Social Justice Archives - Peter Sibbald's Blog About Photography and Filmmaking

A tribute to the late Josef Riche

I am just catching up on the terrible news of the tragic loss of my old friend Josef Riche, former Grand Chief of the Innu Nation, by drowning hypothermia a couple of days ago. Back in the 1980s and 90s, as I struggled to make images of his even more struggling community, Josef often had kind words of encouragement, advice and  humour. His kitchen could be a place of refuge.

While it has been many years since we spoke, it was clear even twenty years ago when I photographed his wedding (on what was then a very happy day-above) that he might very well someday become the wise and great leader for his people that he is now being recognized  to have become by such notable admirers,  as Newfoundland’s Premier, Kathy Dunderdale.  One can hear one of Josef’s historic speeches on CBC’s Labrador Morning tribute to Josef. If you know anything about Innu history, or indeed that of the First Peoples of this land, it should break your heart.

To Josef’s family and the people of the Innu Nation, my heart goes out to you all. I will remember Josef for his kind and generous spirit.


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Driving Directions for The PM to visit Chief Theresa Spence

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

A number of non-Native folk have contacted me looking for directions to Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike encampment on Victoria Island, and so it occurs to me that perhaps the reason you may have not been over to visit Chief Spence is because you couldn’t find your way.

After all it has been over 3 weeks since she began her strike and she must be getting rather hungry by now to at least have some news from you.

As we enter what may yet prove to be the coldest January in a number of years, I also wanted to remind you to please dress warmly. There’s no sense resuming Parliament with a cold after you return to work from your Christmas recess on January 28, three weeks after the kids have gone back to school . You might even want to replace that 100X beaver felt cowboy hat with a beaver fur one. I realize those cowboy hats are warm, but they’re missing those cosy fur ear flaps that are so much more practical in this weather. Besides you’d probably look even more dashing in fur than felt. I’ll bet you could borrow one from one of your mounties; they’re issued with great fur hats, or at least they used to be, before the federal budget cuts.

Also it’s pretty cold for the Chief’s supporters over on the island, and so it might be a thoughtful gesture to bring along some food, firewood, warm clothing or extra blankets as they would be well appreciated by the fire-keepers who are keeping round-the-clock watch over Chief Spence and her sacred fire. And if you really want to be politic, you might bring along a little tobacco for an offering.

Oh yes and fresh water… I imagine the drinking water from the taps at 24 Sussex is much cleaner than anything any ordinary Canadian will have access to going forward once international and domestic corporate interests have their way with those thousands of navigable lakes and rivers removed from protection last month by the provisions of your omnibus bill, C-45.  Perhaps Canadians could run a water pipeline from the facility providing clean water to 24 Sussex into the general drinking water supply. In the long run that could save  tax payers oodles of health care dollars by sparing us al from being forced to consume the imminently contaminated local water… well at least until you abolish universal healthcare. After that I guess it won’t matter as it will be up to the sickened and dying Canadian population to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to get on an level playing field with the Chinese who, by then, will own many of our former resources and Native reserve lands.


But I digress. I know you must be chomping at the bit for those directions so you can go see Chief Spence right away, so here they are:

Please give these directions to your driver, once your are settled comfortably in the back of your limo.

1. Start out going southwest on Sussex Dr / Promenade Sussex toward Alexander St / Rue Alexander.

2. Sussex Dr / Promenade Sussex becomes MacKenzie Ave / Avenue MacKenzie.

3. Turn right onto Rideau St / Rue Rideau / HWY-17B / RR-34. Continue to follow RR-34 W.

RR-34 W is 0.4 kilometers past Murray St Le Chateau Rideau Centre is on the right If you are on Promenade Colonel by and reach Daly Ave you’ve gone about 0.1 kilometers too far

4. Stay straight to go onto Wellington St / Promenade de l’Outaouais, past the Prime Minister’s Office.

5. Turn right onto Booth St / Rue Booth.

Booth St is just past Lett St If you are on Promenade de l’Outaouais and reach Broad St you’ve gone about 0.1 kilometers too far

6. Turn right onto Middle St / Rue Middle.

Middle St is 0.2 kilometers past Place Vimy If you are on Pont des Chaudières and reach Rue Eddy you’ve gone about 0.3 kilometers too far into Quebec. Fortunately Quebec is still not a foreign country yet, though if the PM keeps attacking the arts and artists, he may just alienate that province enough to separate in which case, driver, in the future you might want to remind the PM to bring his passport on his excursions.


