Protect kaniaterawanon’on: We Report Back

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:

www.facebook.com/subMedia/videos/vb.199700056830375/718247161642326/?type=2&theater

Mercier Bridge Blockades

#StopTheShit

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.

Protect kaniaterawanon’on:we

contact: reclaimturtleisland@gmail.com

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.

#BlackOnCampusGuelph Report Back

black student protestors rallying and holding a banner that reads "we stand with students in Mizzou and Yale #blackoncampusguelph

by Galme Mumed

My name is Yasmin Mumed and I am one of the main organizers of the #BlackonCampusGuelph rally, which took place November 18th, at the University of Guelph. We started out with a rally where we had staff and students share their various stories of what it means to be black on campus Guelph which led into a march. The event was a part of a larger movement where Black Students took over social media and campuses internationally, to express our solidarity with black students resisting and fighting for the rights at Mizzou.

This created a space where black students could begin sharing our stories of being black on university and college campuses.

At the University of Guelph we saw stories from students who face anti-black racism in classrooms, residences, campus services, and within social spaces. This was so important for students who voices have been silenced front the moment they stepped on this campus. So many people shared stories of being entirely abandoned and ignored by the administration in dealing with anti-Black racism. We ended off the action by marching into the admin office to drop off a list of demands we are expecting to be met.

Post- rally we received an immense amount backlash from people on various forms of social media such as yikyak,liveleak, and Overheard at Guelph. Due to the several hundred immensely  racist comments from students at the university black students felt unsafe being on campus and in their classrooms and were left with no support.

The CJ. Munford Center, a club on campus that promotes racial diversity is the only space that supports Black students on campus. The Munford Center is seriously underfunded compared to other student groups on campus. The only paid staff at the centre was let go by the administration only a few years ago because of budget cuts. Black students are left to deal with the brunt of a legacy of anti-Blackness without any form of support from the administration.

The #BlackonCampusGuelph protest was an act of courage and a way for black students on campus to show the school administration that they were fed up with decades anti-black racism on campus. It is imperative for us not to view what is taking place in Mizzou in isolation. Students across Canada and right here in Guelph experience both subtle and overt manifestation of anti-black racism in every aspect of our education. We will no longer tolerate being silenced or erased. It is time the administration meet our demands and take accountability.


Galme Mumed

I was born in Hararge Oromia. I came to Canada when I was 8 years old but my heart and my memories are still in Hararge Oromia. I believe I am here in Canada for a reason and have a purpose to serve both here and in my home. I am proud to call myself Oromo and Muslim and Black. I feel like my ancestors have left me with many teachings and gifts that I’m constantly trying to listen to. I am a revolutionary because that’s the legacy I was born into.

Selling Out Resistance

by Amelia Meister

Behind closed doors, shortly before COP21 in Paris, the Alberta NDP government met with the leaders of four major tar sands oil producers and four major Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) that oppose them. What came out of this meeting was a pathetic agreement between all parties that touts “sustainable development” of the tar sands.

The NGOs represented were Equiterre, ForestEthics, the Pembina Institute and Environmental Defence. If you don’t know about these NGOs then let me put them into perspective. ForestEthics, in 2014, spent 1.5 million dollars on their anti-tarsands campaigns, the most of any of their campaigns. In 2012, major social justice lawyer Clayton Ruby joined the organization to push it into the limelight for the good work that it was doing against the tar sands. In short, these are major NGOs with significant resources and support bases. These NGOs have been one of many vocal thorns in the side of tarsands development reaching a wide audience through radio and print ads that more grassroots groups couldn’t afford.

However, what was once direct opposition to any development of the tar sands has become a support for a new agreement with oil conglomerates. The agreement between the Alberta NDPs and the oil companies, supported by these four NGOs is a cap on emissions and development. However, the cap is forty percent greater than current development and emissions. This is hardly a revolutionary deal. Anti-pipeline and anti-tarsands activism, including actions from these four NGOs, has slowed down investment and development in the tar sands and their affiliated pipelines. I wonder, with this new endorsement of “sustainable development”, how these NGOs will continue to be a voice of opposition to the tar sands. If all opposition continued to present a united resistance, development could have been slowed even further, instead of capped at something greater than it is now.

It is jeopardizing to the anti-­tarsands and anti-pipeline movement when the more mainstream view of what is possible consists of “sustainable development” and creating relationships with oil companies for “workable solutions”. Resistance to the tar sands cannot coincide with collaborating with oil companies. There is no such thing as sustainable development of the tar sands. The only sustainable option is for them to cease to exist, something that these NGOs have apparently forgotten. Any development of the tar sands is destructive not only to the delicate boreal forest ecosystem but to the indigenous nations affected by the pollution and deforestation. There was no consultation in this agreement with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. These NGOs claim some sort of solidarity with Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and yet have no problem negotiating a secret deal with oil corporations and government without any consultation. This is yet another perpetuation of the broken colonial systems that allow the tar sands to continue. While it is not surprising that this happened, the non-profit industrial complex continues to perpetuate the patterns of capitalistic and colonial ecological destruction. We must, then, continue direct action, in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, to apply the pressure that these NGOs have ceased to offer.


 

Amelia Meister
Amelia Meister is a poet, healer and radical single mother. She believes in working hard, loving fiercely and grieving deeply. Her writing appears in a monthly column in the Guelph Mercury and her words have been shared on many stages across Canada.

Ten Questions for Vandana Shiva

by  Nadine Compton

I met Vandana Shiva in the airport. When the automatic sliding doors at the gate revealed her luggage cart and her orange sari, I half expected a beam of light to illuminate her, such is the legend that surrounds her. Of course none did because Vandana Shiva is just a human being and not a saint. But what a human being she is.

After studying physics in her undergrad she received her Master’s in philosophy and her Ph.D. in quantum physics. In 1982 she set up the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, where researchers work with local communities and social movements to address important ecological and social issues.

In 1991 she established Navdanya, a movement to protect the diversity of living resources, especially seeds, and to advocate for organic farming and fair trade. And like she does after every ten years or so, she founded yet another institution, Bija Vidyapeeth, a sustainable living college. She has taught at universities, written books, and serves on the board of a number of organizations concerned with women, organic farming, and international property rights, among other issues.

So why was she talking to me? Well, she wasn’t really. She had flown from New Delhi to Toronto to give a lecture at her alma mater on “The Right to Food – Women, Development, and the Global Economy.” I was lucky enough to have a discussion with her in the car on her way to Guelph.

Nadine: What do you think the University of Guelph’s role is in improving access to the right to food?

Vandana Shiva: Well interestingly you know I was invited to get an honorary doctorate here maybe two or three years ago, and the president said, “We’re giving this doctorate to Dr. Shiva to remind ourselves that the university is a public institution.” Because you know universities are becoming so privatized and as an agricultural university, Guelph is being absolutely hijacked by the Monsantos of the world. And it’s a typical example of how public institutions or goods get privatized even though society continues to bear all of the responsibility. So, what should Guelph be doing? I think Guelph should be addressing the challenges of our times instead of being an extension agent of corporate agendas. It should be making the new connections that are being made by those that are really working on this issue, the connections between sustainability and ecological issues, the issues of work and livelihoods, the issue of climate change, the issues of health and nutrition, the issues of women’s knowledge. That’s an issue that’s also been addressed in this past election – tuition fees that young Canadians have to pay, and ultimately get into debt for. It was particularly contentious in Québec a few years ago, where there were protests and demonstrations due to an increase in fees.

N: Do you believe that tuition should be free?

VS: I believe that tuition should definitely not be so costly that students begin their lives borrowing and in debt. Students should be absolutely free intellectually and mentally, so that they can concentrate on their learning, on their education because beginning with debt, you’re forced to make the kinds of choices that’ll help you pay off the debt, rather than those that would help you grow to your best potential. And it’s not that the society is poor. I mean Canada is a rich country. It’s wrong for Canada to subsidize fossil fuels and burden the students. It’s just morally an outrage.

