Views / Opinion

Why call the cops on a teepee? Because that's always what happens when we speak up.

The scene on Parliament Hill Wednesday night, peaceful demonstration met with state force, was all too familiar for Indigenous Peoples, writes Jasmine Kabatay.

Demonstrators took to Parliament Hill on Wednesday night to erect a teepee ahead of Canada 150 celebrations.

The Canadian Press

Demonstrators took to Parliament Hill on Wednesday night to erect a teepee ahead of Canada 150 celebrations.

Pro-pot rallies complete with plumes of marijuana smoke? Sure. Occupy Toronto protesters camp out in a downtown park for more than a month? Not a problem. Indigenous Peoples marking Canada 150 by putting up a teepee? Call the police.

On Wednesday evening, dozens of Indigenous people occupied Parliament Hill with the intention of erecting a teepee for prayer, ceremony, and fasting, which was described as a “reoccupation” ceremony to counter Canada 150.

Instead of letting them carry on with a peaceful action, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ottawa Police and Parliament Hill security blocked them from entering the gates of Parliament, leading to an hours-long standoff and multiple arrests.

The teepee was eventually erected in the early morning just inside Parliament Hill’s East Block.

Why was there such a heavy police presence when all they planned to do was traditional ceremony and prayer?

Why are we being punished when all we want is basic human rights? Is clean drinking water and equal health care really too much to ask for?

The group was on Parliament Hill to bring awareness to what Canada 150 means for Indigenous Peoples.

"We understand that as a country, people have pride that they're living here. We're taking a stance to simply educate and raise awareness about celebrating Canada Day and how it's deeply impacting Indigenous people,” said Candace Day Neveau, member of Bawating Water Protectors, one of the group's leaders, to CTV news.

The presence and actions of police on Wednesday are an all too familiar reminder of what Indigenous Peoples have faced throughout history in an attempt to peacefully protest.

A Quebec municipality’s decision to expand a golf course onto the forest and cemetery of the Kanesatake Mohawk’s land in 1990 sparked the Oka Crisis, a 78-day standoff between Mohawks, the provincial police, and the RCMP. It started as a peaceful protest but turned violent rapidly.

In 2013, members of the Elsipogtog First Nation clashed with the RCMP in Rexton, N.B., during a protest against shale gas exploration, which led to five RCMP vehicles being set on fire and around 40 arrests. Again, this was a peaceful protest for weeks before the violence occurred.

And let’s not forget Standing Rock. Though not in Canada, what started out peacefully was met with heavy police presence, arrests and pepper spraying protesters and tearing down the camp teepee.

All of these actions started off with reasonable demands: Please don’t build a golf course on our people’s graves. Please don’t use our natural resources. Please don’t ruin the environment.

And on Friday: Please let us pray on our land.

Jasmine Kabatay is an Ojibway journalist based in Toronto, originally from Seine River First Nation. She appears regularly in Metro. 

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