organizers Melissa Mollen-Dupuis and Widia Larivère recognized that the day’s activities had been slowed by adversity.
An enormous storm pounded Montreal for the entire afternoon leading up to the scheduled 6 pm sunset ceremony. Hours of torrential rain and winds gusting up to 90 km per hour forced the 80 Idle No More supporters to hold their sunset ceremony underneath the covered sidewalk outside Montreal’s Palais de Congrès.
“We were joking that it was the Idle No More storm coming in, but it was a huge downpour,” said organizer Melissa Mollen-Dupuis. “The rain was so strong that I think it scared off a lot of people. But when we started our ceremony, suddenly the sky turned pink. People were saying they saw a double rainbow! I said, ‘Oh my god, it’s the spirits being with us!’ So a double rainbow plus golden sky was good, even if I think the rain is one of the reasons why people got [discouraged] from coming.”
The rain, it turned out, was the least of their problems. As protestors huddled under the awning, Montreal police informed organizers that Palais de Congrès management had asked authorities to remove the demonstrators.
“At first the police said they wanted to work together with us,” said Mollen-Dupuis. “But then they told us that the Palais de Congrès wanted to evict us. They said, ‘They’re scared of you. They’re panicking.’ We said, ‘We gave you our word that we would not try to get inside, but we wanted to use the sidewalk just like anybody walking on the sidewalk in the rain.’”
Nonetheless, the protestors formed an assembly and turned on their sound-system, and an Elder was invited to light sage to begin the ceremony. At that point, Mollen-Dupuis said, police interrupted them, announcing their orders from the Palais de Congrès to evict them.
“I said, ‘Sorry, but the ceremony is starting, so you’re going to have to give us 10 to 15 minutes,’” Mollen-Dupuis explained. “The officer said, ‘Imagine someone came into your kitchen and did that!’ I said, ‘Sir, that’s what happened 500 years ago. Somebody came in our kitchen and did that. So I think you can wait 15 minutes and be patient with us.’”
By the time the ceremony had finished, the sun was shining and a double-rainbow shone from one side of the city to the other. With that, the protestors crossed the street and prepared to set up their symbolic re-occupation of unceded Aboriginal land at Place Jean-Paul Riopelle. That was when police told them not to erect a symbolic teepee.
“They were telling us that they’d have to break down the [teepee] if we built it,” said Mollen-Dupuis. “We told our people, ‘You don’t have to do it, but we invite you to install the teepee with us. If you cannot – I understand that people have different legal situations since the last two years – then just please open your phones and transmit the message if they come to destroy the teepee.’ Because it’s just a meagre symbol of the ongoing disrespect for Aboriginal rights to occupy their own land.”
Mollen-Dupuis says that the moment she began removing the red cloth to begin winding it around the poles of the tepee, the police attacked. She tried to block them from reaching the tent with outstretched arms.
“I said, ‘You cannot undo this tent. It’s illegal. It’s against our constitutional right to occupy the land.’ It was just poles and fabric but it represented our right to occupy the land. And that’s what’s been disrespected. Simply with a municipal bylaw saying we don’t have the right to build any kind of ‘habitat.’”
Montreal police officer Michael Arruda later explained that authorities operated out of a fear that the demonstration “was going to turn into another Occupy Montreal, where anybody’s going to put up their tents and stay. So they took a decision that no structure was going to go up. They wouldn’t tolerate anything.”
The police then became aggressive. “An officer pushed me to the side and they went around the teepee,” Mollen-Dupuis said. “They took the fabric off, then they broke the poles, and they went away with our fabric.”
Co-organizer Widia Larivière adds, “We don’t know where the teepee is. They took it.”
Several hours after the confrontation, co-organizer Widia Larivière admitted to being flushed with adrenaline and outrage over what she said was an overreaction by police.
“The first reaction insulted me, when the police asked me, ‘How would you feel if someone came in your kitchen?’ They meant we were on private property – on the sidewalk! I found their attitude insulting right from the beginning,” Larivière said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen the police acting like that with Idle No More protests in Montreal. We’re always peaceful, we always collaborate with them. I don’t know what’s going on. They’re not culturally sensitive. I felt they don’t care whether it’s an Indigenous protest or any other protest. It’s just a protest – something bad.”
Police also informed the Idle No More group that they would be evicted from the park at 11 pm, preventing them from following through with their plan to spend the night re-occupying the land.