N: How is your approach to these topics different than your peers? Non-environmental activists?

VS: First, because a lot of the work I do today… I haven’t been groomed in it in a linear, one-dimensional way. I’ve addressed as an issue in nature. I see an ecosystem collapse and try to get what’s really happening. And in reality things are connected. My Ph.D. thesis, which I did at Western, was on non-locality and non-separability in quantum theory, so even science tells you that everything is related and yet we have a reductionist paradigm that pretends that everything is separate. Sadly most trainings are in that one dimensional groove and then when you get into the academic track, you want your publications, you want your tenure, then you have to continue in that. So a lot gets left out. Reductionist approaches don’t look at interdisciplinarity, don’t look at interconnections.

N: How did you transition from physics to agriculture? Was there any backlash from your colleagues when you made that move?

VS: No, no. Even when I decided to come here to do my higher studies it was with the conscious choice that I didn’t want to be a mechanical physicist. And I didn’t want to just be a cog in a machine. For me, physics was about understanding how nature works. And that understanding was what I followed all the way, especially why I specialized in the foundations of quantum theory, already by that time I was walking alone. So my trajectory was a trajectory which I was carving out for myself. When I went back, I consciously chose to join an institute where I could look at interactions between science and society because I’ve always been very troubled by incongruent messages. We are all always told, “Science removes poverty.” And India has the world’s third largest scientific community and this point one of the highest rates of poverty and malnutrition. And it didn’t hang together. The Green Revolution was given the Nobel Prize for peace and in 1984, Punjab was a land of violence. And Canada’s connected to that because the Air India flight that was blown up over Ireland was part of that whole extremist action. It didn’t make sense to get a prize for peace, but then there is violence. I was working for the United Nations University at the time and I said, “You’ve got to look at this.” The pressure really came at two points – not from any peer groups. I was in Bangalore and every day I saw more eucalyptus planting on the farmland and I couldn’t figure it out. So I told the institute that I was working for that we must investigate. And of course we found out that the World Bank was behind it, funding the growth of eucalyptus for raw material for the pulp industry and calling it social forestry because we had come up with that phrase with Chipko [the organized resistance against the destruction of Indian forests]. The study made a huge impact and the farmer’s movement emerged around it and the regional parliament had huge discussions about it and rejected the plan. The director of my institute was very fond of me and respected me and he says, “I’m so proud of you, but the World Bank’s been putting the pressure on me saying, ‘we will cut of this funding and this funding and this funding’ if you ever do research like this.” His name was Dr. Ramasan. I said, “Dr. Ramasan I’m not going to change. Any research for me is to find the truth. And no power in the world can suppress that urge in me. And instead of you losing grants for the institute which you need, I will create a space where I can work independently.” Which is why I created the Research Foundation, I left the institute. The next round of intense pressure was not from peers, but from Monsanto and its lobbyists. They’re not fellow scientists, they’re journalists.

N: How can we all be sustainable in our food consumption practices?

VS: I think the way to be sustainable in food consumption practices is to be sustainable in food production. And non-sustainability is built right into the industrial agriculture model because it uses ten times more inputs than it produces, it uses ten times more energy that it produces as calories, it uses ten times more finances for purchase of internal inputs than what farmers can earn which is why farmers go under, get into debt, and leave the land or in the case of India commit suicide – three hundred thousand of them. So it’s not sustainable. But fortunately we have better ways to produce. And the three things that – and this is the work that I’ve been doing through Navdanya, the movement I’ve built over the last thirty years – is that we have to move from monocultures to diversity, we have to move from chemicals and external inputs to ecological processes, internal inputs, what is called agro-ecology, we’ve got to move from globalized trade to local distribution. So that wealth gets distributed and more nutritious, healthier, fresher systems improve.

N: Do you have any advice for any future agricultural activists?

VS: One is, you’ve got to do the work that will take care of the Earth and of food. Just because those who are destroying the planet and preventing our right to food have huge amounts of money, be guided by your conscience. And be resilient.


 

Nadine Compton
Nadine Compton is a freelance writer and blogger who started and curates Pop Culture Middle East (popcultureme.blogspot.com), where in an effort to maintain her connections to her home in that area of the world, she publishes posts on Arabic cuisine and her interviews with notable Arab figures in the fields of political cartooning, film, hip hop radio, online comedy, feminist lingerie, environmental activism, as well as with women living in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. She can be found on: Facebook, Twitter & Instagram

A Letter to Governor Dayton

by Winona LaDuke

The year is 2015, but colonialism is alive and well in the Great Lakes region, and so is Anishinaabe resistance. In addition to the state’s profound mismanagement of our natural resources, we now face multiple new crude oil pipelines and non-ferrous metal mines proposed in the heart of our territory, endangering our sacred waters, our manoomin (wild rice), and our survival. But our movement to protect our Mother Earth is powerful and growing fast. One arm of the resistance is an effort to affirm our federally-protected hunting and gathering rights in ceded territory. In August, Anishinaabe ricers took to the lakes en masse to harvest without permits, exercising rights guaranteed in the 1855 Treaty, but consistently violated.   

September 3rd, 2015

Dear Governor Dayton

We would like to eat. Our people have been jailed for snaring rabbits, hunting and lost our boats and nets. It is time to evolve our relationship with the state. This last week, your Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to issue some citations to Ojibwe people for ricing on Hole-in-the-Day Lake. That is, after the cameras were gone.The officers went out to track down Morningstar and Harvey Goodsky citing them for harvesting wild rice off the reservation, without state permission. Sort of like “poaching wild rice.” This is out of line. Let me do my best to explain why.

When my ancestors signed the treaty of 1855, Anishinaabe Akiing, our land, was in good shape. We could all drink the water from these lakes; wild rice was throughout our territory; fish, moose and wolves were abundant; and the maple trees were in their glory. That treaty was with the US government, and somehow you are now managing the assets of the 1855 treaty, or most of them. You are failing to care for what we love.

This is what I see. Some ninety percent of the wetlands have been drained. The western third of Minnesota, including the 1855 treaty territory, was once covered with wetlands. Today, even though Minnesota is spending millions of dollars annually, the state is still losing more than it restores. Fish: Well, these days a pregnant woman or a child can eat only one meal a month of a walleye (under two feet), bass, catfish or northern, none of the larger ones. Coal fired generation causes that. The rest of us can eat once a week, before we have to worry about methyl mercury poisoning. Wow.

Now your fisheries department has managed to crash the Mille Lacs fishery. Let me remind you that the Mille Lacs band did not do that, and has volunteered to forgo tribal harvest for next year. This crash resulted from the folly of your politics and the 2006 decision to increase the limit, despite scientific and tribal expertise which set the limit at 350 000 pounds. Minnesota fishery staff secured a legislative approval for 550 000 pounds. Nice work. The walleye population in 2014 was its lowest in thirty years. And, many of your lakes are dying from agricultural runoff and invasive species.

Anishinaabeg people have always lived with the moose and the wolf. You have allowed their destruction by corporate and special interests driven myopic management policies. Let me be clear: In July of 2015, the Center for Biological Diversity and Honor the Earth filed a request to list the Moose as endangered. In just ten years time, moose numbers in Minnesota have dropped from nearly 9 000 to as few as 3 500. Why? Habitat destruction caused by mining and logging industries and over harvesting. Now, scientists agree that the greatest threat which could virtually eliminate moose from Minnesota within five years stems from climate change. Yet the state continues to forward a fossil fuels based energy policy, from dirty oil pipelines, to a “clean energy plan” which uses coal gasification as a centerpiece of stupidity.

