By Barb Nahwegahbow
TORONTO – People gathered on October 7, 2013 at Trinity-Bellwoods Park in Toronto’s west end to mark the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation.
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal voices were joined in their demands for respect for Mother Earth and justice for First Nations and all Aboriginal people – and to remind the government of their obligation to respect the treaties.
A camouflaged and masked warrior stood on top of the stands, the Warrior and Iroquois Confederacy flags waving against the sky, “to let everyone know we are still here,” he said later. The smell of sage and sweetgrass wafted through the crowd and the Ogitchita Drum from Council Fire sounded the AIM song which Cree Elder Vern Harper explained is a sacred song of resistance.
“We are not here to celebrate [the Royal Proclamation],” organizer Wanda Nanibush told the crowd. “We didn’t have any say in that document and that document actually led us to losing a heck of a lot of land.”
Nanibush, an artist, curator, teacher and activist from Beausoleil First Nation has been one of the primary organizers for Idle No More Toronto.
The discussion needs to be, “…about what our responsibilities are to the earth instead of our right to take something, our right to extract, our right to benefit where other people are going to suffer,” said Toronto-based lawyer Aaron Detlor. The Haudenosaunee, he said, have simply started to assert jurisdiction over their land and now have a Land Registry completely apart from the Canadian legal system. “The time for asking is over,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
Standing under an umbrella, actor and environmental activist Tantoo Cardinal reminded people that this gathering was just one of many going on simultaneously across the planet, “…to resist the notion that raping Grandmother Earth is the only way to live.”
Phillip Cote, artist and citizen of Moose Deer Point First Nation, led the march out of the park carrying his family’s Eagle Staff. “The Eagle Staff honours Tecumseh,” he said, “my great grandfather of seven generations.” Explaining why he was there, he said, “It is culturally important that there be an Eagle Staff at these rallies. We are here because of our ancestors. I know they are with us as we continue to stand up for our inherent rights as Tecumseh did and so many great leaders like Black Hawk, Pontiac, Russell Means and Wandering Spirit just to name a few.”
The crowd, which included 50 people carrying a 60-foot by 25-foot two-row wampum, made its way along Dundas Street, Toronto police on bikes halted traffic. There were stops for round dances at two busy intersections, Dundas and Spadina, and again at Dundas and Bay. The women’s drums and voices drowned out the honking horns from motorists.
The final item on the day’s agenda was a panel of speakers at Ryerson’s School of Management, including lawyer and Idle No More spokesperson Pam Palmater, and Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin. Palmater urged everyone to use social media to counteract the government’s ongoing campaign of lies about First Nations people.
Obomsawin raised the group’s spirits with her final words: “We’re going someplace we’ve never been before,” she said. “There’s a strength I’ve never seen before, never, and I’ve been around a long time. It’s so spiritual, so magical and [we’re] not afraid.” She attributed this phenomenon to the cross-country actions of Idle No More.