As part of the build up to this weekend’s G20 summit, each day this week has been a themed day of resistance. Yesterday’s theme was Climate Justice. Today’s theme is indigenous sovereignty, and the march was organized by aboriginal groups fighting for respect, treaty rights, against institutional racism, and for truth and exposure of the Canadian Genocide. And it really was organized – from the six nations there was a security force which kept the protest organized and safe for all, including the elders who could ride in a small bus if walking the entire 6km route in full sun otherwise would have excluded them from the event.
The rally before the march had a pic-nic feel to it, probably because it was on the lawn of Queens park, but also because the speakers were not intolerably loud. A good feel was in the air – people looking forward to a peaceful march.
The march itself felt much more meaningful than protests I’ve attended before, probably because native rights is a much more serious issue than tuition hikes. As we walked past the US consulate it was covered in police, and riot police came out in a show of force. I felt anxious as chants of “No Justice, No Peace!” rang through the air – a chant which is made confrontational by what it leaves absent (the chant is often recited: “No Justice, No Peace – Fuck the Police!”). In general, however, the chants were good – and it felt right to be chanting them at the 1 billion dollar symbols of Canadian governmental power and authority. “This is what democracy looks like/That is what hypocrisy looks like” (while pointing at the US consulate building), “Hey Canada you can’t hide, we know about your Genocide!”
But the protest was not single-issue; it was single priority, and all groups showed respect for the primary emphasis on native rights. But, the protest was not single issue because no issues are single-issue, certainly not native rights. Crimes against the climate, and the co-opting of natural resources for the benefit of the few are native issues as they are leftist issues, and issues for people who care about the species in general.
This brings me to what I think is the most powerful chant sung out at the protest: “Native rights are human rights”. What does that actually mean? It means the rights we ought accord to first nations people are just the rights we ought accord anyone in this situation (colonialism, genocide, continued structural oppression, disrespect for treaties). This is an important idea – by respecting aboriginal treaty rights, by ensuring reserves have access to good food, water, employment, etc… we are not giving native people “special treatment” – we are giving them treatment which is appropriate given their history and conditions, and given the fact that Canada was established on stolen land.