Frankly, your forest management policies alone could have almost wiped out the moose. A 2006 study found that six of the twelve known wildlife corridors in the Mesabi Iron Range will likely become isolated,fragmented, or lost completely, and almost 9 000 acres of habitat will likely be destroyed. That’s what new logging and mining projects will do to the moose.

Minnesota has made a mockery of stewardship and respect by failing to understand the nature of the wolf in the north and the centrality of the wolf to Anishinaabeg people. In 2014, DNR announced an increase in wolf hunting permits: 3 800 hunting and trapping licenses available for the coming season, up from 3 500 last year, allowing up to 250 wolves to be killed before the season closed. This forced federal court action, but also forced the Ojibwe tribes to declare wolf sanctuaries on our reservations and push for the same in our treaty territories.

You have cost us many of our trees. Our chief Wabunoquod spoke of how the great pines had been stolen from our people, and cried at the loss, as they were our ancestors. The maple basswood forest system is in serious decline, and many of our most productive maple sugarbush areas in the 1855 treaty territory have been cut, without regard for us. This leaves families without food and sugar.

Now you come for the wild rice. You have cost us fifty percent of the manoomin in the north. Let us be clear, this is the only grain indigenous to North America and is far more nutritious than GMO crops. Yet dam projects destroy our precious food, and now the state intends to weaken sulfate standards which protect our waters and wild rice so that you can open up mining in the north for Canadian, Chinese and other foreign interests.

Then there’s the baffling pipelines – four of them – through our best wild rice territories, all pushing through the entirely dysfunctional system of the Department of Commerce and Public Utilities Commission which will not even speak formally with tribal governments.Please explain to me again, why our people should be arrested for harvesting wild rice? The state has shown no regard for the north. We would like to eat and continue the life we were given by the Creator.

Winona LaDuke

Executive Director of Honor the Earth

www.honorearth.org


 

Winona Laduke
Winona LaDuke is an internationally renowned Anishinaabe author, orator and activist working on issues of renewable energy, food sovereignty, indigenous economics, and human rights.  She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, and is a two-time US Vice Presidential candidate. She is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, one of the largest reservation based nonprofit organizations in the country, and has received a long

list of awards and accolades, including membership in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Reebok Human Rights Award, and the International Slow Food Award for Biodiversity. In her current role as Executive Director of Honor the Earth, she works nationally and internationally on issues of environmental justice in indigenous communities and a graceful transition to a just, green, post-fossil fuel economy.

L’eau Est La Vie, Water is Life:

black and white illustration of women rowing in a bayou with various sea creatures and animals surrounded them. It reads "water is life. stop the bayou bridge pipeline"

Fighting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana

by Anne White Hat

The Atchafalaya Basin in southern Louisiana is the largest river swamp in North America and one of the most productive wetlands in the world. Its 885,000 acres provide habitat for a vast array of wildlife, including half of the continent’s migratory waterfowl. 

Since time immemorial, people have centered their life-ways on the Basin: from the indigenous Houma and Atakapa-Ishak nations, to the Cajuns and crawfishermen who came later.  It is a special place where land becomes water, where life flourishes as it pours into the sea. But the Atchafalaya Basin is under attack. Corporations are ramping up the development of oil and gas infrastructure in its waterways. Large access canals and pipelines dredged through the swamp have fundamentally altered its geology, disrupting the north-south water flow and creating sedimentary build-up that fills natural bayous, preventing the Basin from serving its natural role as a floodplain. In addition to dams (constructed by the oil industry), some parts of the Basin have two kilometers of man-made canals for every one kilometer of natural bayou.

All of this meddling has impaired water quality, destroyed wildlife habitats, and wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of crawfishing communities. The last few years have seen serious floods hit communities throughout Louisiana, and the flooding will only get worse as the Atchafalaya Basin continues to wither. Our state is losing an acre of coastal wetlands every hour.

The last thing we need is another pipeline through the Basin. Yet that’s exactly what Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, is proposing.

They’re calling it the “Bayou Bridge Pipeline,” but we call it a threat to everything we hold scared — and it’s already under construction. Its proposed 162-mile length will cross an astounding 700 bodies of water, including Bayou LaFourche, a critical reservoir that supplies the United Houma Nation and 300,000 Louisiana residents with clean, safe drinking water. This not only violates the sovereignty of the Houma and other nations, but it also threatens sacred mounds and traditional “marker trees” (ancient Cypresses) along its path.

Furthermore, the pipeline would destroy our economy by adding to the already enormous problems that pipelines have created for the crawfishing industry, which supports thousands of good jobs. By ETP’s own admission, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline would create only 12 permanent jobs. It’s clear that this project only serves the needs of industry, at the cost of more of our precious wetlands, with unforeseeable impacts on flooding throughout the entire state of Louisiana. This pipeline is incompatible with humanity’s goal to limit emissions and stop climate change. It is incompatible with the belief in our hearts that water is sacred, and water is life.

To fight this pipeline, we have formed the L’eau Est La Vie Camp, a frontline resistance camp. L’eau Est La Vie means “water is life” in French, and the camp is backed by a coalition of indigenous nations, water protectors, local landowners, crawfishermen, faith-based congregations, and environmental groups. Holding space in the traditional territory of the Atakapa-Ishak Nation, which we have entered with their blessing, our camp serves as a home-base to monitor the proposed route, build relationships with nearby landowners, and reclaim land under the vision of a just transition and sustainable future.

We are targeting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline and the company behind it, ETP, with both legal interventions and strategic non-violent direct actions. With lessons learned from allied pipeline resistance efforts, we are appealing the permits awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, alleging that these groups have failed to consider irreparable harms to both the Atchafalaya Basin and the coastal community around St. James Parish in southern Louisiana. We are also fighting in court to receive public records regarding communications between the companies behind this project and our local sheriffs, as well as with the governor of Louisiana.

Our coalition is working to develop and implement Louisiana Water Protector Training for every person that joins Camp, as well as folks in communities across southern Louisiana. Water protectors are trained to look for specific Energy Transfer Partners construction permit violations and report them to the appropriate agency. We also provide a comprehensive overview of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline and environmental history as well as laws regarding waterways. To date, nearly 100 water protectors have been trained and monitoring is being coordinated amongst our coalition via Signal app and Facebook reporting, with daily-on-the-ground updates provided by L’eau Est La Vie water protectors. This strategy builds internal power and also sends a strong message to ETP: Louisiana isn’t as friendly to oil and gas as they have been told.

In a recent exploratory excursion, we noted and took samples of Louisiana’s old-growth “legacy” Cypress trees in the Atchafalaya Basin. These trees are estimated to be more than 400 years old and are often referred to as the “Noah’s Arc” of the wetlands because they are home to wildlife during storms and high waters. While the number of these old growth trees that lie within the Bayou Bridge Pipeline’s route is unknown, its 75-foot wide right-of-way will permanently destroy at least 940 acres of these wetlands.

In addition, water protectors also discovered a work-site where construction crews had cut the fencing on the property easement and left it open. A horse was found entangled in the barbed-wire. They were able to free the mare, and our online petition garnered nearly 75,000 signatures in just 3 days calling for ETP to be charged with animal cruelty.

ETP is also the same company behind the notorious Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and also hired Tiger Swan, the private security firm that committed horrendous human rights abuses at Standing Rock. Tiger Swan applied for their license to operate in Louisiana but were denied due to our coalition organizing efforts. They have appealed. Meanwhile, the Louisiana’s Governor reportedly told the Baton Rouge Advocate that “another pipeline traversing the Atchafalaya Basin” wasn’t going to keep him up at night.

The collusion and apathy of our leaders is unacceptable. As we inch closer every day to a real climate catastrophe, it is up to water protectors and the people we stand with to shut down these projects by any and all non-violent means.