Proceed to the Chief’s encampment at the East end of that road. 

Total Travel Estimate: 5.15 kilometres – about 10 minutes

Alternately the PM could use his new military-grade GPS that Charlie the Chinchilla gave to him for Christmas:

Middle St, Ottawa, ON K1R  45.421620, -75.711155 (Address is approximate)


P.S. If you’re still not sure how navigability and environmental protection of Canada’s waterways are related, perhaps it is because you were too busy limiting debate surrounding bill C-45 to have time to read the open letter that EcoJustice sent you in November. You can still access the legal backgrounder they prepared for you here and if you’re resolved to leave your Blackberry unplugged over the Christmas recess, your personal secretary can download and print a nicely formatted hard copy from here. Heck, you might even be able to get a good start on it in the limo on the way over.

 Oh… and Mr. Prime Minister,  please don’t forget that beaver fur hat.

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Chief Theresa Spence’s Hunger Strike Encampment: Getting There

It’s come to my attention that there is some confusion about how to travel to the encampment. Indeed I recall having trouble figuring this out myself as Mapquest and Google maps are a little sketchy on how to access Victoria Island in the Ottawa River. Your closest nearest landmark is, ironically, the Canadian War Museum which any search engine should find for you easily enough. Proceed north a couple of blocks from that point on Booth Street. Access is a block or so north of the Canadian War Museum making a right (eastward) turn from the top of Booth Street via the Chaudieres Bridge onto Middle Street on Victoria Island,  and then drive ~1/2 km to the east end of the island. The Chief’s teepee is readily evident projecting above the split log  palisade walls of a tourist attraction type of fort which encloses the encampment. Lots of free parking nearby. Also near city OCTranspo bus stop.

Dress more warmly than you think might be necessary and consider bringing food, water, firewood, clothing blankets etc as it is cold and damp there because of the open water of the nearby Ottawa River.

I was planning to include a map but haven’t time to create my own since using a slice of Google maps or Mapquest here would be a copyright violation.

So here it is again for quick copy and paste:

From Highway 417 (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
exit Rochester Street north,
first right travel 2 blocks East to Booth,
turn left & proceed north past the War Museum onto the first part of the Chaudieres Bridge,
make a right (east), onto Middle Street on Victoria Island,
and then drive ~1/2 km to the east end of the island to traffic circle and parking area.

Time of travel pending traffic from Highway 417 to the  encampment is 15 minutes or less.

I will update this post with a screen-grab from my video footage as soon as I can.


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At the Idle No More Spiritual Epicentre with Chief Theresa Spence

Yesterday afternoon I spent a few precious moments with Chief Spence within her hunger strike encampment, the spiritual centre of the Idle No More movement on Victoria Island near the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. (Much footage to edit.) Despite her evident weakening, she remains strong in spirit, a selfless human being still full of great humour 12 days into her hunger strike.

Chief Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation has pledged to starve herself, to death if necessary, in an effort to get Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper to come and meet with her to discuss the plight of her community which first entered the national news a little over a year ago when the state of emergency that was declared in October 2011 was flagged by NDP MP Charlie Angus. In the wake of Federal /Provincial government bickering and inaction the still ongoing crisi sparked emergency airlifts by Canadian Red Cross. Now, surrounded by a small army of dedicated supporters, Chief Spence shelters from the oncoming Canadian winter in a canvas teepee on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River just minutes from the granite Parliament Buildings and the Prime Minister’s Office, waiting.

