Denis Lemelin, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), recently released a letter to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who is on a hunger strike on Ottawa's Victoria Island. The letter goes way beyond support for Chief Spence, and expresses barely concealed contempt for Canada's "morally bankrupt government and system":
Chief Theresa Spence,
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers honour Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat for her courageous stand in defense of the land against the moral bankruptcy of the Canadian state.
We recognize the racist and genocidal history of Canada and that the attempts to assimilate and silence Indigenous voices have been rife with failure and abuse. The ongoing theft of Indigenous lands, the refusal to honour agreements made in the name of the British Crown reveal a sadly dishonest and indefensible relationship. It seems nothing is sacred in the eyes of the greedy.
Now this latest government after their so-called "apology" without substance are making another kind of attempt to forever extinguish rights and title to your land while continuing the poverty, illness, homelessness, disappearances of Indigenous women, and imprisonment that it has wrought. Everyone who identifies as "Canadian" should be deeply ashamed of this sad performance but shame is not enough. Our organization will not lend our name to that destruction or defend a morally bankrupt government and system. We will not be a party to traumatizing whole populations and can no longer deny or remain silent over the fact the homes of the settlers were built on the ruins of others.
No re-writing of history will change what we all know. These territories were unjustly seized and exploited while accompanied by ongoing attempts to erase history. We hope that we will learn better to develop customs and practices to guide our relationship. When Indigenous peoples stand to defend the land and Mother Earth it is our duty to stand with them in order to de-colonize ourselves and recognize this complicity of silence that has occurred for generations is not acceptable.
We honour you Chief Spence, driven to this measure, and with humility and gratitude thank you for your courageous defense of the knowledge you have kept alive, for trying to protect places that future generations will enjoy and though it is maybe not your intent, to know that your actions are now speaking for all of us, for everyone who wants and deserves a sustainable way of life in harmony and respect with the earth. We add our name to those who will not stand for taking away sovereignty and the inherent right to land and resources from First Nations peoples in this abusive and indefensible relationship.
In solidarity and gratitude,Many Canadians might agree with Brother Lemelin that the relationship between the Canadian state and its aboriginal inhabitants is not working and needs a thorough re-examination, but I think most of us would hesitate to link the issue to a claim that our government is "morally bankrupt", that Canada needs to "de-colonize" itself, or that our "system" needs to be replaced by one more "sustainable" and "in harmony and respect for the earth".
Of course, this is the same union that sent delegates to its 2011 convention to join Occupy Toronto in shutting down the intersection of King and Bay Streets in the heart of Toronto's financial district. Among the many causes CUPW has embraced are the Canadian Peace Alliance (which supports Iraq War deserters from the US military living in Canada), the Palestinian fight with Israel, withdrawal from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting "Islamophobia" following 9/11, and generally anything opposed to war, militarism and globalization.
All of these are perfectly acceptable causes, and in a free democracy everyone has a right to hold these or opposing views, but it makes me wonder if this is a proper role for a union which has as its main function representing postal workers in collective bargaining with Canada Post. Is Doris, the sweet little old lady who works the counter at my rural post office, really concerned about Palestine or replacing our morally bankrupt system? And are the workers of the organization whose main function these days seems to be delivery of unwanted junk mail and pound after pound of advertising flyers for big box stores really interested in a life more in harmony with Mother Earth? If so, I suggest that they stop being hypocritical, quit their jobs as tools of the capitalist bourgeoisie, and see if they can still find an Occupy camp somewhere to help bring down the corrupt system they are currently helping to perpetuate.
Postal workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your satchels!