We are striving to create the systems of change necessary for a drastic shift towards clean energy, challenging systems of oppression within the Deep South at the heart of oil and gas country. By launching L’eau Est La Vie Camp as a home-base on the route of the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline, we have opened avenues of direct action, strategic organizing, and political resistance. We envision this land becoming a space devoted to multi-generational skill shares, radical art creation, activist retreat space, and everything else needed in a just transition toward a clean energy economy throughout the Gulf Coast region.

Oil and gas companies often build their infrastructure in Louisiana because they expect acquiescence from the people. Their industries have been long intertwined with our livelihoods; we have, sadly, come to see their infrastructure in our bayous and swamps as normal. But Louisiana is rising to challenge that situation. Folks are standing up to say “no more.” Inspired by the example of our relatives at Standing Rock, as well as those resisting Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain project in Canada, we are building community around defence of the sacred. We will not let them take our Basin and the life that flourishes there.


 

Anne White Hat
Anne White Hat is a member of the Aśke Gluwipi Tiośpaye of the Sicangu Lakota Nation from Rosebud, South Dakota. She is a mother and herbalist living in New Orleans, Louisiana and serves on the Advisory Council for L’eau Est La Vie Camp, a project of Louisiana Rise.

Tiny House Warriors: Secwepemc Cultural Resurgence and Resistance

black and white of protestors standing with their fist up by their tiny house. text reads "tiny house warriors"

By Ruby Smith Diaz

Land defender Kanahus Manuel explains how ten tiny houses can help stop a pipeline.

 Can you introduce yourself?

 I’m Kanahus Manuel, of the Secwepemc nation and Warrior Society and Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home.

Tell us about the Tiny House Warriors project.

Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home is a project to build ten tiny houses that will be placed strategically on the path of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline to assert our Secwepemc authority and our Secwepemc decision-making on our lands. Our people got together in a historic gathering last summer, and the consensus was that there is no consent for this pipeline. That’s what we’re standing on right now — that declaration of our people, as well as our ancestors, that said never cede, never surrender our territories. This is the power that we’re standing on by going out and putting these homes on our territories.

What inspired you to launch this specific form of resistance against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline?

We looked at all the different issues that we are facing as Indigenous people. This project is not just to stop the pipeline. It is to create a solution to the housing crisis that all of us are facing, not just our community– it’s for people in the activist community, people within my own immediate family to learn [alternative building skills] to better our movements. Right now we’re doing the interior decorating of our first tiny house, and that one’s going to be deployed very soon. The second one is our elders’ tiny house and it’s built on a 24’ trailer. We wanted it to be a little bit bigger to accommodate elders. We want to have it in a very beautiful pristine part of our territory, where elders can come and be protecting the land and the sacred area that we chose to make that stand. The elders’ house is also going to be the language immersion place, because all of our language teachers and elders say we’re going to lose our language if it’s [only taught] in the classroom.

And so everything is based on the land. There’s [so many] different reasons why we chose to build tiny houses. First of all, right now, Indigenous people are stuck on this 0.2% of reserve land– meaning that if you calculate all the Indian reserves of Canada, it makes up 0.2% of the land base. Not even 1%. So the other 99.8% of our traditional territories is being developed, [is subject to] industrial resource extraction that has been happening since contact. Mining and pipelines are some of these things that are threatening our territory. Our people, although we have always been pushed onto the 0.2%, we still maintain current use traditional use on our territories including berry picking, medicine harvesting, and sacred fasting areas. We still depend on clean water as a main part of our ceremonies. In order for us to conduct our sacred ancient ceremonies, we need clean water, and so there’s going to be many different impacts on our traditions by having that pipeline going through, and that’s why people are opposed to this pipeline.

People are looking at tiny houses as a solution in a housing crisis globally. So that’s another reason why tiny houses became a way for us to make a stand. We’re building our homes, the land is our home, and we’re connecting those dots for people that don’t see the earth as our home. Our land is going to be a really beautiful area;  we’re looking at doing some intensive gardening. These are things that Wolverine* (“Wolverine was a Secwepemc elder and land defender, Gustafsen Lake who passed away in 2016”)  has taught us and [folks from] the other resistance camp* (Unistoten) has taught us too. Some will live, some will die and the strong ones will survive, so we need to start producing our own food. And so with Tiny House Warriors, Ruby, we don’t want to just be setting up camp, to just be another Standing Rock where we’re going to make our last stand right there. No, we want to build villages, we want to build hope, we want to build our dreams and imagination and creativity. We want food, beautiful homes, clean water, language, culture, dance, songs.

We even want entrepreneurship for our young people. We want some kind of economic interest. We have economic interest in every tree that is coming off of our territory, everything that’s being transported through our territory right now. I’m sitting here looking at the Trans Canada Highway, as millions of dollars [worth of resources] are being transported through here. When we were figuring what homes we were going to establish on our territory we chose to go with tiny houses because they’re fast, because the rest of the country is landlocked. The Trans-Canada and CPR crosses Neskonlith Indian Reserve, crossing our own natural transportation corridor, the river.   Transporting every raw product across our homelands: Cars, coal gas, heavy machinery, military equipment, tires– the same corridor that is linked to the alberta tar sands that we are also fighting. They need these transportation corridors to come through our lands, in order to get things to the global market. I’m looking at a truck full of oil or gas, that’s going by right now as I speak, while our little 0.2% holds some of the most impoverished communities.

So Tiny House Warriors is giving hope to the nation that we can leave the reservations, and exclusively occupy traditional territories. We can go out there and say we are upholding our own laws, and our own rights to self determination; we can say no to projects like Kinder Morgan and Canada must respect that. Right now, Canada is violating our rights by [Trudeau giving] the federal “ok” to go through with this pipeline. But he doesn’t have our consent. So there’s many different people involved in this violation of international Indigenous and human rights right now.

To back up little bit: obviously the tiny houses are mobile projects. What do you think is the benefit of having this kind of specific resistance that are literal homes on wheels, instead some other traditional structures that have been built on the territory in the past for similar purposes?

As Secwepemc people we’ve always been tiny house living and so building this type of structure is nothing really different for us. We’ve built traditional underground pit houses, we’ve built cord wood houses, we’ve built all kinds of alternative and traditional housing. These homes are sacred sanctuaries cause our homes are the whole basis of our family life and who we are as Secwepemc people. We’ve had cedar bark lodges, we’ve had houses that are the most advanced architecture for our lands. We want to build underground traditional homes; when we’re figuring what homes we’re going to establish on our territory, we chose to go with tiny houses because they’re fast. You can get the shell of the whole house up in 2 or 3 days and have someone actually living in there while you continue to work on it. Our goal is to establish hundreds of pit houses and traditional homes on our territory cause I know personally how it is to live in an underground traditional pit house. You know, my partner built one for us and I raise my children in there. [The pit house] gives you more than you’ll ever imagine– a sense of how it was to live in the past. For instance, living in one structure that’s round, you don’t have walls, you don’t have rooms that separate your children from the parents. You’re all in one family, you have to learn how to collectively live together in a small space. That’s an art, that’s a very necessary art right now. How we’re going to live together as a people.

And so we’re building tiny houses now to stop this pipeline. Our goal is to have ten tiny houses on our territory along this 518 km pipeline route, but not stationary. We have them on wheels so we could be mobile out on our lands. We’ve always been a nomadic hunter and gatherer society and that’s what we do during the winter: we follow the seasons, we follow the food. Some of our people haven’t even been to these pristine areas where this pipeline is being proposed. Huckleberries, blueberries, medicines, fresh game, there’s so much out there that’s at risk right now that needs protecting.

Beautiful. So that gives people the opportunity to actually make connections with those sacred places and with those traditional areas in ways that other structures maybe wouldn’t have allowed for. That’s awesome. How were you able to find resources to lead this project?

