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A fierce holiday giving guide to build a better future

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A few weeks ago I was interviewing Cathy Elliott for an upcoming Activist Toolkit blog about the DAREarts' First Roots Aboriginal Program. At the end of the interview, she offered us the gift of the following words:

"What can I offer activists? For a long time now I have been saying that the time for 'pretty words' is over, it is time for collective action and I mean everybody in Canada has to work together to make this work. It is going to take generations. It took generations to get us here and it is going to take generations to get us out of this mess that we are in.

And I know, I am only reflecting what other people have said, but that is exactly how I feel. And that is from my heart to all of our supporters and to people who are taking action, Miigwech, thank you, Wela'lin, Masi Cho, thank you, thank you so much.

Don't stop, but before you take a step, reach out and ask and listen, ask for guidance, and listen and then take your initiative based on real solid information."

-- Cathy Elliott, Mi’kmaq artist and a proud member of Sipekne'katik, Nova Scotia

The complete interview will be available later this month on the Activist Toolkit 

As this year is drawing to a close, hope lies in continuing to build collective action. We have been, shall we say underwhelmed, when Federal government "consultations" finally became recommendations and policies. We have been repulsed by the election results in the United States . Kinder Morgan has been approved and, given the political climate, we will face much more horror in the coming years. Meanwhile, the atrocities and war crimes being committed around the world must be prosecuted and stopped. 

Therefore, taking its cue from Cathy's words, this year's holiday-giving guide focuses on listening and on providing information to movement organizers. Of course, this list is incomplete. There are so many more areas to focus on, so many more organizations doing incredible work, so many more resources. In the coming year, our work highlighting and amplifying the work of activists and movements will continue, and please continue to send ideas and work that needs amplifying to [email protected].

1. Food

The holidays always make us think of food. As we donate to shelters and to food banks this winter we always wonder, "what is the 'best' donation"? According to Ruth Friendship-Keller, communications manager at the Food Bank of Waterloo Region:

"If you want to know what you should donate to a local food bank, ask that particular food bank. 'We always emphasize the importance of donor choice, and we appreciate it when people take the time to get to know who we are and what we do and how their donations are going to help,' according to Friendship-Keller.

To the complicated question of what you should donate, she says, 'the short answer is that we need both food and funds.' An important step to take if you are thinking about making a donation is to visit the food bank's website to learn what food items -- proteins, fruits, vegetables -- the organization currently needs most." -- From The Cambridge Times.

Meanwhile FoodSecure Canada publicized findings in Dalhousie University's Food Price Report, predicting a three-to-five per cent food price hike in 2017, in large part due to a new American government, trade policies, climate events and a weak loonie.

According to Diane Bronson, low-income families and those living in northern communities will suffer the most. "We already have 4 million Canadians that have trouble putting a healthy diet in front of their families," Bronson said. "It's just going to get worse."

Stay tuned and help support the work of FoodSecure and other activist groups and fight to keep food safe, sustainable and affordable for all Canadians.

2. Housing

According the Homeless Hub, "mass homelessness in Canada emerged in the 1980s, following a massive disinvestment in affordable housing, structural shifts in the economy and reduced spending on social supports. Since then, stakeholders across the country have tried and tested solutions to address the issue."

Meanwhile, the social housing has been disappearing as part of short-sighted government cash grab, the cost of housing has been skyrocketing across the country, housing needs in many First Nations communities have not been addressed despite promises and protests.

This winter, the Federal government published its findings to inform a National Housing Strategy, with a  roll-out scheduled for 2017.  While it is true that it is another glossy report, activists are coming together to help push this issue. In 2017, let's fight to ensure that the Federal government's stated goals, which are general and overarching, are actually achieved.

As we face another cold holiday season in parts of Canada, here is a great guide for people who want to help the homeless from Homeless Hub.

3. Water and Environment

This year has been a difficult year for Canada's water protectors. While activists in British Columbia managed to protect 85 per cent of the Great Bear Rainforest, Ontario activists are still fighting to stop the selling of water near areas that have suffered droughts to Nestlé.

Scientists and community activists pushed the Ontario government to commit resources to monitor mercury in water around Grassy Narrows, but the Liberals are waffling on their commitment to clean it up.

A Human Rights Watch report released last year found that drinking water advisories alerting communities that their water is not safe to drink were issued for 134 water systems in 85 First Nations reserves across Canada as of January 2016. Meanwhile, Trudeau has approved Kinder Morgan and Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline and there will likely be more pipeline approvals to come. 

The Council of Canadians has been leading the fight against Nestlé.  The Association of First Nations is building its work to protect the climate and water resources.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline was not approved largely because of the First Nations cases that mired it in court proceedings.  We need to support other actions like Pull Together and to work together to fight and stop pipelines which endanger our communities. Given the recent elections in the United States, and the coming attack people trying to protect the environment, 2017 is gong to be a year where we must take action and build.

4. Immigration and Refugees

December 2016 marked one year since the first group of Syrian refugees arrived in Canada. This means that many refugees will soon without the support of their sponsors and according to news reports from British Columbia to Quebec refugees will need continued support. 

In April 2016, Maisie Lo, Director of Immigration Services at WoodGreen Community Services (WoodGreen) talked to rabble.ca about what she thought would be necessary to really support the influx of refugees in our communities:

"It has been amazing working with refugees. They are working to build their lives, taking whatever job they can. From what I have seen there are two kinds of refugees coming from Syria, people who are highly educated, generally from urban areas, and people, generally from rural areas, with no knowledge of English or French, and who do not have education higher than high school.

Both these sets of people are currently highly motivated to work, to resettle, but they will have different long-term needs. In time, they may also need trauma counselling -- after they have addressed the basic needs of settlement -- finding housing, finding work, getting the kids in school.

Speaking of schools, there are kids arriving (of all ages) and don't speak much English who will need help learning English while keeping up with their coursework. Basically there are a lot of long-term needs in the community that will begin to become increasingly apparent, and there needs to be infrastructure and funding to address these needs in a systemic way."

The Senate is urging the government to adopt additional supports for refugees as outlined in its report.  Support reforms that will help ensure our schools, health systems and social safety meet the needs of refugees. Continue to support all immigrants into Canada, those being detained and awaiting deportation, those who come here migrant workers, and those who are refugees. No One is Illegal and their allies have been doing incredible work to support these issues, support them. 

In the meantime, it is also important that Canada stop being one of the biggest arms sellers to the Middle East. In a surprising move, and this in no way means that the U.S. is no longer the biggest arms supplier to the Middle East, the Obama Adminstration stopped a weapons sale to Saudi Arabia due to the targetting of civilians in Yemen. The Trudeau government is not backing down from its weapons deals with Saudi Arabia and is pursuing deals with Iran and other countries in the war-torn countries of the region. This blood is on our hands, Canada needs to stop this war profiteering.

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