The federal government stepped up surveillance of First Nations across Canada shortly after the 2006 election to better monitor political action such as protests over land claims, according to internal Indian Affairs and RCMP documents obtained by a Mohawk policy analyst.

The goal of the beefed up monitoring, after Stephen Harper first became prime minister, was to identify First Nations leaders, participants and supporters of occupations and protests, and closely monitor their moves, according to Russell Diabo, who obtained the documents under an Access to Information request.

The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) was given the lead role to monitor First Nations, according to the documents, copies of which were given to CBC News.

To do this, INAC established a "hot spot reporting system" — weekly reports highlighting First Nations that engaged in "direct action" to protect their lands and communities, said Diabo, who is based in Orillia, Ont.

In one document, titled "Aboriginal Hot Spots and Public Safety," and dated March 30, 2007, it was noted that the vast majority of "hot spots" were related to lands and resources, and led by "splinter groups" in protests including the Douglas Creek Estates occupation in Caledonia, Ont., and the Grassy Narrows blockade of the Trans-Canada Highway by environmentalists.  

"Incidents led by splinter groups are arguably harder to manage as they exist outside negotiation processes to resolve recognized grievances with duly elected leaders," the document says. "We seek to avoid giving standing to such splinter groups so as not to debase the legally recognized government."

Federal monitoring not just First Nations: spokeswoman

Contacted on Monday to react to the documents, Michelle Yao, director of communications in the office of John Duncan, minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, said public safety is a priority of the government, and First Nations groups aren't being targeted.  

"The government co-ordinates efforts across departments to ensure public safety in Canada," a statement emailed to CBC News from Duncan's office says. "We respect the right to protest and remain committed to ensuring that the rights and safety of all citizens are respected in accordance with the laws of Canada.

"INAC does monitor all emergencies such as floods, fires and civil unrest on an ongoing basis. This facilitates a quick support and response, as needed, to any emergency." 

Among the First Nations groups mentioned in the documents as among those under surveillance were:

  • Tsartlip First Nation.
  • The Algonquins of Barriere Lake.
  • Six Nations.
  • Grassy Narrows.
  • The Likhts’amsiyu Clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
  • Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

Diabo is publisher of the First Nations Strategic Bulletin, which first reported about the documents. Bulletin content features the writings of the First Nations Strategic Policy Council, a network of policy and legal analysts.

"Rather than listening to the needs of First Nations communities, Harper is making plans to use force to stifle the dissent that inevitably arises from chronic poverty and dispossession in native communities," Diabo said Monday. "First Nations education and housing is chronically underfunded, but policing and surveillance of legitimate Indigenous movements is always a priority."

Communities consulted

Shiri Pasternak, a spokeswoman for the bulletin, said the documents were obtained in April 2010, but were released only after consultation with communities.

"The documents affect a lot of communities across the country, so we first talked to communities named in the documents to inform them that they were being surveilled by the government," Pasternak told CBC News on Monday morning.

Gord Elliot of Tsartlip First Nation, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, added: "Obviously trust and good faith are expected when working with INAC, the RCMP and other agencies of the government.

"We are outraged to discover these same ministries are spying on us. We were identified as a ‘hot spot’ because we had a roadblock demonstration to voice our concerns about the treaty process and non-acknowledgment of Section 35 Constitutional Rights and Title.

"We felt we had no choice [than to demonstrate] because the Canadian government won't acknowledge our constitutionally protected Aboriginal Rights and Title."