 Resources are the number one thing that we need in our movements right now, and we’ve been blessed to have made contacts with people who have big networks. Naomi Klein put out a call for donations to LEAP* ( https://theleap.org/give-tiny-house-warriors/) and they were able to secure $16,000 and then LUSH was able to give a big chunk of money as well, the cosmetic company. Now we’re selling Tiny House Warrior Volume One, a music compilation of artists that have come together to donate songs that are on this album. We’re selling this album on Bandcamp for $10 minimum donation. So we’re trying to find creative ways and sources that could help sponsor these tiny houses that doesn’t compromise our principles.

We’re going to be launching a bigger online fundraiser for a spring building camp– we’re hosting a 14-day building camp and hopefully make three or four tiny houses during that time. We’ll need approximately thirty or forty skilled builders to come out to assist, some of them could be labourers. We need five, we’re calling them conductors, but like foremen or crew bosses, that can help.

I’d like to also say that there were volunteer builders that came and volunteered all of their skills to build these tiny homes. Melina had secured some funding as well to solarize the tiny houses that were being built during the [last] spring building camp.

Incredible. On that note, how can people find out more?

We have a website, TinyHousewarriors.com and also we have a facebook page, and the Bandcamp page. And if you google Tiny House Warriors, a lot of news articles will come up and you can get educated in that way too. We had some other famous people, like Leonardo DiCaprio, that post Tiny House Warriors’ photos and information on Instagram. So there are people that are learning about the project and I’m sure that we’re going to be able to collectively come up with the resources to be able to complete all ten [tiny houses]. We’ve built three and we have enough raised for the fourth one, so we’re looking for funds for six more of them. We’re learning a lot as we go along, and you know, the tenth one is going to be like, boom. It’s going to go up like that, so we’re hoping to have these all out by summer.

Amazing. What has been the biggest obstacle that you’ve found during this project?

There’s many different obstacles that you’re faced with as grassroots organizers. Some of them are around funding. [Often it’s] these established organizations that have tax deductible status or non-profit status that are able to raise funds here in Canada. We don’t have that, we’re a grassroots organization, so a lot of our funding needs to be received from non-mainstream sources. That’s why we are dependent people, through crowd-funding and such, to support this project.

I don’t want to have to go too much into it, but for us here at the Secwepemc nation, we’ve had three of the Secwepemc chiefs who have already signed with Kinder Morgan and actually received money, cash deals, from them. And just to help people to understand they’re a federally funded native organization I would call it, more than a band council. People really need to be clear about who they’re putting their support behind: who the grassroots people are, who the tribal people are. We really need support from people who understand where Indigenous people hold the title to our lands; amongst all the 10,500 Secwepemc people that exist in the world that are in on Secwepemc territory– collectively, we are the ones that have a say in our lands. We collectively hold that title to the land, not one elected chief and council can make a decision about our lands. So these are some of the other obstacles, is being able to explain to everyday Canadians the internal politics that go on behind the scenes. As the grassroots people, we really need the support behind us because that’s one of the biggest obstacles we’re facing too in our territories.

Many long term projects and social movements have the tendency to quickly lose people along the way due to disinterest or burnout. However, it seems that you’ve been able to pull together enough people with sustained interest to complete three houses so far, and more planned for the summer. What do you think is different about this project that has helped keep people motivated and committed to help?

It’s the urgency. And just the dire crisis that this planet is in right now. We see the climate change in our everyday harvesting practices. We see the climate change through the wildfires that ravaged our lands last summer. We see that happen in our berry patches and our medicine areas. We see the urgency around standing up now. We know that if this pipeline pushes its way through, the Alberta Tar Sands is going to increase dramatically in size and impact more of our people in the north, our own relatives that are there around the Tar Sands. With the people that we are working with, it’s a life– I don’t want to say it’s a lifestyle, but it’s the way we live. We aren’t saying, oh my daughter’s gonna grow up to be a doctor or a professor, you know. It’s like, we already knew, you can’t turn back and once you wake up in the matrix there’s no going back. You know that the rest of society is fake. And it’s based on non-documentation of our title and our rights to our lands. We should be able to have our homes in the most pristine areas of our territory and that’s where we’re going with our tiny houses. We want people to see that no, you’re not meant to live by the Trans Canada highway, you’re meant to be up there in the beauty of your lands. That’s why they’re ripping all this stuff to drive through the Trans-Canada highway. Everything is based on the lands; you can’t have society without the land. Everything, the whole consumer capitalist society, is based on these resources, on these lands.


 

Ruby Smith – DIAZ
Ruby Smith-Diaz is an afro-latina person born in Edmonton- amiskwacîwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ). Since graduating, with a degree in education, she has found her passion working as a youth facilitator, multi-disciplinary artist, video editor, and body positive personal trainer. Throughout all of her projects, she is deeply invested in the dignity and identity of individuals and supporting them in developing the sense of self-worth and integrity that will make them agents and animators of change in the world, according to their most fierce imaginings.

Kanahus Manuel
Kanahus Manuel, Secwepemc and Ktunaxa, is member of the Secwepemc Women Warriors Society (her unceded Territory lies within so-called British Columbia, Canada), a mother of 4 and a twin , she was born into Indigenous Resistance and Land Defence, coming from a high-profile political family known for bringing their fight for their Traditional Territories and homelands into the spotlight from the local to the international level.  Kanahus’ inheritance of the land struggle has led her to spearhead many Indigenous frontlines. Kanahus is traditional birth keeper, traditional tattoo artist and warrior.

Report Back From #OccupyINAC Toronto

by Carrie (Teyon-nanit-skwah-kwá:nyu’) Lester: Land Defender / Water Protector

Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) through my mother and her mother, from Six Nations Grand River Territory.

May 2016

“YOU WALK AWAY? WE STAY!”

That was the chant that broke out from our determined group of about 30 disparate folk who walked into Toronto’s INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) office building on St Clair Ave East near Yonge St, in midtown Toronto, on that fateful day of Wednesday, April 13th, 2016,( the day before my daughter’s 26th birthday), as the Regional Director of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada walked away from us and our questions.

Little did we realize, but we were about to embark on a week-long (plus) occupation of the INAC office in Toronto, which would cause a ripple effect of similar occupations across Canada. We were ill-prepared for such an endeavour, as we had no supplies with us to sustain us for more than a few hours, let alone overnight, or more than a week!

So why did our small, but concerned, group of men, women, and children, (Indigenous and Allies, from Black Lives Matter, and other non-Native Settler folk, young and old(er), enter the office of Indigenous Affairs? Well, it’s because after 500 years of non-native settlers (Invaders!) arriving in droves to these beautiful lands, and more than 200 years of colonial domination and warring by the British and the French, and almost 150 years of Colonial Canada, things have not sat well with Native Folk.

Yet another crisis had struck stricken one of our northern communities, Attawapiskat (northern Ontario Cree community, west side of James Bay, the lower part of Hudson’s Bay), in which despairing youth, who saw no future for themselves, had made suicide pacts with each other, and had just tried, unsuccessfully, to take their lives. On the weekend before we paid our visit to the INAC office, eleven Youth had attempted suicide. Several days later, while we were occupying the office, another thirteen had attempted suicide, but there was nowhere to treat this new group, because the hospital was still dealing with the other eleven, and so about half of these thirteen Youth had to be housed in the jail, under supervision, while waiting for room at the hospital.

Native Communities from across Turtle Island, aka so-called Canada and United States of America, have been suffering under the oppression of what became the dominant societies, living in squalor after the War of 1812, as bit by bit, we found ourselves rounded up and removed from our lands, and put onto patches of land deemed unfit for the never-ending hordes of New Comers from the Britain, the United Kingdom, and Europe. No longer needed by these New Comers to assist in surviving in this new territory, no longer needed to assist in military operation, our ancestors were relegated to be out of sight, out of mind, awaiting their expected demise. The Death of the Noble Savage.

