concerns with the CAS.

"I'm not eight years old anymore!" shouted an angered Rose Beaudry of Wikwemikong. "I'm 42 and I can speak for myself."

Ms. Beaudry says she was sexually abused while a ward of the CAS in the 1970s, suggesting that the agency sweeps the unsavoury aspects of its role—such as death, abuse, and assimilation of wards—under the rug, creating monsters of the kids who endured the organization's policies.

"Care and protection my ass," she fumed. "How many kids died in protection? We're not gonna be your mortgage or car payment no more. Our kids aren't going to be your bread and butter no more."

Cheyenne Fox, the daughter of organizer John Fox, said she's heard too many horror stories of loved ones facing abuse and neglect while in the care of the CAS, including that of a 13-year-old relative who she says died while in the care of the agency.

"I'm sick and tired of it," she said, tearing up. "She could have been going to school, she could have been having fun, but they took her life away because she went to see her mom."

Ms. Fox has herself been a ward of the CAS, and now, as a young mother, says she has a hard time trusting other people with her child, because she's concerned he'll be taken away.

"We're just like you—we're people—we just have a different colour of skin, that's all," she said. "I'm scared for our people. You hear so many stories; I'm going to fight with my people until it's clear."

Some of the more moderate ralliers chose not to participate in the protest at Whitefish River, but are equally apprehensive about the role the CAS plays in First Nations child welfare systems.

Janet Solomon of Sagamok First Nation became a ward of the Crown in 1973, and saw first-hand how the scoop policy affected her family.

"They scooped me from my community, and all seven of my siblings were taken out of our home," she said. "We were all separated and placed in foster homes, and we feel that our culture, identity, and ways were taken from us."

Today she serves her community as a child welfare representative, and believes strongly that the children should remain in the community, in First Nations homes, so that they can maintain their heritage and traditional ways. To help facilitate that, Sagamok is in the process of opening its own group home, she noted.

"I'm here to be proactive, not only for our families, but for the children and the families in other First Nations communities, and to support other First Nations communities," she said. "Nothing has changed; we're still seeing the abuse of children."

Marsha Solomon of Saugeen First Nation, who is of no relation, felt a strong need to attend the rally to create awareness amongst the general population about what First Nations families have endured.

Though she believes the CAS will likely always have some role to play in the child welfare system, she believes drastic changes are needed so that First Nations peoples are treated more fairly.

"It's still happening in our communities," said Ms. Solomon, who is currently training to become a child welfare worker. "We as a people are standing up for our rights."

Protesting is one way in which the women of First Nations communities can make their voices heard to elicit change, she added.

Chief Shining Turtle said he is aware of the ongoing struggle for independent child welfare agencies in First Nations communities, and has met in the past with Mr. Fox and other concerned citizens about effective strategies. The tribal council is currently working on ways to make the role of Kina Gbezhgomi, the Manitoulin-based First Nations child welfare agency, more prominent in local communities.

"We all have to be patient," said the chief, whose threat of a highway blockade on the Labour Day weekend was successful in regaining a point-of-sale HST exemption for First Nations people. "We're working with government to staff Kina, but that takes time. We can't snap our fingers and make it happen right away. I'm really, really disappointed."

Still, Mr. Fox said he was pleased with the outcome of the protest, and vowed that the protestors would continue to rally until they start to see change.

"We're sending a clear message to the CAS that their practices are not going to be tolerated anymore," he said. "They locked their doors and wouldn't talk to us, so we had to resort to this."

That change may be on the way. Rosario Marchese, the MPP for Trinity-Spadina, recently announced he will be reintroducing the former Bill 93—which would give the Ontario ombudsman oversight of CAS organizations across the province—into parliament next week.

The bill, which was originally introduced by Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath, received its first reading in June 2008, but it died after parliament was prorogued in February.

Mr. Marchese has scheduled a press conference to discuss the bill in more detail on November 9 at Queen's Park.

Sudbury-Manitoulin CAS executive director Colette Prevost was unavailable for comment by press time, but she has stated in the past that the CAS remains opposed to the bill, since the organization is already subject to oversight through the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. In addition, complainants can address concerns directly to an executive director of any CAS office across the province.

"We understand the Ombudsman to have oversight on Child and Family Service Review Board, which is a third-party review," Ms. Prevost said earlier this year. "The auditor general has oversight on any organization as far as the financial (aspects)."

Source: Manitoulin Expositor