Historic Day of Action Demands Affirmation of First Nations Rights

13 Jan

From The Marxist Leninist Weekly
January 12, 2012 – No. 2

Historic Day of Action Demands Affirmation
of First Nations’ Rights

On January 11, as part of a series of actions held across Canada by First Nations and their allies, over 5,000 people took part in an inspiring day of action in Ottawa to demand the affirmation of First Nations’ rights. People came from many First Nations from across Canada, joined by Canadians from all walks of life, including a delegation of United Steelworkers Local 1005 from Hamilton. The day was a high-spirited, powerful and moving expression of the fight in defence of hereditary, treaty and constitutional rights and against the violation of these rights by the Harper government, especially with omnibus Bills C-38 and C-45. It also demonstrated the resolve of First Nations people to establish a new nation-to-nation relationship involving Canada, the Crown and First Nations.

The day of action was also an expression of support for Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence who has been on a hunger strike since December 11, joined in her action on Victoria Island by Manitoba Cross Lake First Nation elder Raymond Robinson and Mi’kmaq elder Gene Sock. The day of action was held on the day Canada’s Prime Minister agreed to meet with First Nations leaders, a meeting which did take place with the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and some of the chiefs but in the absence of many others. Those absent included Chief Spence who said that until the meeting is held with the representative of the Crown as well as the Prime Minister and deals with the agenda of the First Nations, not the agenda of the Harper government, the meeting deserves to be boycotted.

On Victoria Island and Parliament Hill

The day began with a sunrise ceremony at Victoria Island where chief Spence has been on hunger strike since December 11. Around 10 am, Jode Kechego and Andrea Landry, two of the coordinators of the event, welcomed everybody and explained that the day of action was part of the growing struggle and fighting unity in defence of First Nations rights, as shown by the hunger strike of Chief Spence and the grassroots actions of the Idle No More movement.

“This is only the beginning. This government thinks it can change who you are by putting a label on you, giving you a status card or taking your status card away. They believe that they can control the outcomes in your life, but we know different. We will not lose this fight because it is way too important. This government does not realize what they have done; they have awoken the spirits of spiritual people. They have not yet seen the strength of unity. They believe that this fight is about legislation, they believe this fight is about policies, that this is about power and greed. This fight is about exposing this government for what it really is,” Kechego said.

Algonquin woman Claudette Commanda welcomed everyone to Victoria Island, which she pointedly remarked is unceded Algonquin territory, as is the land occupied by the Parliament Buildings.

Then Chief Spence came out of her teepee, looking frail but unwavering in her stand. People greeted her with emotion and pride for her courageous action to demand the affirmation of First Nations’ rights. She conducted a brief press conference outside the palisade which surrounds the campsite and then found the energy to address the people and wish them a successful day before going back to her teepee:

“I just want to say when you go out there, make it peaceful, do not give up hope that we are going to win this battle. Do not respond to the negative comments that are thrown at you. Encourage the chiefs to be brave.” She concluded by saying that her thoughts and struggle are first and foremost for the younger generation and the need to build a future for them under a new nation-to-nation relationship with Canada.

Gene Sock then made brief comments highlighting the significance of his joining the hunger strike: “We are putting our lives on the line for all the peoples, all the nations in the world to have peace, and to always look up to the sky and say we are all going to be in peace no matter what happens. We are here for all the peoples in the world.”

Left to right: Co-ordinator Jode Kechego; Algonquin woman Claudette Commanda; Chief Theresa Spence;
Mik’maq elder Gene Sock.

March to Parliament Hill

The march then began towards Parliament Hill with the eagle staffs — the symbols of the authority given to the chiefs by their communities — drums and dancers in front. As the march proceeded more and more people joined, with the close to 1,000 who left Victoria Island becoming over 5,000 by the time it reached Parliament Hill. Amidst the songs and dances, people were chanting “Idle No More!” The slogan also quickly became “Harper No More!”

Mik’maq elder Gene Sock (left) and and Cross Lake First Nation elder Raymond Robinson (centre), alongside the Manitoba Chiefs who boycotted the meeting with the Prime Minister, lead the march to Parliament Hill.

The march stopped for a while in front of the Langevin building which houses the Prime Minister’s Office, where Stephen Harper was meeting with some of the chiefs, before heading to Parliament Hill. There more speakers addressed the people with inspired presentations, highlighting as one of the speakers said, that the struggle is a “mighty fire that will not be extinguished.”

Outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

First Nations youth, chiefs, grandmothers, other representatives of First Nations women and firekeepers (who keep the sacred fire at the campsite burning) who are assisting Chief Spence addressed the people, as did the coordinators of the event Jode Kechego and Andrea Landry. One of the high points in the speeches was the remarks made by elders Raymond Robinson and Gene Sock who are also on hunger strike with Chief Spence. Robinson said, “Today we see our people, a nation, rising together and telling the Harper government, ‘You will never defeat us!’ We will rise together as a united nation, all of us. All of us, as a nation, have suffered, every one of us. All of us need land, resources, water. Harper, give our land back to our people! …. This is all our land. I have always been a warrior for all nations. My hand is always extended to anybody, everybody. I am fighting for all of us.”

Another highlight of the presentations was a letter from Chief Spence read out by her spokesperson to which everyone present paid utmost attention. The letter explained Chief Spence’s firm stand and that of all those who are standing with her, which she once again resolved to take even at the cost of her life.

To warm applause, a group of Algonquin kokomis (grandmothers) read their statement that said in part: “We are standing up and speaking for the land, the water and the future generation. We invite the settlers to join us. We are demanding that the Crown and all the governments start to behave, upholding the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Royal Proclamation and the treaties and their very own Constitution, and begin to build a relationship with the indigenous peoples that is respectful and honest.”

There were songs and dances and at one point people joined hands in a majestic round dance that encompassed the entire grounds in front of the Parliament Buildings.

Some of the speakers on Parliament Hill (left to right; top to bottom): Elder Raymond Robinson; Elder Gene Sock; Chief of the Listiguj (Mi’kmaq) First Nation Dean Vicare; Chief of the Kitigan Zibi (Algonquin) First Nation Gilbert Whiteduck; delegation of Algonquin grandmothers; spokesperson for Chief Spence Danny Metatawabin; delegation of Alonquin youth; President of the Quebec Native Women’s Association Michele Audette; co-ordinator Andrea Landry; Ellen Gabriel of the Kanesatake (Mohawk) First Nation.

Co-coordinator Jode Kechego concluded this part of the day by inviting the people to go back and finish the day at the Victoria Island campsite in support of Chief Theresa Spence. There they had the opportunity to greet Chief Spence who was standing in front of her teepee with a good word to say to everyone who came to talk to her. Tea, coffee and food were served to the participants who engaged in discussions and songs, visibly moved and inspired by the day’s events.

In the evening, Chief Spence joined other chiefs at the ceremony hosted at Rideau Hall by the Governor-General.

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