"The TMC editorial collective talked about it over e-mail and we do not feel comfortable with you further representing the TMC as a journalist in the future."
I've been kicked out of the TMC community for taking a principled position.
I learned in the unceded forest Park de la Verendrye, that the divisions in that community deeply mirror our own. Those that I have a mandate from are the traditional people who do not accept clear-cutting and do not sign agreements and pretend to not be able to produce copies of those agreements. These are the people who were kicked out of their community.
I fought very hard to remain principled, and have resulted to name calling a TMC editor an 'articulate administrative coward', but hey, they may be bound by their own personal situation where they do not enjoy the privilege of speaking the truth.
I never had the intention of discrediting the entire academic works of people like Shiri Pasternak, or the activism and journalism of Martin Lukacs, heck, I even made a calling for an urgent mobilization directing people to www.IPSMO.org and www.Barrierelakesolidarity.org. Barriere Lake Solidarity Call Out For Support APPEL A L'AIDE!
Make no mistake, the two page letter of complaint to the TMC from BLS is a results oriented attack on my "behaviour" exactly because I was chronicling resistance that was suppressed so that others could push triumphant calls of "victory" when the opposite was in fact the reality.
The front page of the www.barrierelakesolidarity.org website still reads "WIN! Resistance by Barriere Lake and supporters results in Quebec concession over logging"
All the video footage I have illuminates that their flase claims, and in some instances how the characterizations of my behaviour are arbitrary attacks motivated by their discomfort with my journalism. http://toronto.mediacoop.ca/audio/traditional-algonquin-elders-louise-and-joseph-wawatie-arrested-sq-protesting-continued-loggin
The TMC has bowed to insider back room political influence. When solidarity activists such as BLS see other activists are actually doing something that BLS claims to do but is not, I can see why they felt the need to attack. Why such a spectacular failure on the part of BLS? why were there not buses of many solidarity activists? Hopefully other journalists and activists will take up this cause and find things out, follow the money, and remain dedicated to the public use of reason, transparency, and accountability.
The truth of the matter is that a real victory, a stop to clear cutting will be a victory for everyone and it is the only option to organize for, as forestry has ravaged their unceded lands for decades in the most destructive clear cut manners. Survival is at stake, and to quote land defender Jo Wawatie, "Our existence as the Algonquin Nation of the land is still here as we speak."
After journalism (and not public relations) got spread around, people started contacting people, people involved with BLS who were not main organizers were shocked to find out how badly they handled it, that clear-cutting continues even after they declared victory.... the attempt to silence my work was not successful and it is saddening that people feel they can controll you as an independent journalist and have right of refusal over your footage all the while disrespecting freedom of the press.
Now there is a coalition of six groups addressing this together, working towards "real solidarity", one of the groups are members of Occupy Montreal
The group is called SOS Poigan! a new group! also on facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/393266910738902/
"We tried to oppose these cuts to the Superior Court, so far unsuccessfully. We worked with some friends to form a new solidarity group in Montreal called SOS Poigan. We are preparing a press conference and a demonstration on August 24 on the Mont-Royal. Our goal is a complete ban on logging in the forest park of La Verendrye and the establishment of joint management of the park with Anishnabe."
It seems BLS are scared of the truth coming out and are spending all their time defending themselves, like writing letters of complaint to Media Co-op.
If real solidarity work is to take place, it would have to be a collective approach including and working with traditional people of the community, taking the time to speak with all the people, as this is how their counselling and decision process operates, through the consultation and consent.
Continued clear cutting is not "peaceful co-existence".
My message to BLS is this, to the main organizers, if you've gone down the wrong road it is never too late to turn back, to the people who are friends with the main organizers or supporters of BLS, join the new resistance, there are people out there willing to fight.
