If the meeting point for Montreal’s third Idle No More demonstration, Phillips Square, was lost on some of those attending, organizer Melissa Mollen Dupuis spelled it out for the crowd, asking them to turn around and look across the street at the Hudson’s Bay Company building.
The Quebec Idle No More (INM) day of action was called for February 10 to mark the 250th anniversaries of both the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which ended the Seven Years’ War between England and France, and the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which recognized the territorial rights of First Nations in Quebec and elsewhere.
“The Hudson’s Bay Company was created in 1670 on the relationship between Native and non-Native people,” Dupuis said, introducing the theme of common cause between Aboriginals and settlers, which she underlined throughout the march, calling on Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike people to share responsibility for the land and waters of Canada.
“We have the right to live here,” she said, “but we also have the duty to take responsibility for what takes place in this territory. Presently, our responsibility is to recognize the federal government passing laws – C-38 and C-45, which will not be the last – that strip the citizens of these territories of their responsibilities and do not respect Aboriginal rights.”
Part protest rally, part history lesson, the INM march wound its way to Old Montreal’s Place Royale, site of the 1701 signing of the Great Peace of Montreal treaty which ended wars between Aboriginal Nations and the French. Though the crowd was smaller than the two earlier INM demonstration in December and January, organizer Widia Larivère was pleased with the support.
“Non-Aboriginal people are more open-minded today than they used to be,” she said. “There’s still racism and prejudice, but more people are curious and willing to engage in dialogue with Native peoples. I’ve seen a change in attitudes since when I was a kid. I think in general there are a lot of non-Natives who support us in this struggle. We’ve been living together for 500 years and we still don’t know one another. It’s important because C-45 and C-38 are issues that concern both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals.”
Along the way, the march made stops at important sites in the history of Aboriginal-settler relations. Perhaps the most significant of these – especially for Crees – was a stop in front of the Hydro-Québec building, where marchers again joined together in a round dance, and listened to a poem against the Plan Nord and resource development on Aboriginal territory by Maikaniss Naa K, which ended with a call to protect the land and waters that marchers took up as a chant.
Further along, the demonstrators stopped in front of the Palais de Congrès. Two days before, other demonstrators had squared off with riot police outside of the trade show on natural resources, where many were arrested. Addressing the crowd, Dupuis said, “People ask me, ‘Why don’t you take more radical actions? The government takes radical actions!’ Thirty-two arrests over a broken window – that’s radical! But I continue to organize peaceful actions – because I know that we’re doing good, and making a difference. This is the right way to do it.”
Dupuis cautioned that she did not want to be misconstrued as focusing too much on issues of divisions among protestors.
“Be careful with the police,” she said. “Don’t let them turn us against one another – between people who are peaceful and people who want to break things. It’s important to look at the source of the problem – where is it coming from? It doesn’t come from each other. We all want the same thing.”
Noting that the march for missing and murdered Aboriginal women would occur later, on February 14, Dupuis turned her attention to the building that had so recently housed the Plan Nord salon. “We forget that with the Plan Nord, money is flooding into some of the most impoverished communities in Quebec and Canada. We forget that this money creates prostitution that we never had, and problems with drugs and alcohol.”
Along with addictions and prostitution, said Dupuis, comes the spectre of continuing attacks on Aboriginal women, particularly those who are sex workers. She condemned the federal government for cutting funding to Sisters In Spirit and diverting that money to police.
“Two months ago,” she said, “a report came out that said that one of the fundamental problems with the investigations into missing and murdered women in Vancouver was racism among the police officers who were supposed to be undertaking these investigations. Rather than giving more money to police, we need to send organizations like Sisters in Spirit to educate the police.”
Finally, the march made its way through Old Montreal, before ending at Place Royale, with a closing prayer by Sedalia Kawennotas Fazio, who recalled following former Montreal Mayor Pierre Bourque at a gathering on the same site in 2001 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Great Peace of Montreal.
Bourque, she said, took the opportunity to welcome the enormous crowd to Montreal. When Fazio took the microphone from him, she said, she welcomed the crowd to Mohawk territory.
“You can’t forget where we are,” she said. “This is Tioh’tia:ke! This is Mohawk land!”
Montreal daycare manager Alana Phillips, originally from Kahnawake, was pleased with the march, though she had some reservations.
“The turnout is small, compared to the other activities we’ve had in Montreal, but it’s still significant,” she said. “It’s still a process. It’s begun, and we’ve achieved small steps, but it’s something that still needs to continue.”
Of the long-term goals for the Idle No More movement, Phillips said, “It’s a movement that puts the issue of Aboriginal people in the forefront of the minds of Canadians. Since we’re not at the point where we have any serious commitments from the government, or plans, or meetings, it would be bad for the movement to stop any time soon. The pressure – whether it’s demonstrations, or dances – is important.”
Jeremiah Johnson, from Kahnawake, agreed. “We need to understand that this is not a Native fight, it’s a fight that affects all Canadians. The movement has to relate to settlers. Non-Natives are here, and they’re here to stay. We have to live together and we have to work together. Relationships need to be forged, ones that both sides can live with.”