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Signs of Life :: Human Rights

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First Nations Halt Clear Cutting

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Indigenous communities in Canada scored a major victory on June 3, when AbitibiBowater, one of North America’s largest newsprint and forest products companies, halted logging on the traditional territory of the Grassy Narrows First Nation in Ontario.

The company yielded to a decade-long campaign led by Grassy Narrows, a community of 1,000 people, and backed by a coalition of human rights and environmental groups, including Amnesty International, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and the Rainforest Action Network.

The campaign began in December 2002, when two young mothers from Grassy Narrows felled two trees across the area’s major logging road. Their action sparked the longest running blockade in Canadian history.

The Grassy Narrows victory is part of a thriving movement for indigenous self-determination in Canada. Dozens of First Nations from the Haida in British Columbia to the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) in northern Ontario are asserting control over their land.

The issue drew national attention from the press and support from prominent leaders after six activists from the KI nation were arrested for protesting mining on native land in northern Ontario. In response to the protests and public outcry, provincial politicians protected 56 million acres in northern Ontario from mining and logging, and promised to change the province’s outdated mining act to give First Nations more decision-making power over resource extraction on their land.

Grassy Narrows activists, who see protection of their land and their culture as intertwined, are working to empower their youth and revive their culture and language.

—Jessica Bell is a former organizer for Rainforest Action Network, where she worked to support Grassy Narrows. Today, she works for the California Food and Justice Coalition.



Grassy Narrows residents and activists block the Trans-Canada Highway. Photo courtesy of the Rainforest Action Network
Photo courtesy of the Rainforest Action Network

Grassy Narrows residents and activists have worked for years to stop the clear cutting of First Nations lands.

Shown here is a blockade of the Trans-Canada Highway.






Labor Supporting Same-Sex Marriage

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Labor unions in California are backing the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The California Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) locals are preparing to fight Proposition 8, an initiative that seeks to overturn a May decision by the California Supreme Court that effectively legalizes same-sex marriage. Gay and lesbian union members succeeded in getting a resolution against the initiative passed at the California Labor Federation’s biennial conference in July.

The nation’s labor unions have long been ahead of the curve on supporting gay rights. In Wisconsin, for example, unions representing public employees, teachers, communications workers, and others fought an unsuccessful campaign to defeat a 2006 measure banning gay marriage and civil unions.

But analysts say labor is now in a stronger position to defend the rights of gays and lesbians across the country.

In New York and Pennsylvania, unions have lobbied for passage of statewide non-discrimination legislation.

In addition, eight international unions have come out in full support of same-sex marriage, and many have lobbied for a federal law protecting gays, lesbians, and transgender people from employment discrimination.

–Noah Grant



Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

“The Government of Canada now recognizes it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes … to separate children from rich and vibrant traditions … We apologize for having done this.”

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for policies that forcibly separated aboriginal children from their families, from the 1870s to the late 20th century, and placed them in boarding schools where they were subjected to abuse.


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