(Suzanne Patles was arrested and charged with mischief on July 9, 2013, after laying tobacco and praying the middle of a highway in New Brunswick during an anti-shale gas exploration demonstration. Photo/Suzanne Patles Faceboook)
APTN National News
APTN National News has identified two of the individuals on a list of 89 Indigenous rights activists considered “threats” by the RCMP following a review of details contained in a recently released report compiled by the federal police force’s intelligence centre.
The RCMP’s National Intelligence Coordination Centre compiled the list of Indigenous rights activists who posed potential “threats” during Indigenous rights demonstrations as part of an operation dubbed Project SITKA which aimed to enhance the federal police force’s intelligence gathering capacity, according to a report obtained under the Access to Information Act by two Ottawa-based researchers.
While the names of the individuals on the list of 89 are redacted in the publicly released version of the Project SITKA report, several key details about possible identities managed to survive the censors.
Based on these details and previous reporting on the issue, APTN can report on the identity of two of the individuals on the Project SITKA list. They are Suzanne Patles, a mother of three children who lives in Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia, and Coady Stevens, who is originally from Eskasoni but lives in We’koqma’q First Nation, which is on Cape Breton Island also in Nova Scotia. Stevens is also a father but does not want to publicly reveal the number of his children because he has faced death threats in the past. Both are members of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society and were arrested and charged during anti-shale gas demonstrations in Elsipogtog in 2013.
“I guess you wear it like a badge of pride. You know you are doing your job right if you are on a government watch list,” said Patles, in a telephone interview from Eskasoni. “It is kind of complicated. Yes, you are being monitored, you are being watched. It is amusing, but at the same time it’s kind of scary because everything you do is being monitored.”
Stevens said he feels a bit “nervous” knowing the RCMP put him on the list, but it comes as no surprise.
“All the work that I have done must be getting somewhere if I am on the watch list,” said Stevens, in a telephone interview from We’koqma’q. “I see a lot of the social conditions in the community and the bad things happening to our people. Most of the things I do is for the children and the next generation. I try to do work to make their lives better than the lives of this generation.”
The RCMP’s Project SITKA was launched in early 2014 to identify individuals “willing and capable of utilizing unlawful tactics” during Indigenous rights demonstrations,” according to the intelligence report which was obtained by Andy Crosby, an Ottawa-based researcher, and Jeffery Monaghan, an assistant criminology professor at Carleton University.
The National Intelligence Coordination Centre initially created a list of 313 individuals who posed a potential “criminal threat to Aboriginal public order events.” The list was then reduced to 89 individuals, both non-Indigenous and Indigenous, that met the RCMP’s criteria which was based on background, motivation and rhetoric “to have committed or commit criminal activities” in connection with Indigenous rights demonstrations.
The intelligence centre’s report breaks down the list of 89 by regions. Thirty-five of the 89 individuals who made the list were from New Brunswick. British Columbia was next with 16 people, followed by Ontario with 15, Manitoba with 11, Nova Scotia with 10, one from Saskatchewan and one from Prince Edward Island.
The high number of individuals on the RCMP list from New Brunswick was primarily the result of the months-long demonstrations against shale gas exploration near Elsipogtog First Nation in 2013. The demonstrations saw heavily armed RCMP tactical units raid a camp, clashes between community members and police, burning police cars and highways blocked by flaming tires. The Mi’kmaq-led fight against the exploration, which they feared would lead to hydraulic fracturing and a poisoning of the area’s water, played a role in the eventual toppling of the Tory provincial government by a Liberal opposition that promised a moratorium on shale gas exploration.
The Project SITKA report said a core group of members of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society travelled to Elsipogtog from Nova Scotia.
The report notes that “two individuals, both from Nova Scotia and who identified as part of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society, participated in a national speaking tour” in 2014. The report identifies those two individuals as being “within the project,” meaning they were on the list of threats. The report notes the speaking tour was organized by the Council of Canadians and another individual from British Columbia who is also on the RCMP’s threat list.
Patles and Stevens embarked on a speaking tour about the shale gas demonstrations in 2014 organized by the Council of Canadians and Harsha Walia, a migrant justice activist and author who is affiliated with No One is Illegal. Their tour stops matched the places described in the RCMP report.
