“We could have been double if it was a beautiful day,” said Idle No More organizer Melissa Mollen-Dupuis. “But there are hundreds of people here. It’s an umbrella revolution!”
Those who have attended the protest for years couldn’t help but notice the change, not just in numbers but in mood: last year’s speeches often bordered on despair at the unwillingness of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take the issue seriously, call an inquiry and implement a national action plan. Harper’s position hasn’t changed in the last year, but a lot of other people’s opinions have, and the issue is bigger than ever. At this year’s vigil, there was the distinct sensation that something is about to change.
“Social media is really helping,” said Kanehsatà:ke Kanien’keha:ka Turtle Clan activist Ellen Gabriel. “There are a lot of young people becoming aware, learning about the issues, and a lot of Indigenous women are becoming active and making their non-Indigenous friends aware. Plus there’s been a lot of work by activists at the UN to condemn Canada and to urge them to have a national plan of action and to have an inquiry. All the various levels are putting pressure on Harper’s government.”
This year’s vigil was supported by Amnesty International, the Quebec Women’s Federation and a coalition for Indigenous rights supported by Quebec unions and francophone organizations.
“This year we thought was a good year to try to get a larger francophone audience attending, because it’s been mostly an anglophone event for the past eight years,” said Quebec Native Women Justice Coordinator Alana Boileau. “We thought, how can Quebec Native Women work with Missing Justice to try to attract more French-speaking people to the event, and for the issue to get more clout in French media? We also collaborated with Amnesty International to figure out how to publicize this in different francophone circles.”
Participation from Amnesty has helped the issue to go global, noted Gabriel.
Provincial governments are increasing pressure on Ottawa. Days before the vigil, Quebec’s National Assembly passed a unanimous motion to support demands for a national inquiry.
“The Quebec government is behind the project, 100%,” Boileau said. “It feels like everyone except Stephen Harper wants a national inquiry. Everyone asks me why he’s refusing. My cynical answer to that is I bet he’ll call one – right before the elections that are coming up.”
Mollen-Dupuis pointed to the rage that greeted Harper’s statement that the massacre of Native women in Canada should not be viewed as “a sociological phenomenon.”
“That was just another way of seeing how he’s totally ignoring the question and, of course, ignoring the calls for public inquiry,” Mollen-Dupuis said. She noted that public pressure has forced Harper’s government to back down enough that Minister for the Status of Women Kellie Leitch will attend a roundtable discussion on the issue, possibly next month.
“We want to have an inquiry, to have a report, to have something legally binding to Canada, to force it to [respond to] the question so we can have programs implemented,” said Mollen-Dupuis.
Gabriel said the entire issue will need more than just government programs. The persistent targeting of Indigenous women, she underlined, is an expression of colonialist values that have persisted for centuries.
“This violence has really deep roots. Unless things start changing in the schools and they start teaching the kids and educating the politicians and policy makers, there’s not going to be the kind of change that’s really needed at the core. Just like climate change – we need not only a system change, but also an attitude change. The Creator gave us a mind to choose what we want to do, but racism is a sickness of the mind.”