2007 07 06
National Day of Action for Aborginal Peoples: A Different Kind of Canada Day
By definition, Canada Day should be the holiday which all Canadians can celebrate. Sure the celebration tends to involve cottages (or outdoor urban frolicking) and beer more than gleeful re-readings of the British North America Act of 1867, but nonetheless, it is a day for all Canadians to celebrate.
Or is it? Aren’t we forgetting something here? Last Friday’s National Day of Action for Aboriginal Peoples ensured that this year, we did not forget that the term ‘post colonialism’ is a blatant lie. That’s right folks, colonialism is alive and well in Canada, being practiced most harshly on those whose land, rights, culture and very essence was stolen from them centuries ago.
At the Queen's Park event last Friday, there was more media and a bigger crowd than I expected. When the protesters came marching in, it was a truly a sight to behold:
The speeches were tremendously inspiring, and clearly came straight from the heart. The messages were clear: proper housing, clean water, adequate education. One person asked: is it unreasonable to demand the basic rights which other Canadians have access to? Surely not.
Audrey Huntley began her rousing speech by reminding us that the very place we were standing was stolen land, and noted that the sheer number of murdered First Nations women indicated the current systemic colonialism in Canada. She ended with an apt metaphor of the ‘three sisters’ of corn, beans and squash; they are planted together because they each help each other to grow, as well as support and provide strength for each other throughout all stages of growth.
Doreen’s speech was short and to the point: direct action by First Nation peoples gets government attention, instead of the usual pat empty promises. With a line of police behind her, she stated that the First Nations people are the one with a clear conscience, which is more than the police can say for themselves with respect to treatment of First Nations peoples - at this point many began rousing calls of Dudley George.
John (who I believe was from the Grassy Narrows Nation) told tales of the many injustices his people have suffered via resource agreements. In particular, he noted that when his people protested against a drilling permit on their land (authorized by the Ontario government in 2006), the government’s response was to sue them for 10 BILLION dollars. Further, he noted that when the Ontario government gave the Grassy Narrows Nation a permit for extensive logging on their own land, it was the ultimate insult: paying them to destroy their own land. His message was clear: if the government fails to consult with First Nations and deal with land claims issues, they will invoke their own laws of taking care of the land.
I was ecstatic at the next speaker, who also happens to be my favourite female First Nations author: Lee Maracle. Speaking with a fervour that stoked the crowd, she noted that there is no word in First Nations languages for exclusion, specifically referring to a situation where one group benefits at the expense of another group. Accordingly, she called for decolonization as the mandatory first step with respect to improving government-First Nation relations. She also proposed an idea which I am surprised to have never heard before: learning about First Nations issues and history should be a part of the Canadian Citizenship requirements. Slightly deviating from the other speakers, she demanded that immigrants in Canada not be treated like second class citizens, and that we should all learn to get in touch with the things that really matter in our lives: turn off the tv and computer she suggested; play some cards and chat instead.
Elder Lillian McGregor was up next, and chose to conduct the first part of her speech in her native language. Her point? Few there that day understood her, but if First Nations languages were taught in school starting in grade 1, that may not have been the case.
Elder Lillian McGregor
Finally, Michael White referred to the issue of general support for Aboriginal issues as four miles wide and two inches deep. Well put.
In addition to the speakers, there were some though provoking signs. When I saw this one I stopped in my tracks. Why didn’t I think of this?
There was also support for other non-Canadian First Nations:
And sometimes, actions say more than words:
Although there was a police presence, they kept their distance. This group seemed simultaneously bemused, confused and indignant.
Moments after the speeches ended, a man shouted "Look! Up there!" As we all craned our heads we saw the reason for his excitement: a hawk was slowly circling Queen's Park. A fitting end to a moving and inspirational afternoon.
All images were taken by me.
Liza Badaloo has an on-going love affair with Toronto.
[email this story] Posted by Liza Badaloo on 07/06 at 08:12 PM
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