The community of ABL and Barriere Lake is a wonderful community with wonderful people and wonderful spirit. I coordinated all my filming with Norman's consent, http://montreal.mediacoop.ca/video/escalation-report-back-interview-norman-matchewan/11741 I was well received by them, they understood what my work was as a documentary filmmaker. Now they are told I am a threat. They are acting reasonably. I fully acknowledge that my behaviour is entirely colonial, I am a settler, but I was welcomed on that land, was respectful and treated respectfully. Barriere Lake Solidarity is not in solidarity with those people, but rather with a narrow band of their leadership. The reserve of Rapid Lake seems oppressed, people are afraid to speak, and there is an on going fraud investigation into the administration of the Tri-lateral agreement. Its a beautiful agreement but pure fantasy, worth millions for the paper it is written on, but of no evidenced or demonstrable use, aside from maintinging divisons by design. In their attempt to silence me, BLS showed their own colonialism in a most vulgar manner, and in the name of decolonizing they've done the opposite.
Finally I wish to thank the Traditional Algonquin Nation of the One Nation for the strength in resistance, for the hospitality and way they have honoured me, and for continuing to struggle. I also wish to thank the many supporters and new friends who have literally come out of the wood-work to send me unsolicited words of encouragement which are well appreciated.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, Aug 20, 2012 at 3:52 PM
Subject: Re: About Zach Ruiter, a documentary filmmaker for the Toronto Media Co-Op
First of all, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. We tried to live up to deadlines in terms of providing a response by got gummed up in some back and forth on this and are only able to get back to you now.
Thank you for your e-mail from August 1st in regards to a visit from a TMC member, Zach Ruiter. Your e-mail states a number of problems with Zach's visit and we met on the 7th to try to talk about and address these issues with Zach.We want to make sure that BLS understands a little bit about the structure and make-up of the Toronto Media Co-op. The TMC is an autonomous local of mediacoop.ca. We have the same basis of unity as the national site and other locals. But we generate our own coverage, polices, and practices that are Toronto/Ontario based and focused. In other words, we don't have the traditional media structure where someone from the national office can censor or change our coverage. Decisions are mostly made at the local level in line with our policies.
We're a predominently white news organization. We've tried to address this in a number of ways to little avail so far, but it's something that we continue to work on and devote time and resources to.
We're also primarily volunteer run. We meet about once a week to generate story leads, help each other out with sources and information sharing. We don't have a large infrastructure, clearly defined leadership, a lot of money or many policies.
This means that we don't exercise a high degree of control or direction over our contributors. Most of them do their own thing and simply agree to honour our policies. We didn't send Zach up as a collective, he went through his own connections, on his own initiative.
Because Zach did state he was a journalist with the TMC (and also was connected with other organizations) we have tried to deal with this through our processes and editorial polices. We make decisions collectively so we've tried to address your issues in that framework.
In addition to your e-mail, some TMC editors received some e-mails immediately following people's return from camp. We've also had some other e-mails since then. Some of these echo'd some of your concerns while others praised Zach for his work. An email from Norman Matchewan come on the 3rd asking that a final cut be sent to him so he can review it.
We went through your e-mail with Zach thoroughly to allow him to respond to some of the statements made, with the hopes of addressing some of your concerns as best we can, or getting Zach to do so where possible. It was very difficult and took a lot of time. Zach was quite defensive and took
exception to the factual basis and the framing of some of the statements made.
After a few drafts of this response and talking with him at length about this the TMC editorial collective does not feel that Zach has acknowledged problems with his behaviour at Barriere Lake. We felt that there were some valid issues and that this was a basic need for us in terms of our policies. We have asked Zach to stop representing himself as a TMC journalist until he can do this (and some other things).
We did recieve a number of e-mails in support of Zach's actions at barriere lake and his coverage of issues there. We also wanted to outline some of the responses that Zach passed onto to us that we feel we should list, to be fair.
Zach said that he is happy to work with Norman Matchewan as Zach continues to do journalism on the activities of Resolute Forestry Products and those who oppose them, Zach would be happy to preview any significant documentary work for Norman at the rough cut stage and give due consideration to Norman’s feedback and the feedback of others before a final product is premiered or made publicly available.
Regarding a number of the issues raised, Zach contends that all his filming done at the camp was in coordination and cooperation with, when it was not instructed or directly witnessed by Norman.
Similarly, Zach felt that when filming on the night of July 16th, he fully lived up to the direction of the two leaders he was asked to follow and at no point did they express any concern to him.