Lands were stolen, held by greedy Land Barons, and sold off to fatten their bank coffers, cut up and sold again and again. Treaties were made with some of our people, to take the land, but our people were under the impression that lands were to be shared. Shared and looked after, as had been done since time immemorial. The new people did not know how to live on the land respectfully. They did not know how to learn the language of the land. They did not know how to take the time to learn the language of the land.

Over time, our people being restricted to these plots of land called Indian Reserve Lands, fell into different states of despair, and squalor. Impoverished for the first time ever, they were forced to take handouts from the Indian Agents who oversaw the goings-on on these Reserves, aka Prisoner of War Camps. Food and clothing rations would be handed out to the community members, as hunting and fishing became more and more restricted. There was a long period of time in which movement off these reserve lands was controlled by the Indian Agent, the Prison Warden, using a policy known as the Pass System, in which the Agent had the authority to either allow, or disallow movement on and off the Reserve with permission slips. If you were found off- Reserve without one of these permission slips, you’d be jailed and fined.

This system was set up to allow for the eventual ruin of our People, so that once we were fully assimilated or dead, ALL the lands across the territories would no longer be held by Indian Title or Treaty, and would all belong outright to the Crown for full exploitation and extraction of Resources, aka Gifts of the Land: the Tree-Beings, the Food and Medicine Beings, the 4-Leggeds, the Flyers, the Swimmers, the Crawlers, the Waters, aka our Relations.

Much of the Reserve Lands that our People were forced onto, were lands that were barren, and ill-fit for the European-style farming that was to be forced upon us all. Often times, as in the case of Attawapiskat, we were put onto flood plains. Flood plains were normally places that one would visit at certain times of the year, but never to live on permanently. Very few of our communities lived on specific lands permanently. We moved about with the seasons, and with our 4-Legged Relations; however, we would always come back to specific places each season. Those of us with winters had our Wintering Grounds, and our Summering Grounds. Over time, we had come to agreements with our neighbours for sharing of these Lands. In particular, here in what is now Southern Ontario, the Haudenosaunee and the Anishinaabek had made a Treaty with the Dish and One Spoon Wampum Belt, which determined the sharing of the lands and it’s food sources, by allowing us to:

1) use (or ‘eat’) only what was needed from the Dish; 2) leave enough for others in the Dish; and 3) keep the Dish (area) clean.

Without the ability to move about, coastal communities like Attawapiskat must endure almost yearly evacuations in the Spring due to the flooding that takes place. Attawapiskat has also declared several States of Emergency since 2006, five in fact, for water contamination, for flooding, for sewage contamination, for housing shortages and unfit homes due to black mold and lack of (clean) running water, and most recently for the Youth suicides. Since September of 2015, there have been about one hundred attempted suicides by the Youth of Attawapiskat. ONE HUNDRED: out of a population of about 2,000 residents. Their hospital has only fifteen beds; no full- time doctors, (there is not enough housing for the community, let alone the doctors!) who fly in four days per week, three weeks out of a month; two nurses on weekend duty; and no regular mental health workers over the past nine months, again, due to the housing shortage.

The desperation of the Youth of Attawapiskat really hit them hard during a nearly thirty-five year period of neglect by the Federal Government of Canada, while their pleas for help for their ill health, due to what was found to be diesel oil contamination under their elementary school, seemed to go unheard, but was really just government stalling and bungling. For many years the Youth and the teachers and other staff endured headaches and nosebleeds due to the vapours of the diesel fuel. Finally, a temporary band aid solution was set up, in which portables were brought up to take the place of the school, but they eventually became the permanent solution to the problem, as the Minister of Indian Affairs decided that they at least HAD a school, stating that some Reserves had NO schools.

So, all of this brought our group of like-minded people together on that morning of Wednesday, April 13th, to meet with the Director of Indigenous Affairs, and demand that they do their job of opening up their purse strings of the trillions of dollars held in trust which belong to all First Nations, and put pressure on the Federal Government to do their job and look after these issues of mental health, housing, water and flooding, and STOP with the quick fix band aid solutions.

Our arrival was a bit alarming for the receptionist at the desk in the office, as we came in with banners and signs, and some of us laid out on the floor of the office, spattering ourselves with red paint, to symbolize the deaths and attempted suicides of the Youth, as we held a ‘die-in’. We also lit a sage smudge to purify and calm the area, and the receptionist actually backed away from the smudge shell, seemingly unaware of its purpose and significance. This alarmed US! Why was this staff member NOT aware of the most basic symbol of our spirituality? This place was definitely in need of Cultural Training 101!

So, it took over three hours for Regional Director Mauricette Howlett to actually come out from her office to meet with us, after which she only gave us typical platitudes … such as, “we’re doing the best we can”, “we feel the same way you do”, “we’re looking after things”. When she finished with these pathetic words, we spoke up with questions … and she turned and left the reception area, going back to her office, refusing to take our questions, never to come out again that day. That’s when we spoke up with our chant of “You walk away? We stay!”

And stay we did. For almost nine days. We had no extra clothing, no food, no extra diapers for the 3 year-old child with us, no blankets, and no medications that some of us needed. Some of us had to call into our work places to let them know that we wouldn’t be in to work the next day, and more days as the occupation kept going. Some of us would leave as the days went on, choosing to take up space on the outside of the building to educate the passing public as to what was going on inside, and to act as support for food and clothing for those of us inside.

We had called for media to attend the initial entrance of our group to the office, but as time went on, more media arrived for the (non) meeting with the Director, and our surprising situation with what would become the occupation of the office.

Our first few days were chaotic with media interviews, getting media releases out, setting up a Facebook page, organizing food and clothing and medications, setting up the space for living in, child-minding, securing privacy spaces away from the prying eyes of police and security (initially, we were watched over by police for the first few days, but that job eventually fell to the building security team, many of whom became supportive of our cause), making sleeping arrangements (finding space on the floor, first with just the clothes on our backs, then as supplies arrived, we were able to use blankets under us and over us), calling home to families to let them know what we were doing and that we were ok, and having to deal with the ever-changing security conditions / human rights infractions that were being imposed upon us, such as washroom facility use: initially we were allowed to use the washrooms that were on other floors with police escort, but then that was curtailed, and a couple of slop buckets were brought up for us to use, along with toilet paper (ridiculously, we were allowed to empty the buckets in the very toilets that we were not allowed to use, along with police escort to make sure we didn’t take the opportunity to use the toilets!); the ever-changing electrical light and air circulation conditions, which we later realized was their energy use conservation system, (however, the lack of air circulation lead many of us to develop respiratory problems, such as dry throats, and for at least one of us, sore and bleeding mouths and swollen tongue); the ability to move about and get fresh air; the ability to practice our cultural and spiritual ceremonies, such as smudging, without setting off the fire alarms, and having our Pipecarriers and Elders (Grandmothers and Grandfathers) attend to our ceremonial needs.

Eventually things began to settle down, the media left us as we had suggested they pay attention to the Youth, and we set about trying to figure out how this would end. We needed to connect with the Youth of Attawapiskat, and even the Chief, Bruce Shisheesh. We had attempted to connect with Chief Shisheesh several times before even going to the office without success. The night before we went to the building, we were able to find an article from the Youth of Attawapiskat which gave a list of their demands, which we could use as our demands for our eventual departure. These included things that we here in the south take for granted, like a youth centre, a library, a parenting centre, a recycling system, a movie theatre, an arcade, a skate park, a (new?) church, Traditional Teachings, and dry land, among other things. Pretty basic stuff, eh? Oh, and one of the items on the list was also a visit between the Youth and the Prime Minister, who is also the self-appointed Minister of Youth!

