By lako’tsira:reh Amanda Lickers
Background on the shit
The city of Montréal has been looking to do some highway renovations amongst its crumbling colonial infrastructure. Somehow the city is using this need for infrastructural repairs for a highway overpass as an excuse to dump a proposed eight billion litres of raw untreated sewage directly into kaniaterawanon’on:we, or the St. Lawrence River. This is the equivalent to 2600 Olympic sized swimming pools.This sewage includes medical and industrial waste as well as hard solids such as prophylactics, sanitary products and other residential waste materials. Many of you may not know that located on the east end of tionni’tiotiah:ke (so-called the Island of Montréal) is a SunCor refinery, as well as a huge industrial zone. All manner of petrochemical and carcinogenic byproducts and waste materials are included in this release as well.
The popular opinion was very clear cut, even the most iridescent Quebécois nationalists were against this dump. Unfortunately for us as onkwehon:we, the Mayor Denis Coderre was extremely stubborn and refused to head to Federal, Provincial or even International level backlash (a couple New York Senators came out against the dump) adamantly insisting this is “the best possible plan”.
The impacts of this dump are truly unknown. Many onkwehon:we communities will be feeling the impact emotionally, spiritually and physically for generations to come. The effect of toxic effluents within fish and marine populations mean an uncertain future for traditional peoples looking to subsist from fishing and trapping along the river. This includes Haudenosaunee, Metis, Innu, Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq, Abenaki and many other Nations. Further to this, our relatives such as the deer will not be able to read the “do not touch the water” signs now posted across kaniaterawanon’on:we.
This river is one of the most important bodies of water in the entire world, connecting the largest supply of fresh water to mother ocean and whose tributaries feed so many lakes and streams south of the imperial 49th parallel.
A full timeline of events up until the Mercier Bridge Blockades can be found here
Cease & Desist: Actions Escalate
October 6th, 2015
kahtihon’tia:kwenio – the women caretakers of the territory – sent a cease and desist notice to the Mayor of the city of Montréal, notifying the settler colonial government that their plan to discard this raw sewage into the river of the original people violates kaianere’kowa, the Great Law of Peace. This notice of cease and desist cites wampum forty four of the kaianere’kowa, stating that the women are the decision makers and true caretakers of the territory as our faces yet to be born are carried through by our women and clan mothers. Shortly after this, a sacred fire vigil was set up at the foot of the Mercier Bridge.
October 16th, 2015
Press conference held at Adirondack Junction where rotinoshonni’on:we and supporters lit a fire at the edge of the train tracks as a warning to the Federal Minister of the Environment and the Mayor of the city of Montréal that if our notice of cease and desist is not headed we will be forced to escalate actions in order to protect kaniaterawanon’on:we – the river of the original people.
October 22nd, 2015
In light of a lack of commitment on behalf of colonial officials to stop the dump into our river, rotinoshonni’on:we and some settler supporters made good on our promise to escalate actions. Thursday, October 22nd at 9am we shut down the train tracks that run through Kahnawake, one of the main economic arteries, preventing both commercial and industrial train traffic from moving for over an hour, costing untold thousands of dollars for CN rail.
For a video of this Rail Blockade visit:
Mercier Bridge Blockades
November 10th & 11th, 2015
On November 10th it was announced that the dumping will take place at midnight. rotinoshonni’on:we and settler supporters came to the Sacred Fire Vigil that evening to form a plan. As with all community spaces there are differing perspectives and experiences. Fortunately, Kahnawake has a rich history of resisting settler colonialism and imperial occupation. The community meetings up to this point and this evening were very intergenerational and we are very grateful for this. It is important to acknowledge the work and experiences of our Elders who have seen many more battles than those of us coming into young-adulthood, and there has been strong leadership coming from youths under the age of 20.
As rotinoshonni’on:we, within kanianere’kowa, we have a responsibility to the faces not yet born to protect our peoples, our lands, our lifeways and our water. The people who assembled at the Vigil and whose chose to take action are just that, common people. As rotinoshonni’on:we it is our birthright to protect the natural world and all that which sustains life.
The power is in the people and the people took the power on these nights. Folks from age 17 to 76 years-of-age were out blockading the Mercier Bridge, to show our collective strength to our colonial occupiers imploring them to stop the dump. Each night the bridge was blockaded until midnight. The entire time there were different speakers expressing their ideas, their strategies and their concerns for which tactics will be the most effective. Trying to navigate multiple perspectives in a horizontal style, where there is disagreement and also historical trauma is very difficult. However it was the younger folks who took the lead for action, after much discussion around the fire, and broke off and marched onto the bridge. Once the blockade was safely established, Elders and folks who were maybe a little shy decided to join. Many people stayed by the fire or moved to the side line to observe and show support.
The 207 Longhouse showed its support of the people and was present while the blockades took place, whose presence helped to ensure the safety of community members.
The entire time we were given support from the drivers and people who were forced to re-route as a result of the blockade. We sang songs, chanted and raised hell as much as we could in the cold dark night. At one point even some pizza was ordered to us to keep us warm and fed. The act of blockading the Mercier Bridge was very controversial especially amongst Kahnawakeronon, as the historical trauma from the Protection of the Pines (“oka crisis”) is still fresh for many. These moves however were made by Kahnwake youth who felt a strong sense of urgency and took action in a way that was accessible and effective. Working through and dealing with community-based historical trauma is one of the many complex aspects of organizing within onkwehon:we contexts.
Kahnawake Survival School Walk Out
November 13th, 2015
After the bridge blockades many youth from Kahnawake decided to lead a walkout from the
Kahnawake Survival School to demonstrate against the dump.
The Shit Stops
November 14th, 2015
The city of Montréal stops dump after four billion litres of sewage released into kaniaterawanon’on:we.
Although we were unsuccessful in preventing the entirety of this desecration into our river – the lifeblood of our territories – and really our own bodies, we were able to delay the dump for over a month’s time and Mayor Merde Coderre only let go four billion liters instead of eight billion liters. Is this a win? There is still shit in our river. It is important that although we are grieving our river and know that any desecration by the militarized occupation on our lands known as Canada or Québec is a form of biological warfare against our people and all members of creation, we must also see that the power remains within us and despite impossible odds we can make some kind of impact. There are many lessons to be taken away from this experience and our communities are constantly learning and adapting. We must fortify ourselves and our movements in order to ensure that next time we will only be successful in reaching our goals.
Reclaim Turtle Island (RTI) is a grassroots, volunteer organization that survives solely on the donations of generous people. RTI has been one of the main sources for independent, indigenous run news from across Great Turtle Island and has been especially involved with the on-the-ground efforts to protect kaniaterawanon’on:we.
LAKO’TSIRA:REH AMANDA LICKERS
turtle clan seneca / tionni’tiotiah:ke livin
Amanda is a femme, 2 spirit spoken word poet, filmmaker and curator with Reclaim Turtle Island (@defendourlands), an all ndn grassroots media justice collective which focuses on anti-colonial cultural production and fanning the flames of the Indigenous insurrection, supporting grassroots land defense and sovereignty struggles.