Regarding Zach's July 24th coverage, we took a look at this. You stated that Zach "reported that “$1.5 Million deal has been reached between Barriere Lake and the Ministry of Natural Resources to allow for continued logging of unceeded territory and traditional lands.” We don't think this is entirely accurate.
Zach had reported that "Shannon Chief of the Algonquin Traditional Women's Council reports that $1.5 Million deal..." so he was actually attributing this to someone else. In addition, he immediately followed that piece up on the same day "http://toronto.mediacoop.ca/audio/norman-matechwan-explains-agreement-harmonize-logging-process/11789" where he clarifies the reality of the $1.5 Million figure.
There's obviously some disagreement between BLS and Zach in terms of some of what happened along with some disagreements in terms of e-mails that we've received. We don't know how to exactly deal with that. We don't want to brush aside concerns, however we don't feel comfortable passing judegment when we can't confirm what has happened exactly. We'd obviously be happy to get more information if you have any that you feel would better inform us.
However some of your concerns we feel are valid. Given the number of complaints that came immediately following the camp, and our whiteness, we feel that our contributors obviously need some basic training in terms of working in indegenous communities. We plan on organizing this training in the fall for our contributors. It's not going to fully ensure that something like this will never happen again, but we hope it's a good start.
We've asked Zach as a collective to remove community members images and voices if they've asked for this as a basic act of respect for the people the communities the TMC works with. We've explained how we feel this will affect the TMC, and Media co-op as a whole in terms of our ability to work and report on indigenous communities in Barriere Lake, Coast Salish Territory, Six Nations etc. We obviously can not force him to do so, especially as he has been asked not to represent the TMC at this current time. But if he does not honour this wish please let us know so that the collective can try to address this.
Finally, we know that this may not address all of your concerns, but we do take them seriously and do want to deal with them as fairly as possible. We encourage you let us know if there's more we can do or more information that we need.
On Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 11:25 PM, Barriere Lake Solidarity <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Dear Toronto Media Co-Op Collective,
I am writing, on behalf of the Barriere Lake Solidarity Collective, to bring your attention regarding Zach Ruiter who claimed himself as a documentary filmmaker for the Toronto Media Co-Op and his actions at the Algonquins of Barriere Lake protest site against illegal logging at Poigan Bay, QC this July.
The Barriere Lake Algonquins had camped out in the Poigan Bay area since July 4 in protesting an illegal logging by Resolute Forest Products with protection from the Quebec Government. On July 20, the Barriere Lake community reached an agreement with Quebec to do Measures to Harmonize; a process that will significantly reduce the cutting areas and allow the community to protect moose yards, bear dens, sacred sites, and medicinal sites. It is a model of co-existence. Therefore, a protesting site was no longer needed; the community has left the camp site on July 22.
Zach was at the camp in the evening of July 14 and 16, as well as in the morning of July 17. He first arrived with a few people who attended the One Nation conference near La Domaine, QC (an hour away from the camp site). Immediately after he arrived, he claimed he was working on a documentary regarding Indigenous people’s struggle and would like to include Barriere Lake in his documentary. Even though he apologized for his potential rudeness for making his documentary in advance, he did not speak with any community members or leadership at the camp regarding his intentions or asking permission to film, and soon took control of the scenes. It is extremely inappropriate behaviour from a person who declared himself as an Indigenous solidarity activist, replicating the colonial relationship between the Algonquins and the white settler society.
One of the issues we (the community members, observers and other solidarity activists) have with Zach throughout the time there are his confrontational manners and provocative language particularly when interacting with the police. Without considering the community’s relationship with the police, their legal situation at that time as well as his white privileges, he constantly interrupted the conversations between the representatives of the community and the Sûreté du Québec. In our view, his behaviour was very careless, inconsiderate and potentially put the community who has been on the frontline defending their land in a more dangerous position - harsher policing, police intimidation and harassment, as well as arrests.
In one incident that took place on July 14, Zach organized a blockade of a police vehicle so he could ask questions of the driver. He asked everyone to stand in front of the vehicle, and encouraged some of the kids in the camp to sit down with their signs. It was seriously overstepping his role. He did not consult with the community leadership before taking this action.
