The federal government didn’t have to go far to find out what First Nations leaders were planning during last winter’s Idle No More movement.
The plans were sent directly to the government inbox.
Terrance Nelson, the former chief for Roseau River First Nation in Manitoba, forwarded private emails to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs – meant as “a warning to Canada not to get stupid,” he told Global News in an interview.
The group of five emails, all forwarded on Dec. 30, 2012 and released recently to Global under Access to Information law, contain suggested strategies from some of the most outspoken voices of the Idle No More movement. No responses from the department were included in the released documents.
An email from Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, warned that Idle No More “will escalate to various levels of violence and confrontation” and that chiefs should be “pre-emptive on the U.S. side.”
“We have the power to shut down the economy, including the export economies into the U.S.,” he wrote.
Nepinak wrote he was planning a trip to Washington in the coming weeks “to meet with various elected officials and potentially member states who will accept us at the United Nations.”
He also wrote about some of the potential consequences of the “Harper Regime” – including First Nations jeopardizing major energy projects such as the Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway pipeline, and hydro exports from Manitoba.
“I believe that the Americans deserve an explanation of why these things may come to pass, including the role that First Nations continue to play in the economic life of Canada and its trade partners.”
Nepinak has been one of the most outspoken critics of the current aboriginal leadership and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo. He boycotted the Jan. 11 meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and recently proposed a National Treaty Alliance as an alternative to the AFN’s own treaty discussions before a follow-up meeting with the prime minister.
In an interview, Nepinak said he didn’t know Nelson had forwarded his messages. He said he sent them in “a very heightened emotional state of mind,” with many chiefs concerned about the health of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who was on a liquid hunger strike since Dec. 11.
“There was a lot of really difficult kinds of feelings, a lot of hurt feelings and emotion that was folded into the discussions at that time,” he said.
“You’ll see things have cooled down since, but it is disappointing that information would be shared like that, particularly when you feel you have a level of trust with certain people.”
He added his comments about being “pre-emptive” weren’t inciting violence but referred to giving the U.S. a head’s up about potential disruption caused by the protests.
“My effort has always been to ensure that there is no violence, but to raise the profile of the issues and the concerns and to raise the economic issues that are at stake here,” he said.
“Pre-emptive does not mean, ‘Let’s engage in violent action.’”
The emails also contain messages from Isadore Day, chief of the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario, and Ann Gladue-Buffalo, then-chief of Alberta’s Confederacy of Treaty Six Nations. Neither responded or returned calls for interview requests.
Gladue-Buffalo’s email contains details about plans for a National Day of Action on Jan. 16 .
“It was agreed that in the short-term immediate pressure needs to be stepped up because Chief Spence’s health is at risk,” she wrote.
“Call, tweet, MP’s, Senators, and organize and participate in direct actions leading up to a National Day of Action which impact the economy, industry and government. Target Main economic and energy corridors such as power sources, railways and highways.”
The note suggested regional coordination and a public relations strategy that extended to international contacts. It also points to ways in which chiefs were attempting to put pressure on the prime minister to meet with Spence.
“Industry controls PM and Industry can make the PM meet with Chief Spence. Chiefs should also send letters to industry in their territories advising of action measures. Ie. Blockades of major roadways, rail lines, rally’s at MP’s office, letter campaigns, twitter bombs.”
It includes a list of critical dates and strategies to support Spence or protest federal legislation.
In an interview, Nelson admitted to forwarding all the emails, except the one from Gladue-Buffalo. A spokeswoman for aboriginal affairs later confirmed he had sent all the emails.
Nelson said he is regularly in touch with the aboriginal affairs department.
“We just provided a warning to Canada not to get stupid and that’s one of the reasons we provide this information to Canada, making sure that they know that we know,” he said.
“That’s critically important because a lot of the First Nations people don’t have that understanding of how much power we have.”
Nelson added that it’s “somewhat naive” for First Nations people to think the government doesn’t already know about their activities.
“I know I’m monitored. Instead of trying to hide, or trying to do covert activities, I just say ‘Ok, here’s what we’re doing.’”