Patles was in the thick of the battle against shale gas exploration throughout most of the summer and fall of 2013 and she became one of the Warrior Society’s more high profile spokespeople. She was arrested three times. Patles was first arrested and charged with mischief on July 9, 2013, after laying tobacco and praying the middle of a highway. Then, on July 28, 2013, she was arrested and charged for obstruction, breaching conditions and mischief after the RCMP alleged she was involved in planning a blockade in the woods where several women chained themselves to machinery. Her last arrest came Oct. 17, 2013, during the RCMP raid on an encampment blocking shale gas exploration vehicles.
Patles said she never went to trial on any of the charges. She said her charges were dropped.
“It was entirely all worth it and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, and I think we were successful in our endeavour, we were able to stop hydraulic fracturing in the province,” said Patles. “And we sent off sparks all across the world.”
Stevens was one of six high-profile Mi’kmaq Warriors arrested after the Oct. 17 raid. He said he spent five weeks in solitary confinement following his arrest after the raid. He was freed on Dec. 20, 2013, after pleading guilty to five charges, including assaulting a police officer and obstructing a police officer. He was sentenced to time served.
Stevens said he is still struggling with trauma from his time in solitary confinement. He said it damaged his spirituality and still prevents him from being able to enter into a sweat lodge for ceremony because it is a confined space.
“When I got arrested and I was put in the hole and with so many repeated strip-searches, I came so disconnected from my spirituality. When I got out, I wasn’t able to recover spiritually,” said Stevens. “One day I tried to go to a sweat and I was virtually in tears, I was so scared. They kind of took it away…. I have been trying to make sense of my life after those traumatic events that unfolded and what happened in Elsipogtog.”
Stevens said the ongoing Native American-led demonstrations in North Dakota against an oil pipeline has again ignited a spark.
“With the events unfolding in Standing Rock, with all the people rising up, it is a perfect time to get in right now because the fire is lit in the hearts of people,” he said. “More than it’s ever been.”
Walia, who helped organize the speaking tour for Patles and Stevens, said Project SITKA fits a known pattern.
“Canada has consistently treated Indigenous resurgence and nationhood as a threat,” said Walia. “Whether it’s ceremony or blockades, criminalization has often been an option of first resort rather than actually transforming policies that continue to sanction theft of Indigenous lands and Indigenous children.”
Walia is a public supporter of the Unist’ot’en camp and Defenders of the Land.
The Project SITKA report notes that the 16 individuals on the list from B.C. are linked to several groups, including the Unist’ot’en camp, which has dug in along the proposed routes of three pipelines in the province, Defenders of the Land, the American Indian Movement and No One is Illegal, among others.
The report’s section on B.C. also notes two individuals on its list travelled from the province to the anti-shale gas demonstrations in Elsipogtog.
Steven Kakinoosit travelled from B.C. to Elsipogtog with a group of 10 people after the Oct. 17, 2013, RCMP raid, arriving in New Brunswick in early November. There is nothing in the RCMP document to suggest Kakinoosit is on the list. However, he said it confirms what he’s always believed that Canadian authorities target those who stand up for Indigenous rights.
“We are being monitored and harassed because of the fact that we are Indigenous people standing up for our rights,” said Kakinoosit, who lives in Prince George, B.C. “I would even go so far as to say they are doing this because they fear the rise of direct action and front-line workers coming from the inner cities. They realize, just as we do, they are the single most dangerous segment of our population because of the potential they have to rise up.”
Elsipogtog First Nation member Brian Milliea, who was involved in the movement against shale gas exploration, said the community had no choice but to fight the prospect of hydraulic fracturing in their territory.
“We didn’t choose this fight because we wanted to. We chose this fight because we had to,” said Milliea. “This movement, which the RCMP chose to categorize as violent terrorism and unlawful, was never that. Just like the movement in North Dakota was always peaceful and non-violent. The violence and brutality came when the RCMP brought in members from other districts who wanted to harm unarmed peaceful water protectors.”
Milliea was visited in August 2014 by two plain-clothes RCMP officers who said they were from a special task force. The officers wanted to question Milliea about a Facebook post where he called for a protest on New Brunswick Day. The RCMP’s intelligence centre compiled the bulk of its Project SITKA report between April and September of 2014.
