Indigenous group erect teepee at Canada 150 celebrations

Share Button

On the eve of the Canada 150 celebrations on Parliament Hill, a group calling themselves the Bawaating Water Protectors from Sault Ste. Marie were stopped by a wall of angry police officers while trying to set up a teepee on the edge of the celebration grounds. Initially, nine protestors were detained as a standoff ensued between police and the group well into the night.

“It was scary,” said Jessica Bolduc, an Anishinaabe from Batchewana First Nation and the project coordinator of the 4Rs Youth Movement. “Our perspective was we needed to have a presence there that was grounded in the principles of ceremony, like non-violence. To be treated the way we were – it was like a clash of world views.”

Through a process of negotiations with Ottawa Police and the RCMP, however, the confrontation was settled and the teepee was erected. Further negotiations with RCMP resulted in the teepee being moved to Parliament Hill right next to the Canada 150 main stage.

The Water Protectors were even able to light a sacred fire that they kept burning throughout the weekend. Other than the centennial flame, it was the first fire lit on Parliament Hill since a mysterious blaze destroyed the Centre Block in 1916.

IMG_0406-atrf-ac-full  IMG_0310-atrf-ac-full

For the group and its allies, the teepee and sacred fire was about reclaiming space for Indigenous people and engaging attendees on the other side of Canada’s history.

“It’s about reoccupying spaces where the land itself was stolen, and more than just symbolically asserting our rights,” Bolduc told the Nation. “Reasserting Indigenous sovereignty and Indigenous law was a really hard thing for police and partygoers to get their heads around.

“The other part was to try to engage people in a dialogue around the half-truth that was going to be presented during the 150 celebrations,” Bolduc added. “And the fact that it’s a half-truth that makes invisible not only the history but the realities Indigenous people today.”

While the group succeeded in making its presence felt, the weather did not cooperate. Grey, overcast skies and rain presided over Canada 150, but at a certain point the soaked Water Protectors made light of their predicament.

“The weather was horrible but you have to laugh about it. Shoes became a no go,” joked Bolduc. “It’s funny how you create these connections. People who you didn’t know going in become your close friends while you’re fighting in the trenches.”

IMG_0375-atrf-ac-full IMG_0346-atrf-ac-full

But the wet conditions certainly hindered the engagement part of their strategy.

“The rain dampened everyone’s spirits and made it harder for the people there celebrating to connect with our message,” she said. “People said, we should be ashamed of what we were doing. As if wanting a better life for people is something to be ashamed of. It was putting a mirror to the reality we’re in. I want better for Canada, but I don’t think Canada wants better for Canada.”

However, the group received sizeable support both online and in person. The initial video of the confrontation with police posted by Candace Day Neveau received nearly 20,000 views on Facebook; people from across the world showed support via social media; donations came pouring in for the group while they were camped out on Parliament Hill; and there were plenty of positive and respectful engagements between the group and those who were there to party.

“As isolating as it felt to be on Parliament Hill – almost like us versus them – we were actually hundreds of thousands strong,” said Bolduc. “It showed me that social media can be transformative when used properly.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even showed up for a surprise visit. Unfortunately, Bolduc just missed him. “It was great that Trudeau and his wife came down to the teepee but on the other side of it, was there a real intention to have an actual dialogue?” Bolduc asked. “But maybe he was doing the tradish-nish thing of dropping by unannounced to have a cup of tea. I also know the people who were there held him accountable.”

IMG_0337-atrf-ac-full IMG_0317-atrf-ac-full

For Bolduc, the weekend was tinted in inspiration. “As I was sitting in the teepee with all the youth from different nations holding council, it felt like we were going way back. Like, back to the future,” Bolduc said with a laugh. “It was beautiful to sit in that circle and listen to the youth speak. They felt so passionate about what we were doing that they were ready to sacrifice their lives as they knew them.”

But as the Water Protectors were tidying up to leave, the very culture gap they were attempting to close became apparent. “There was such a contrast between how we treated our area and how everyone celebrating treated the grounds,” said Bolduc. “The Hill was disgusting, and so was Ottawa. People were just throwing garbage everywhere. We have some work to do.”


Share Button

Comments are closed.