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TORONTO – As world leaders began to descend on Southern Ontario for the G8 and G20 summits, a peaceful demonstration of over 1,000 people made its way through the heart of downtown Toronto this afternoon. Waving flags and banners, singing, and beating drums, native and non-native marchers demanded better treatment for Canada’s First Nations, investigation into the disappearance of more than 500 missing indigenous women, and redress for past abuses such as residential schools.
Though heavy lines of police on foot, bicycle, horseback, and motorcycles were in place the entirety of the march, the protest remained free of violence. The march was organized by the Defenders of Land, which describes itself “as a network of Indigenous communities and activists in land struggle across Canada.”
Before the protesters set off down University Avenue – past the US Consulate and various Ontario government ministries – organizer John Fox emphasized that the demonstrations would remain peaceful. “This is going to be a peaceful protest,” he told the crowds, “we have our elders and children here.”
Ben Powless, a member of Defenders of the Land who helped organize the protest, said that the summits were critical in the struggle for indigenous rights. “What Canada wants to do is bring in a lot more investment, a lot more of what they call economic development to our communities and use that as a way to take away a lot of our land and resources.”
After winding through city streets, where they cause significant traffic backups at a few intersections, demonstrators arrived in Allen Gardens on the eastern edge of downtown to eat lunch and hear speakers from various indigenous activist groups. Though police presence remained heavy, organizers and officers eventually shook hands and thanked each other for a peaceful event.