We found assistance in our dilemma with lack of contact with the Youth in a person who eventually arrived on the scene, and who had been born in Attawapiskat, but who had moved away to the city for most of her upbringing. She was able to connect us with the youth from the Youth Council, who advised us that the list was not quite a list of demands, it was more of a brainstorming exercise. The Youth Centre was still a priority, but they also wanted the mercury contamination to be cleaned up (effluent from the nearby DeBeers diamond mine), a breakup of the monopoly that the only store in town, the Northern Store, had on the community, where prices of the most basic items would be out of reach of any southern community ( twenty dollars for a case of pop, thirteen dollars for a carton of juice, forty dollars for thirty rolls of toilet paper, one thousand dollars for a mattress, forty dollars for diapers), and Traditional Elders to help get back to the Teachings of the Land.

Since we chose as our main focus initially as the meeting with the Prime Minister, and the promise of the building of the Youth Centre, we kept to that, along with the promise of the other items to be addressed as quickly as possible. However, we all know that these issues are not new, nor are they isolated to this Reserve. There are about one hundred Reserves with boil water advisories, some of which have been in states of emergency for this issue for over ten years, and issues of deplorable housing conditions.

On Monday, April 18th, a delegation of politicians, including NDP MP for the region, Charlie Angus, Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett, and even Regional Director Mauricette Howlett flew up to Attawapiskat to meet with the Youth and the community (Howlett initially refused to go up because, as she stated to us, she couldn’t leave her staff alone without her! After we held a lengthy and transformative Sharing Circle with her, we convinced her that surely her staff has worked without her before, and that she MUST attend the meeting on the Monday). After the meeting, the Youth let it be known that they were satisfied with the promises made, and wanted us to stand down, and take the spotlight off of them. They let us know that they didn’t mind if we stayed if we were to support the other occupations that had developed across the country: Winnipeg was first, then Vancouver, after all offices across the country shut down, and then in Regina and Edmonton encampments took place outside. There were also Sacred Fires lit, such as in Halifax, and demonstrations in Ottawa, and a couple of band offices were taken over as well.

Once we were satisfied that the Youth were satisfied with the meeting, and after contacting the other Occupations in Winnipeg and Vancouver, we set to working out our exit strategy and timing. By Wednesday, our discussions with our fellow Occupiers were done, and we had had an agreement with Mauricette Howlett to keep in touch, we let it be known that we’d be leaving the following day. We set to work on organizing our belongings and the incredible bounty of food that had been donated to our cause which sustained our eight and a half day occupation for the coming exit. The next afternoon, Thursday, April 21th, we departed the office and met with our supporters on the outside who had organized another rally to greet us, and said our goodbyes to the Security Staff who had befriended us.


Carrie Lester
Carrie Lester (Teyon-nanit-skwah-kwá:nyu’), Mohawk (Kanien’keha:ka) through her mother and grandmother from Six Nations Grand River Territory; grew up and resides in Toronto (Tkarónto); mother of two grownchildren; by day, works with school children with Learning Difficulties and Autism; Land Defender / Water Protector.

I Believe Survivors & Tent City Actions Merge: What Community Healing Can Look Like

by Eddie Jude

On March 24th, 2016, the day of the verdict for the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial in Toronto, I was at the Black Lives Matter occupation, Tent City, outside police headquarters. The fifteen day occupation sought justice for Andrew Loku, a Black man who was shot and killed by Toronto police. The person next to me read out the live tweets of Ghomeshi’s acquittal and judge’s comments on the (lack of) integrity of the witnesses. When I heard that he wouldn’t be convicted, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. I literally felt nothing. At one point I said I didn’t want to hear anymore and so the person stopped reading out loud and we both went on with our day. I knew from the start that Ghomeshi would never be charged, because if most ordinary men never get charged let alone convicted for sexual assault, then what were the chances that this B-list celebrity would?

A month prior, singer Kesha was told by a judge that she’d have to fulfill her recording contract with her label, which meant continuing to work with producer, Dr. Luke, who was also her rapist. A week before that the vocalist of a punk band called Bleed the Pigs put out a public statement saying they’d been assaulted by their bandmate, who, once confronted, dipped out of the band and ghosted off to tour with another one of his projects. Back in January, the world erupted into arguments over whether or not David Bowie was a rapist for having had sex with a teenager.

Every day my online news feed is filled with more and more breaking news about men in various entertainment scenes and industries who assault women, femmes, and gender nonconforming people. What stays the same with every story is that people will say or do almost anything to hold up the reputations of these men no matter how many survivors come forward. Over thirty women say they were drugged and raped by Bill Cosby, each having an almost identical story, and yet people still believe that these women are corroborating. I never really understand what people think survivors have to gain going to criminal court because literally the only people making money are the lawyers and pretty much the only people on trial are, well, seemingly the survivors.

All this goes to reiterate, that the day Ghomeshi was declared not guilty, I felt nothing. It all unfolded exactly as I had expected it to; the survivors were humiliated, their stories discredited, their privacy breached; Ghomeshi never took the stand once, and then he walked free. Rape culture ran its course and subsequently, no justice was served.

That same day, survivors and protesters alike congregated at Old City Hall to express their support to the trial’s witnesses at the ‘I Believe Survivors’ rally. At first I was stunned that these women would show their faces after what they had just gone through, but then I remembered that when I was raped, I got up the next day and life continued as usual. The world doesn’t stop when your abuser walks free. You just try to avoid them and hope that you don’t get raped again in your lifetime. Maybe you see a counselor or a therapist. Maybe you become an advocate for survivors everywhere. Maybe you develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought on by your assault, or re-traumatization from your trial. Maybe you seek an accountability process from your community and they react with indifference or silence. Maybe you write about it. Maybe you do nothing.

Healing is an ongoing, messy, and non linear process that often feels lonely and isolating because of people’s unwillingness to accept the experiences of survivors as truth. Many survivors choose to heal alone and in silence because when we do speak out, we are rarely believed. Sometimes healing alone is not a choice, but the only actual option.

During the I Believe Survivors rally, we began to march from Old City Hall up Bay Street to Tent City in the rain and sleet, where Black Lives Matter TO (Toronto) were waiting to greet us. The police officer who killed Andrew Loku had also been acquitted of all charges. So our two causes joined forces and Tent City became a cacophony of hundreds of echoing screams and chants, ‘we believe survivors’ intertwining with ‘Black Lives Matter’. Alexandria Williams of BLM TO screamed over and over again that she believed us; her yells hitting a pitch that caused her voice to crack, as if the spark ignited inside her was erupting into flames. Having someone repeatedly say they believe you while you stand with hundreds of other survivors is a magical and transformative moment of healing. The combining intersections of racism, colonialism and patriarchy; misogyny and rape culture in this space felt like an important moment in history, and I was honoured to be able to witness and heal from its energy.

The merging of these two actions demonstrated that solidarity within our movements not only bring us closer to justice, but also shape our ability to heal in public, and as a community. There is transformation in healing together because capitalism wants us to remain solitary and alone. We break that silence by recognizing our own voices and the voices of others; in believing each other. By telling the stranger next to you that you have their back; by crying on the shoulder of the friend standing next to you. To feel mother nature’s rage alongside you, as she showered the city in days of endless rain and snow while Tent City and the Ghomeshi trial proceeded.

In the moments that these actions physically merged, space was carved to hold and cradle our collective grief as the rain showered us, and I felt truly nourished. With gratitude, I would like to thank Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizers of the I Believe Survivors rally for providing us with such an exemplary example of what community healing can look like.



Eddie Jude
Eddie is a writer, musician, community artist and educator living in Toronto. They write zines under the moniker Late Bloom and are a collective member of the Toronto Queer Zine Fair. You can find more of their work at www.eddiejude.com.

