Under last Wednesday night’s overcast sky, approximately 200 demonstrators gathered at Place Émilie-Gamelin as part of a series of nationwide actions linked with the Idle No More movement. The protest, which set off at 7:30 p.m., wound its way north on Berri and St. Denis before heading south, against traffic, on St. Laurent.
Indigenous activists have been fighting for the repeal of omnibus Bill C-45, stronger environmental protections, and the safeguarding of Indigenous land rights since December, when Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike on Victoria Island in Ottawa.
Fireworks were fired into the air, and chants of “Stop destroying Mother Earth. Settlers: Wake Up!” and “Anti-Colonialist!” were heard during the rally. The march was deemed illegal by the SPVM at the outset, as the police had not been notified of the itinerary, though no arrests were made. Police presence was minimal throughout.
Disruptions took place simultaneously across Canada, blocking trains between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, and slowing traffic over the Ambassador Bridge – a key trade route for trucks between the U.S. and Canada.
Mateo Du Pekuakami, an Innu protester from Lac Saint-Jean, who gave a speech when the protest returned to Place Émilie-Gamelin at around 8:45 p.m., told The Daily that he was happy with the turnout.
“We are here in support of Theresa Spence, we also support Aniesh Vollant and Jeannette Pilot, two other Innus who are undertaking a hunger strike,” he said. “When you have women who are ready to give their lives, we can’t stay inactive.”
Spence has been on a hunger strike with the goal of obtaining a meeting between Stephen Harper, Governor General David Johnston, and Aboriginal leaders. Vollant and Pilot – Innu women from Côte-Nord – have been hunger striking in solidarity since December 31.
Standing behind a large purple banner that read “Decolonize,” Jane, who did not want to provide her last name, told The Daily in French: “The Idle No More movement needs to be pushed further. It’s about something more profound than the recent bills passed by the government. It’s been 400 years that Natives have been fighting against this government.”
A Facebook event promoting the demonstration was taken down on Tuesday. In an email to organizers, Facebook wrote that the original event violated the website’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Du Pekuakami, who later created a new Facebook event page, told The Daily that the original page had been created with a fake account, and that someone had probably informed Facebook of this.