Activists move teepee near Canada 150 stage
Published Thursday, June 29, 2017 11:21AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 29, 2017 9:21PM EDT
Indigenous rights activists continued their “reoccupation ceremony” Thursday night, with the raising of a teepee near the main stage where Canada 150 celebrations will take place on July 1.
One day earlier, police and Parliament Hill security had clashed with the demonstrators when they had insisted on erecting a teepee. Ten people were arrested but later released.
RCMP had allowed a teepee to be erected in the early hours of Thursday morning, just inside Parliament Hill gates near the East Block, but protesters wanted it closer. On Thursday, they re-built the teepee much closer to the stage.
Demonstrator Ashley Courchene, a member of Sagkeeng First Nation and vice-president of the Carleton University Students’ Association, said the actions were not a protest but a ceremony to “reoccupy” Parliament Hill.
“This land has never been given up, it’s never been handed over to the Canadian government at all,” he told CTV News Channel on Thursday evening.
“We thought it was necessary to be in a space that was very sacred to the Algonquin people who have lived here for time immemorial,” he added.
Courchene said those present had planned to light “a sacred fire” on Wednesday night but RCMP blocked it. “We’re hoping that tonight we can get that fire up and going and continue on with that ceremony,” he said.
Brendon Nahwegezhic, an Anishinaabe and Ojibwe activist who helped organize the ceremony, said that he is a proud Canadian, but wanted to raise awareness about the poverty and substandard conditions indigenous people live with on reserves.
“What we’re trying to do is make people aware of the history of Canada,” he added. “There is a dark history there … genocide, assimilation, colonization. There is a lot of that and it still affects us today.”
During a news conference in the Parliament Press Gallery Thursday morning, Candace Day Neveau, from a group called the Bawating Water Protectors, decried the overnight confrontation with police.
“Why is it that we have to do forcefully do things for people to listen?” she asked.
“Our purpose here is to educate people. We‘re always educating people on tour racism and oppression and we have to prove that it’s real,” Neveau said, adding that centuries of history make celebrating Canada Day 150 difficult.
“It’s celebrating our pain. And that’s why we’re here. That’s why we set this teepee up,” she said.
Neveau also criticized the amount of money being spent on the Canada 150 celebrations.
“It’s absolutely ignorant the way Canada is investing so much into this celebration. It’s absolutely disgraceful that there are children out there who have no clean drinking water. Shame, shame on the government for doing that, for completely not considering how we would feel about this celebration,” she said.
Tensions suddenly mounted, though, when activists began taking questions from reporters.
A reporter asked Neveau to compare Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's efforts to help indigenous people against those of his predecessor, Stephen Harper, and she replied that teenagers are still going missing in Thunder Bay.
"How can he be blamed for that?" the reporter asked. "You don't think anything he's doing is helping the situation? Is he an improvement over Stephen Harper?"
Protest leader Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail jumped in to sharply rebuke the reporter. "Excuse me, did I hear you correctly?" she says. "How can he be blamed for that? Excuse me, don't speak to us that way."
Another activist, who identified herself as Sophie from Moose Cree First Nation, also began to yell at the reporter.
"Stop right now!" she said. "You do not speak to us that way. We are human beings, and the way that you are speaking to us is bad,” she said. They refused to hear anything more from the reporter and asked her to "step out” telling her she wasn’t wanted.
The reporter did not leave and after the tense exchange, the activists took a few more questions and then left the gallery.
The prime minister was asked about the exchange in Montague, P.E.I., and he responded that reconciliation with aboriginal Canadians needs to be a key theme of Canada’s sesquicentennial.
"The history of the last 150 years for indigenous peoples has not been as positive,” he added.
As for the teepee, it’s not clear if Parliament Hill security and police will allow the teepee to stay in place once the Canada Day celebrations begin on Saturday.
Police have set up a barricade to stop demonstrators from moving further onto the grounds. But CTV’s Michel Boyer notes that the teepee is in an area that will become a secure zone on Saturday, where hundreds of thousands of Canada Day celebrants are expected to gather.
“The people here protesting, they say they are here to stay, and it doesn’t look, for now, that the RCMP is about to remove them,” Boyer told CTV News Channel.
More than 500,000 are expected to flock to Parliament Hill for Canada Day celebrations and concerts on Saturday, when armed police and surveillance cameras are expected to keep watch.
For now, the Hill is still open to the public, but by Saturday morning, roads will be closed, barriers set up, and all those looking to gather on the Hill will need to go through security screenings.
Sen. Sandra Lovelace Nicholas issued a statement that she, too, will not be celebrating Canada 150, saying she will not be ready to celebrate until “all treaties are settled, all First Nations children enjoy equality in education, health care, safe drinking water, quality housing and governance in our own land.”
Sen. Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said he will be attending events in Ottawa over the weekend but that he will not be celebrating. "Celebrate is not the right word," he said.
With files from CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson and The Canadian Press