Skyler Williams, occupation leader
SOLIDARITY MEANS DOING MORE than just enough. Unions prove it every day. None more so than the over 3000 academic workers in CUPE Local 3906 at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
The local recently decided to do more to make their support for Indigenous people more immediate and concrete.
Local 3906 had been supporting various Indigenous causes in the region for more than a decade—most recently for the Indigenous opposition to the sale to land developers of unceded Six Nations land in Caledonia, a small town about 30 kilometres south of Hamilton, Ontario.
Good, but not enough
Whatever the local did was always appreciated. However, the local recognized that it rarely, if ever, seemed to galvanize their membership or strengthen the bonds of solidarity between the union and Indigenous activists. The local leadership wanted to do more to strengthen those bonds.
The local began by creating an Indigenous Solidarity Working Group (ISWG) to establish, maintain and strengthen ongoing moral support for local Indigenous activists.
Then they added what Sharoni Mitra, CUPE 3906 President, calls “two crucial resources: material support and the autonomy for activists to take on the tasks they feel are important, with no strings attached or second-guessing by the local.”
This was a big difference, says Mitra.
“The work we’re doing and the support we’re providing help in a material way to really strengthen the bonds between our members and the local Indigenous community,” said Mitra.
The working group operates with two co-chairs: one is a sociology student and member of the Haudenosaunee First Nation.
“Because of Sonia’s direct ties with the Six Nation community, we’ve been able to really strengthen those ties,” Mitra said.
ISWG work includes soliciting proposals from Indigenous-led organizations and grassroots Indigenous activists for “Community Impact Grants’”of up to $500. The grants support activities and actions that aid and benefit local Indigenous communities, both on and off of reserves.
Grants have supported food basket and gift card programs for First Nation community members in the city of Hamilton, the development of community food gardens at Six Nations, emergency stipends for family and more.
Providing material support while attaching little or no strings is the sort of thing that could make a treasurer uncomfortable, but CUPE 3906 Treasurer Chris Fairweather said the program has become so popular with members that they approved an even larger budget for the group.
“In fact, we’ve had other CUPE locals approach us and ask if they could contribute to the working group’s budget,” he added.
A physical presence
For Mitra, one of the most gratifying aspects of seeing the working group and its efforts flourish goes well beyond funding worthwhile endeavours. As the conflict in Caledonia escalated and blockades were attacked by police and others, supporters from CUPE 3906 put their bodies on the line to strengthen the Land Defenders’ blockades.
“We’re getting an opportunity to engage with Indigenous people on their terms in a way that we, as a movement, haven’t always done,” she says.
“Labour’s relationship with Indigenous people’ causes is complicated. This actually lets us engage in some seriously good and meaningful dialogue,” she said.
The 1492 Land Back Lane land defenders have won.
A planned subdivision at the centre of an Indigenous land dispute near Caledonia, Ontario and Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation won’t go ahead.
The developer behind the McKenzie Meadows project confirmed it July 2. He said deposits to homebuyers are being returned.
Haudenosaunee people began an occupation of the construction site last July. They never wavered despite a permanent injunction that was granted last fall and dozens of arrests.
The developer says the long duration of the occupation and the more permanent setup of the camp were key factors behind the cancellation.
Skyler Williams, a spokesman for the 1492 Land Back Lane camp, said the cancellation of the sub-division project doesn’t go far enough; but marks a step in the right direction.
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