In both form and function, her teepee reminds me of  the mountain, Devils Tower, in the Stephen Spielberg’s 1977 film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, mysteriously drawing people in from around the continent who sense that something mysterious and uncommon is afoot.  My drive was 6 hours. Others are flying in. It would be a roughly 12 minute motorcade ride in an armor-plated limo from the Prime Minister’s residence.

Speaking of geography, according to this Google map by, Idle No More—spread through the power of social media—has already spawned over 110 events throughout North America and Europe  since it began a few weeks ago:, which, given how fast this is developing, I have not had time to verify.


The use of social media provides such an interesting study in contrasts. On one hand one can see that the current count of Youtube Video uploads pegged to keyword “Idle No More” is approximately 10,400, mostly in the past week or so. A video of an Idle No More flashmob at West Edmonton Mall more than halfway across Canada has over 50,00 views. Meanwhile,  it would appear that Prime Minister Harper is still tuned to a different channel, developing his Flickr stream  and getting his pet Chinchilla Charlie ready for Christmas, which at this time of writing has 4,063 views: Charlie the Chinchilla gets into the spirit of Christmas at 24 Sussex


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Understanding “Idle No More”… Not Just an “Indian Thing”

While many are writing, reporting, broadcasting and blogging on this already the past few days, this may be the my first of many related posts on my blog about this new movement across Canada. There is something about it that has the same raw authenticity that the Occupy movement did a little over a year ago. The singular difference, I sense, is that the sentiment and knowledge that fuels it has been hundreds of years in the amassing and the pent-up anger driving it—rightly in my opinion—is generations old, residing in the hearts of four or five generations of people currently extant.

On the surface at least Idle No More is the creation of four young women, 3 Native and one non-Native, in response to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s, ham-fisted Omnibus Bill C-45—with (among many travesties) its rights grab of First People’ land rights and annihilation of protections to Canada’s precious clean water. But beyond that, The PM’s apparently blithe and nakedly insulting unconcern about Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, now in it’s 10th day (tbc), merely a stone’s throw from the PMO has jabbed already raw nerves from sea to sea to shining sea.

 Idle No More’s official web site is the go-to place on matters and information related to the movement. Please beware: immitators and other’s attempting to forward discreditable agendas are already springing up.

It’s a lot to wade through though so as I begin to get up-to-date on what the movement is myself, I thought I would focus what I’m learning. Rather than attempting to interpret, here is the beginning of a compendium of what the people themselves are saying.

To begin with, and perhaps of greatest importance to the greatest number, in the words of University of Winnipeg Director of Indigenous Inclusion Wab Kinew in the Huffington Posta couple of days ago: Idle No More is “more than just an “Indian Thing””.

And even if here and there the odd Canadian might be so calous and colonially imperial in his or her way of thinking as not to give a damn about social justice, First Nations or First Nations land rights, perhaps they’ll sit up and take notice of the new threats to their treasured cottage properties and country retreats and their own now threatened rights.

For these and other reasons, I think Idle No More may grow wider and endure to become, ironically, one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s enduring legacies. But wait, there is still time for him to do something about fixing this.

Meanwhile, here is lawyer and Idle No More co-founder Sylvia McAdam, who in 12 minutes gives us a pretty clear idea of what is at stake:

[youtube][/youtube] ©IdleNoMoreAlberta


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“touching something that is untouchable”

In the same vein as my last post, and from a work done at great legal risk by the documentary makers, the following quotations:

“Monsanto, where creative chemistry works wonders for you.”

“I have never seen a situation where one company could have so much overwhelming influence at the highest levels of regulatory decision making, as an example of Monsanto with its GM food policy and the government.”

“More powerful than bombs; it’s more powerful than God”.

“We’re touching something that is untouchable.”

The World According to Monsanto


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Guest Column: Cynical Canadians: Shame on you!

