There is a rather large debate happening online a day after protestors shut down a speaking engagement by Phil Fontaine at the University of Winnipeg. There is a really important context behind this specific incident going on.
Fontaine is a shrewdly chosen spokesperson for the interests of Manitoba’s business interests in resource development with a kinder face presented to indigenous communities. I also happen to think Lloyd is Phil’s token white guy.
Lloyd and Phil have a very specific political project they are tied up in and this background is important to understand when looking at this specific circumstance.
Phil Fontaine and Lloyd Axworthy are very close and they have been for a while. They’ve worked together on some important contributions to the community. Lloyd and Phil shared the same indigenous spiritual advisor Tobasonkwut Kinew, Wab Kinew’s dad. He also happened to be a guy I really respected; he was my first elder here in Winnipeg. But we had different ideas about how to do economic development. In 2010 Axworthy was made an honourary member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba and was given an Ojibwe name – Waapshki Pinaysee Inini, which translates to White Thunderbird Man. In 2012 he was granted the title of Pipe Carrier by this same crew of Anishinaabeg. I’m not sure if Axworthy has done a fasting cycle has he?
The important thing which stands out: they are tied up with pushing the interests of fossil fuels and mining companies. I think they do this because they are calculating they will not be able to achieve an anti-capitalist indigenous sovereignty.
Axworthy has sat on the board and overseen the expansion of the Port of Churchill whose company Omnitrax wants to increase oil exports by building pipelines and shipping oil by rail through the port of Churchill.
Axworthy also sat on the board of Hudbay Mining and Smelting which has a dark history of ignoring indigenous rights here in Manitoba as well as in Latin America. Hudbay is currently screwing over and ignoring the rights Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.
After being leader of the AFN Fontaine started working for banks such as RBC. He was helping them build buy-in from the native community for resource projects such as the tar sands which are directly killing people up stream and will obviously harm the entire world through climate change.
He is specifically being used because of the prestige he garnered as AFN chief to trick people into supporting an agenda that is bad for the Earth.
He stands up beside Lloyd Axworthy who on the one hand wants the University of Winnipeg to maintain compliance with Kyoto through the campus sustainability office. Did you know Axworthy announced the UWinnipeg Campus sustainability initiative at a conference on the North sponsored by Omnitrax?
On the other hand UWinnipeg gives naming rights to buildings to the Richardson family – who happen to be owners of the largest oil exploration company in Manitoba which means they are the largest company undertaking hydraulic fracturing in South-western Manitoba.
The Richardson College for the environment is leading development of Manitoba’s version of Plan Nord through the Arctic Gateway Project. This project heavily relies on exploiting natural resources in the North with platitudes to Indigenous communities.
Interesting to note it is the Richardson’s oil company Tundra Oil and Gas who is partnering with the infamous Enbridge to build a second rail transfer station for oil in southern Manitoba so they can double the oil export capacity by rail. This is going on right at the same time Omnitrax is gearing up to ship oil through Churchill.
Enbridge happens to be building pipelines through Roseau River First Nation where some of the protestors who showed up today come from. Their community is experiencing the problems associated with pipelines.
All of this happens with the salesman for TransCanada’s newest pipeline showing up at our door-step. It’s not a co-incidence. It is a calculated political move to build indigenous support for a dangerous and ill-advised resource economic system.
There isn’t a dialogue to be had in these circumstances in such a way which will shift the decision-makers minds. The only people going to be persuaded were naive people in the audience.
To be frank Fontaine’s celebrity status as AFN chief is being cultivated as a way to seduce well-meaning white people into supporting oil sands and fracking development as a path forward for indigenous sovereignty. They are peddling a burning house. It is deeply irresponsible and troublingly cynical. It can’t be let slide and bullshit deserves to be called.
He’s dancing the capitalist pow wow for himself and his favourite white men. He is too heavily invested in his person in this project to suddenly switch sides. He is either self-interested or hopelessly ignorant of the science behind climate change. Or I’m dead wrong for believing the United Nation’s IPCC and James Hansen.