Black Lives Matter Toronto Tent City: Reportback

by Galme Mumed

On Sunday March 19th 2016, Black Lives Matter Toronto organized a rally at Nathan Phillip’s Square, in protest against anti-Black racism in Toronto and specifically in response to the special investigations Units decision not to charge the police officer involved in the shooting and killing of Andrew Loku last July, it was also a response to the reduction of Afrofest to one day. Hundreds of people from various communities showed up to demand justice and to protest the continued erasure of Black people in Toronto. We stood at Nathan Phillip’s Square with members of our community as we honored, mourned and celebrated the lives of those we have lost but whose spirits live on.

CI-BLM BLM rally at Toronto Police HQ on March 27, 2016.
Uploaded by: willoughby, serena

I stood in the crowd and listened to Black storytellers put words to feelings all of us have felt but have not been able to express. I watched our elders lead us in prayer and reconnect us with our ancestors. I watched as Black people danced fearlessly and freely, even if it was just in that space for that period of time, to Music that has come out of Black struggle; the true sounds of resistance. A few hours later the rally was coming to end and the crowd was getting smaller, my self and about six of my friends drove from Guelph because we received a message from the organizers saying they needed more bodies for the tent city.

It was getting dark and really cold, some of the organizers and community members who have decided to stay the night got under blankets and start to prepare for the long night ahead. We had a fire going and we all joined in singing our favourite old school tracks and the many freedom songs as a way to keep our spirits high and pass time. About an hour after we started getting comfortable the organizers told us that police in riot gear and were about to move in on us and we needed to make a decision weather to stay or move to another location. The decision was made to pack up our tents and our fire and move to Toronto police headquarters on College Street.

We packed up our tents and those of us who had the capacity to move to the next location made a decision to continue on. Something told me that I needed to go and be apart of this. At this time nothing could have prepared me for how transformative and healing this decision was going to be for me, I don’t think any of us knew what we were about the take part in or how long this was going to be, we just knew we needed to be here and not anywhere else. We arrived at the police headquarters super late at night. We built our tents and prepared to go to sleep for the night. That first night was brutal that I could feel the cold in my bones, there was not enough blankets at all. Three of my friends and I held each other super tight hoping that our body heat would keep us a bit warmer. That was not the case because the whole night I was afraid to lay down and  sleep because I actually thought I would freeze to death, but I made it and realized that this was not about me it was about something bigger.

The morning was beautiful we all cuddled under blankets around the fire and sang songs, shared stories, laughter, and a space where we all felt safe and loved, most of us had never met before this occupation but it felt like we knew each other. We had Black and Indigenous elders stop by to give us some words of encouragement. We had Indigenous elders in the space keep the fire going, smudging the space and praying with us, it was after we were in the space we realized we were right beside the Native youth center, which was clearly not accidental at all. It was not until I am writing this I’m realizing that that whole day was preparing us for the violence and trauma we would have to face later that night.

On Monday March 21st at about around 10pm we got word that the police were going to come and try to make us leave. We all linked arms and formed a huge circle around our tents and the fire that has been keeping us warm. We stood there fearlessly and waited, we waited as we watched about over twenty police officers walk and form a straight line overlooking us in front of the police building. The head of police made an announcement stating that we can stay but we can’t have the tents nor the fire, we made a decision to not move and that their fear tactics will not work on us. There were police, firefighters, and men all types of uniforms. The pigs were mostly white men, they were all tall and huge. On our side we were mostly Black woman, there were also children, elders, disabled people forming the circle around the fire and the tent. I remember standing there as firm as I could to protect our tents and within seconds I watched police officers charge at us, they pushed us, they kicked us, they punched us, and they sexually harassed us. They flung the barrel of fire down to the ground near children, they destroyed and grabbed the tents from our hands and they threatened to shoot! All I could hear is creaming crying and but we were also fearless. They put our fire out but they sparked another fire in us that they can never kill. A pig grabbed me and threw me down on layers of fire wood, I have always known that we were not human beings in their eyes but that moment made things real. I cried like I have never cried before not because I was in physical pain, but I cried for every black person in that space and globally whose lives are not valuable and whos lives don’t matter and who are disposable and whose skin colour has been a target of violence.

Amongst the trauma and anger there was something magical happening something bigger than all of us. Minutes after the pigs left every single one of us in that space hugged in a huge circle and started chanting “I Believe that we will win” and it was powerful. One image that I have held on to and have not been able to forget was of an Indigenous couple and their baby in a stroller stand between us and the police, to protect us and to let the pigs know whose land this is and that they will not touch us. I was in tears as I watched them wave the Six Nations flag to let us know that Black lives Matter on Indigenous land. That night we all sat together sang freedom songs like our various ancestors did and we knew we were protected. We were sitting in the stolen front year of our enemy and we had no fear, because we were connected to something more powerful than this system.

The next morning our communities from various parts of Toronto and across Canada showed up! Everyone came strapped ready to go to battle, ready to build, ready to heal. They came offering anything they had to offer weather they were healers, artist, writers, cooks, business owners, Black people from all walks of life came to let us know they see us and if they come out tonight they might as well get ready for war. The place that brought us so much trauma and violence became our home because that is what we are capable of taking something that represents so much trauma and turning it into a world that we can all safely exist without fear. The donations were coming in like floods. There were mountains of blankets, the food was endless, we had hot dinners almost every night. We were able to feed our homeless communities and provide shelter for them. We were able to take care of our own, I can’t even explain how that felt being able to provide the people in our communities who have been fucked over by the system the most these basic things.

We lived amongst each other for fifteen days. We woke up the warm kisses, hugs and prayers of our indigenous elders. I watched them smug the whole space with sage. People who usually never share space shared space with each other, we spoke about how our struggles are connected how important it is that we continue to work with each other, how critical it is that we learn from each other and build meaningful relationships with one another. Indigenous organizers and black organizers were able to share knowledge and be in the same space infront of police headquarters! Like what the fuck? How powerful is that? How dangerous is that for this system that has been built on the back of our communities. I wonder why they never tried that shit again for the next fifteen days we were there. That space was transformative it was us reimaging together. Prior to this experience I heard a lot about transformative justice and Tent City showed me and example of what that looks like even if it was a very simple and small example. I stayed at Tent City every single night except one or two nights because I needed to be home, it was my community, I was protected, I was loved, I was cared for, I felt and believed that everyone in the space knew my live mattered and it was valued and it was important. We affirmed one another. We spoke about revolution, we talked about liberation, and we asked each other what ways we can show up for each other. We shared skills and we began a process of healing and building trust with one another. In the fifteen days we watched the space transform into a different space that reflected each day. There was an art station where artists can come and visualize our experiences, there was a medic station with everything we needed, there was a healing space where Black and Indigenous elders setup message beds and performed spiritual healing, there was the food station where our elders fed us foods that they know to be good for us. I imagined this is probably the closest thing to show me what living in a decolonized world would look like. I learned that Indigenous folks are not fucking around and that we have a lot to learn from them. We had addicts who became clean due to our elders working with them, we deescalated intense situations without involving any outsiders, we all lived together without any issue for fifteen days. we held members of our communities who are the most vulnerable the closest and did not shun them away no matter how “problematic” they were, I understood that none of us disposable to each other that we all need each other, we might be disposable outside of Tent City, but not here amongst our people.

Until we are all free and we will be, I will hold on to the small taste of freedom that tent city was for me. I will stand behind indigenous people in their struggle to reclaim their land and I know they are ready to stand beside behind us and beside us in our fight for our liberation the Universe has brought us all together for a reason. Let’s do this shit!


Galme Mumed
I was born in Hararge Oromia. I came to Canada when I was 8 years old but my heart and my memories are still in Hararge Oromia. I believe I am here in Canada for a reason and have a purpose to serve both here and in my home. I am proud to call myself Oromo and Muslim and Black. I feel like my ancestors have left me with many teachings and gifts that I’m constantly trying to listen to. I am a revolutionary because that’s the legacy I was born into.