Guest Column Rant

By Curmudgy Mapleblight:

Some might suggest that it is cynical behaviour by Canada’s Conservative federal government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to prorogue parliament in the middle of the Christmas/New Years holiday week, on the eve of New Years eve, when the hearts and minds of the Canadian electorate were presumably taking a break…

Taking a break from:

  • heartbreak of first Christmases without friends and relatives lost in a war in Afghanistan that few can make sense of
  • the suffering of escalating hardship after a more than year long recession
  • the consternation, puzzlement and international embarrassment of the Canadian diplomat James Colvin’s recent Parliamentary Committee testimony over the handling of Afghan detainees
  • the deepening international embarrassment of Canada’s grotesquely obvious foot-dragging and role in the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit
  • the record numbers of starving Canadian children
  • the record numbers of northern First Peoples without access to clean drinking water and safe living conditions
  • the record number of unresolved Native land claims
  • the record low numbers of surviving family farmers
  • growing fear and escalating discomfort stemming from official reactions to that fear for the flying public
  • the struggle of families in Canada’s hinterlands struggling with the invasion of their private properties by mining companies
  • the lingering uncertainty of impending global pandemics
  • and so many other petty issues

But it would be irresponsible—undemocratic—to accuse the government of taking such cynical actions, or for that matter the opposition who has said relatively little in the wake of this latest prorogation—the second in a year—when all these well paid public servants are away from their offices, support staff and other resources they might use to defend themselves, which taxpayers pay for.

Since that damn commie outfit, the CBC began reporting on the new Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament ) late yesterday the groups numbers have increased by 25%, as updated in the past couple of hours.

This is ridiculous! You so-called “engaged Canadians” and especially those belonging to that most infernal of special interest groups—FAMILIES—who claim you care about our country, and yet who yourselves so cynically would think so badly of our government, should feel ashamed of yourselves.

You should ignore silly, childish distractions like Facebook and those few remaining ways that citizens have left of engaging in the political process, and get back to your day jobs (and second night, night jobs and off-farm jobs) so you can keep those tax dollars rolling in and keep those big stone buildings in Ottawa heated, and lights on—even if nobody’s home—so the pipes don’t freeze. That way, when the government finally is ready to come back to work, they don’t have to waste more time and our money debating a budget full of emergency building repair bills.

And one more thing: don’t waste your time trying to contact your MP to tell them to get back to work; they’re on vacation for the next Quarter, and won’t be picking up their messages until late March.

Post Script: And for that matter, that damn CBC shouldn’t be allowed to report on such matters of public interest. When the government finally does get back to work, if they ever survive the confidence vote on their budget, they should finish what they started with that despicable band of pinko intellectuals: eliminate their funding altogether: muzzle’em and then scrap’em!!



The opinions expressed on this page are for informational purposes only. Mixed Farmin’ makes no claim to the opinions expressed by our guest columnist. Mixed Farmin’, its affiliates and content licensors assume no liability for any inaccurate, delayed or incomplete information, nor for any actions taken in reliance thereon.


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Food for thought: Is “local food” really local?

My friend Vincenzo Pietropaolo has been documenting the hard lives of migrant farm workers since 1984. It is a thoughtful and poignant work that Vince has just published in the guise of his latest book,  Harvest Pilgrims.

“Like migratory birds, most of Canada’s 20,000 “guest” farm workers arrive in the spring and leave in the autumn. Hailing primarily from Mexico, Jamaica, and smaller countries of the Caribbean, these temporary workers have become entrenched in the Canadian labour force and are the mainstay of many traditional family farms in Canada. Many of them make the trip year after year after year.”

In it—and so germane to the theme of Mixed Farmin’—Pietropaolo poses among other questions, the following:

If local food, which has been the fashionable darling of urban foodies these past few years, depends on workers flying here from the Caribbean and Latin America to harvest it for market (because they are the only ones willing to subject themselves to such labour for minimum wage) is it really local?

Good question!


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