News / Vancouver

B.C. Indigenous people also reclaiming government site for Canada 150

After Algonquin activists set up a teepee on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, Coast Salish nation members will try to ‘return the sacred fire’ to B.C. Legislature steps.

Algonquin nation activists prepare to raise the pole for a teepee, intended to be erected on Parliament Hill as part of a four-day Canada Day protest during a demonstration in Ottawa on Thursday, June 29, 2017. In B.C.'s capital, Victoria, meanwhile Coast Salish nation members are planning to 'return the sacred fire' to the Legislature grounds on Canada Day.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Algonquin nation activists prepare to raise the pole for a teepee, intended to be erected on Parliament Hill as part of a four-day Canada Day protest during a demonstration in Ottawa on Thursday, June 29, 2017. In B.C.'s capital, Victoria, meanwhile Coast Salish nation members are planning to 'return the sacred fire' to the Legislature grounds on Canada Day.

Indigenous activists on Coast Salish nation territories in British Columbia’s capital city said they’re inspired by the teepee raised despite police arrests on Parliament Hill on Wednesday night — just ahead of Victoria’s 150th anniversary celebrations on Canada Day.

For one elder from Sliammon First Nation, the Algonquin sunrise ceremony in Ottawa on Thursday was what resonated most deeply, and Rose Henry plans to lead a sunrise ceremony from her own tradition on Canada Day as part of a direct action setting up a “sacred fire” on the B.C. Legislature grounds.

“I think it was a great move on behalf of everybody,” she told Metro in a phone interview, “to bring awareness that First Nations people are taking a stand against colonization.

“It shows Indigenous people from Turtle Island territories are paying attention to the world of politics not our own, and are still hanging on to our cultures.”

Canada Day this year not only marks the country's 150th anniversary, but also 50 years since iconic Tsleil-Waututh Nation chief Dan George shocked the country with a powerful speech condemning colonialism — ending his oratory with a vow that the "next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations."

Henry is a member of the local Indigenous Solidarity Working Group, which is planning their own occupation of the political seat of power on the West Coast, currently undergoing its greatest upheaval in decades with a minority government hanging in the balance two months after an election.

They’re meeting at the First Nations carvers’ building beside the Royal Museum of B.C. before walking to the Legislative grounds nearby. And they're dedicating the ceremonies to the memory of recently deceased Secwepemc leader Arthur Manuel.

“We put the call out to have the sacred fire returned to the Legislature,” she said. “Of course, on Canada Day we are the most uninvited guests.

“We’re saying that for this day of celebration, it is also a day of mourning. We have over 11,000 years of existing on this land, but the country of Canada seems willing to discard all those thousands of years to celebrate its 150 years.”

But in the Ottawa teepee or the Victoria sacred fire and ceremonies, there’s a message of hope, not just mourning, Henry revealed.

“We’ve defied all the odds,” she said, listing the injustices of residential schools, the 60s scoop, child apprehensions, and more. “Now we’re going from being left behind and oppressed, to now we’re almost doing a 180-degree step forward — now we’re leading you into a new era.”

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