By Greg Macdougall
OTTAWA—Youth members of the Anishinabek Nation were key organizers of the action last week at Parliament Hill, drawing international attention to the ‘unsettling’ of the biggest part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
It was a collaborative effort between the Bawating Water Protectors (Sault Ste. Marie) and organizers based in Ottawa that resulted in such an impactful ceremony asserting sovereignty and nationhood.
The Water Protectors had been thinking of an action in Ottawa to do with the Chalk River nuclear facility. But then with the Idle No More / Defenders of the Land call to Unsettle Canada’s 150, they knew they had to do something bigger.
“Leading up to it, my anxiety was really heightened, but we weren’t going to back down, and that’s why when we put down tobacco and lead with prayer and lead with ceremony – we know it’s the Creator’s plan, and the Creator will be there, and our ancestors will be there, as we carry out this important work… in thinking forward to our future generations,” said Quinn Meawasige of Serpent River First Nation, referencing the negative situation for Indigenous peoples currently, along with the possibilities of what the action might provoke.
A group of five students at Carleton had also been discussing the need for some sort of action around Canada Day, when Quinn connected with them via a Barriere Lake Algonquin contact.
The five students consisted of two Ojibwe youth, Freddy Stoneypoint of Sagamok Anishinawbek First Nation and Ashley Courchene of Sagkeeng First Nation, as well as one Algonquin, Summer-Harmony Twenish, an Anishinabekwe of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, and two non-Indigenous students, Trycia Bazinet, from northern Quebec, and Hamda Deria, a Somali Muslim woman.
Freddy travelled to Toronto to meet Bawating’s Candace Day Neveau of Serpent River First Nation on May 30 where the two solidified the shared vision for the Reoccupation and how they would coordinate organizing efforts – including secure electronic communications – from afar over the next month.
The students in Ottawa were able to bring in a number of others locally to support the arts, food, and logistics planning, as well as two Cree grandmothers – Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, currently residing in Ottawa, and Sophie from Timmins – to serve as Elders for the Reoccupation.
The Reoccupation began the evening of Wednesday June 28: a public call asked people to meet at the Human Rights Monument, less than one kilometer away from Parliament.
When the group of 50-70 people marched to Parliament, they were met by Ottawa, RCMP, and Parliamentary police/security who attempted to stop them from entering the grounds. A five hour standoff ensued – with police violence and 10 arrests, and the tipi poles in the middle, held in the air by both sides – before negotiations successfully allowed the erection of the tipi near the East Gate of Parliament in the early hours of Thursday morning.
More negotiations Thursday secured a new position on the main lawn, near the front left corner. The police wanted it right in the corner, while the Grandmothers were insistent that it be right in front of the Canada 150 sign near the center.
Candace felt a lot of pressure and nervousness serving as the lead negotiator, but happily the halfway compromise she agreed to was met with approval from the Grandmothers. She described the group’s re-entrance onto Parliament Hill carrying the tipi poles through the central Queen’s Gates as a moment she’ll never forget.
A press conference Thursday morning made national news with Jocelyn asking a ‘white lady’ CBC reporter to leave the room due to a question she’d posed.
Even bigger news was Friday morning when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the tipi.
Despite Trudeau’s supposed support for the cause, a second confrontation occurred later that day when the police stopped the reoccupiers from setting up a second structure to provide shelter from the rain. They did later bring in a rental truck with a large back section to be used for that purpose instead.
A sacred fire was started later that evening in the tipi – also against the wishes of police, but with supporters surrounding the tipi in a human circle to keep them away. This afterwards turned into a celebratory round dance.
Many things were having a toll on the emotions and spirits of the organizers, and Saturday morning they hit a low point. Turning to ceremony, as through the whole process, all of the Indigenous organizers gathered in the tipi for a circle to share and support each other.
“That experience alone, in creating that safe space for the young Indigenous leaders, I think that was an experience that none of us will ever forget,” said Candace, referencing how it felt to be there with the Canada Day crowd growing bigger and bigger.
A bus of supporters from Toronto arrived in the afternoon. While the hours-long security lines were keeping some people from the hill, the re-energized Reoccupation waded into the evening crowd with chants and a ‘die-in’, unsettling the public speakers in their address to the participants of the Canada 150 celebrations. There was little acknowledgement of the Reoccupation during public address.
“[The ceremony was about asking] for space in people’s minds and hearts—to think about what we’re celebrating,” expressed Candace. “If we’re celebrating that people can live here and be in peace from all around the world, okay—but it’s not fair that they celebrate while we mourn for our young people. There’s something missing there, and we have to fill in that gap.”
Candace commented how many reporters want to talk with them about the Reoccupation; however, she would rather take the time that the important stories regarding the spirituality and ceremony of this action deserve.
But she says that the urgency around the different issues facing Indigenous peoples cannot wait, and action must be taken now.
The Reoccupation Collective hopes that the combination of ceremony, sovereignty and urban place-based reoccupation serves as a model to inspire other Indigenous and allied activists. They are looking to engage in conversation, sharing and collaboration with different communities – Freddy led a teach-in his home community of Sagamok on July 7 as a start – and will be travelling to the Onaman cultural camp to have further conversations with Bawating members to debrief and discuss further work together.
They don’t see the Reoccupation as a one-time event but something that they will continue moving forward.
The Reoccupation collective is looking to capture the story of what took place, collecting multi-media from the events and soliciting writings from those who were part of it. More information can be found on the Facebook event page, and through their email address email@example.com
This article is based on two in-depth audio interviews conducted July 2nd and 3rd, which will hopefully be available soon via www.EquitableEducation.ca