Project SITKA report
The Project SITKA intelligence report also focused on several groups linked to the 89 individuals on the list. Some of the main groups identified were the Unist’ot’en camp, Defenders of the Land, Idle No More, the American Indian Movement and the Indigenous Environmental Network.
The Unist’ot’en camp is anchored by the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en nation. The camp has dug in over the past six years in an area along the routes of two proposed liquid natural gas pipelines and a proposed oil pipeline. The camp sits about 66 km south of Houston, B.C., and about 1,000 km north of Vancouver. It has become a pilgrimage destination of sorts for activists because of its steadfast opposition to the pipelines and its off-the-grid sustainability.
Dini Ze (Chief) Smogelgem, one of the main spokespeople for the camp, said it comes as no surprise the camp is on an RCMP list.
“We’ve been on similar RCMP lists for years,” he said, in an interview with APTN Investigates journalist Rob Smith. “We’ve (seen) many reports, many internal confidential reports leaked to us over the years.”
Smogelgem said he’s operated under the assumption the RCMP is keeping tabs on the camp and he expects the pressure to increase in the coming spring.
“We’ve known of them spying on us for years…. It is how we live,” he said. “We are expecting a big push from them in the spring to deal with us. As you know, we’re not going anywhere. This is our home.”
The intelligence report also names Russ Diabo, a Mohawk policy analyst originally from Kahnawake described in the document as a spokesperson for the Defenders of the Land group. The report does not suggest Diabo is on the list of 89, but he was the only individual whose name escaped the censors.
“Spokesperson Russell Diabo has described Canada as being ‘at war with the First Nations people,'” said the report.
Diabo, who has tracked the evolution of surveillance by Canadian law, said Project SITKA is just the latest incarnation of the RCMP’s efforts against Indigenous rights movements.
“My ideas are a threat because I am challenging state sovereignty,” said Diabo. “I am saying we have pre-existing sovereignty.”
Diabo is exploring legal options against the RCMP over his inclusion in the report.
The report also claims the American Indian Movement (AIM) is the dominant organization in Manitoba when it comes to Indigenous rights activism.
“(AIM) is the most influential organization within the province, with a number of its members organizing or attending events,” said the report. “Several members meet the criteria for this project and are listed as either volatile or disruptive protesters.”
Project SITKA included 11 individuals from Manitoba on its list.
Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Terry Nelson was involved with opening an official AIM chapter in Winnipeg back in 2013. Nelson said AIM has been active in Manitoba and Saskatchewan since the 1990s.
“AIM hasn’t been leading the charge, but it has certainly been working with the young people to get them ready,” said Nelson, a former vice-chair of AIM. “The attitude is different today than it was, and young people can and will take action. Look at what is happening at Standing Rock, they have really powerful support all over the world as a result of their spiritual prayer and peacefulness. Of course, if the Dakota people get killed, it would open up something they are not going to like.”
Project SITKA list of groups
In Ontario, the SITKA report names the Unist’ot’en camp and Idle No More as the two most influential organizations in the province. The intelligence report said pipelines are the main issue among Indigenous rights activist in the province and notes a railway blockade by Mohawks from Tyendinaga in March 2014 launched to call for an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women-which the Liberal government announced soon after taking power in the fall of 2015.
Prominent activist Clayton Thomas-Muller lived in Ottawa in 2014-when the SITKA report was compiled-and worked for Idle No More at the time. He has also visited the Unist’ot’en camp three times and was involved in fundraising for it. He has travelled internationally on various campaigns over the years. APTN revealed in 2014 Thomas-Muller was under RCMP surveillance.
The Project SITKA report notes some of the subjects on its threat lists from Ontario have “travelled to other provinces and internationally to attend events.”
Thomas-Muller said First Nation peoples are “sovereign within the settler colonial state of Canada” which means there is a jurisdictional gray area when it comes to actions on self-determination when it comes to disputes on natural resource extraction.
“Canada’s economy is built on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands and the marginalization of their rights, collective rights that are enshrined in section 35 of the Constitution,” said Thomas-Muller, who is currently a Stop it at the Source campaigner with 350.org. “It is up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to honour their word, lift up the honour of the Crown and honour their legal and fiduciary responsibility.”