Keeping the fire burning

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It’s kind of like playing political whack-a-mole. When one tries to stamp out an annoying problem it always reappears when one doesn’t address why it appeared in the first place.

When Regina police dismantled a teepee, doused a sacred fire and arrested protesters June 18 on the lawn in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature, government officials probably thought they had cleared the way for Canada Day celebrations to proceed on the site last weekend. The space they are occupying is usually home to a beer garden over the July 1st weekend. Priorities are priorities after all.

Wrong. Now, instead of one teepee, there are several. They began reappearing on National Indigenous Peoples Day June 21. First with one, then three, then five, there are now eight (as of June 28).

And the voices calling for “Justice for our Stolen Children” – the name of the protest camp – are growing louder. They are denouncing racial injustice and the high numbers of Indigenous children taken from their families by Saskatchewan child-welfare authorities.

The camp was originally set up last February in response to the acquittal of farmer Gerald Stanley in the shooting death of teenaged Cree boy, Colten Boushie – and to protest the exoneration of another white man accused of murdering a Native girl, Tina Fontaine, in Winnipeg. Now there is another such case, in Ontario this time, in which a non-Native man has been cleared for killing an unarmed Indigenous man with two blasts from his shotgun, the second shot while the victim was on his knees.

As long as justice for First Nations victims of violence by non-Natives is still elusive, protest and unrest is inevitable, no matter how many arrests police may make.

Given the recent attention given to the Sixties Scoop – the government abduction and sale of thousands of Indigenous children in the 1960s – one would have thought that there would be a greater effort to ensure families are left intact and given the support they need to do so. But, as the Regina protesters are saying, this problem persists, especially on the Prairies.

That’s why 18-year-old Miles McCallum, a protester at the camp, is throwing herself into the campaign as a keeper for the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council teepee.

McCallum, a member of Cowessess First Nation, said the inspiration for her activism is her cousin, Tamra Keepness, who went missing in Regina in 2004 when she was only five years old.

“That’s what keeps me motivated,” McCallum told the Regina Leader-Post. “I wanted to do something to help contribute. So when I got the call if I wanted to be the keeper for the teepee, I was here right away.”

And as long as there are cases in Canada like Colten Boushie, Tina Fontaine and Tamra Keepness, the protests will and should continue. No matter how many beer gardens are displaced.

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