On the night of July 16, more than twelve community youth went to the bush to stop the loggers from working. The community gave Zach permission to be part of the action in order to take some footages with an instruction that he should follow the directions of the two selected as leaders. According to some participants of this action, Zach did not live up to this. At one of the more tense moments, when the group passed through an area as quickly as possible to avoid being seen, Zach stayed back without telling anyone. Presumably he was taking film, however we did not know, and once the rest of the group noticed he was gone, had to stop and go back.
Moreover, during the night action there was time to talk. Zach talked a lot and had many ideas. A lot of the advice that he gave was potentially helpful, but it is inappropriate for an outsider invited for a specific role to take that kind of leadership. He had not spent time at the camp, nor built trusting relationships with the folks.
Zach was very excited about the footage he took during the night of July 16. However, the community was worried about its potential social and legal ramifications and requested him to release any pieces of his footage with care. For example, removing several pieces of his footage specified by the community, which he did agree orally. Nonetheless, at one point on July 17 morning, a community member asked him to blur the face of the youth participants taking part in the night action, he was hesitant and did not make any gesture of promising to do so. He finally agreed to considering showing his final cut of the film to the community before releasing it to the public after his lengthy lecture to a solidarity activist that the community did not dictate how an independent filmmaker does his job when she asked him to do so.
It seems to us that he has put making an exciting documentary before the safety of the community in the name of getting media’s attention in order to spread the word and gain outside support quickly. Furthermore, he also pressured the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) who were invited as observers to release their footage from a previous action for his documentary. According to the CPT, he was very insistent about it even after they had explained to him more than once that as long as they were given the okay by the folks who had invited them to be there and who were in positions of responsibility.
It is very important to point out that Zach has taken advantages of his role as filmmaker to access and take control of situations, and manipulate people to accommodate his wishes and his vision for the video. He gave advice and direction without significantly acknowledging the community’s leadership or his unearned privileges leaving the community to deal with any potential consequences. For example, at some point, he was advocating the community to conduct property destruction or other similar actions that would make his film more interesting.
Zach went to the camp with an impression of working in solidarity with the community in the camp. However, he did not seem to do a fair amount of homework prior to engaging with the community. Before coming to the camp, he had been spending time with a group of Barriere Lake that differ in method and vision. Zach relayed the negative comments he learned from this group to community members at the camp, which was inappropriate and disrespected the trust that must have been placed in him by the other group. There is clearly a divide in the community, which is hurtful and difficult, affecting families and friends. As an outsider and independent journalist, it is unethical of him to spread vague reports of this nature.
Furthermore, on July 24, Zach posted 2 pieces of news article on Barriere Lake. In one of them entitled “Breaking: Agreement at Barriere Lake not accepted by Traditional Council”, he reported that “$1.5 Million deal has been reached between Barriere Lake and the Ministry of Natural Resources to allow for continued logging of unceeded territory and traditional lands”. This is completely false information. The fact that he did not verify this information prior to stating it puts his ethics as journalist into question. Please see an update issued by us, the solidarity group, on July 31 that explains Barriere Lake’s latest struggle including the agreement made between the community and the Quebec government: WIN! Resistance by Barriere Lake and supporters results in Quebec concession over logging.
Overall, even with a good intention, Zach’s actions have resulted in some level of nuisance and extra stress to the community. At the time of writing, he does not have the confidence or trust of the community. Some supporters and CPT members who were in the camp had tried to minimize potential damages by making him aware of his inappropriate behaviour. We are very grateful for that. To prevent similar situations from occurring, we truly encourage the TMC to take our concerns seriously and make sure that the journalists who would like to engage or are engaging in solidarity work with Indigenous communities are aware of their own privileges and responsibilities, and do not repeat the colonial relationship that is the basis of the land struggle the Indigenous communities have encountered for centuries. In particular, we hope that the TMC can work with Zach assisting him in improving his capacity as he continue reporting from the frontline Indigenous communities impacted by mining, logging and other mega projects.
Lastly, to relay some community members’ concerns with Zach’s footage, we would also like the TMC to help us persuade Zach to respect their wishes and remove some community members’ images and voices from his film.
If you have any questions or would like to know more details of our or the community’s concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Barriere Lake Solidarity
Solidarité Lac Barrière