Solidarity banner leads thousands through downtown Toronto on Feb. 22 in a show of support for the Indigenous people protesting a B.C. gas pipeline. Michael Swan

Toronto protest sends message of solidarity

By 
  • February 27, 2020

Thousands of people who marched through downtown Toronto to Nathan Phillips Square Feb. 22 were not just protesting — they were making a spiritual response to Canada’s history of colonialism, said participant Liz Stone.

Protesters in solidarity with a blockade by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs of pipeline construction in British Columbia condemned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Feb. 21 demand that “the barricades must now come down. The injunctions must be obeyed and the law must be upheld.”

Stone, of Anishnaabe and Lenape heritage and academic chair of Indigenous studies at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ont., drew parallels between the protest and the sacrament of Eucharist.

“It’s not about being angry. It’s coming together to be thankful,” she said.

The protesters were reminding themselves and the country of Indigenous spiritual heritage, Stone said.

“Support for Indigenous people is supporting life,” said Rosario Galves as she walked with the crowd. “These are sacred people. These are the people supporting Mother Earth.”

Gail Allan, who works for the United Church of Canada, said she wanted “to be in solidarity with the people who are seeking justice.”

Allan characterized the rally led by Indigenous women as spiritual, but not religious.

“We only get a few moments like this to make our voices heard — at critical moments,” said Toronto event production organizer Gonzalo Riva. Canadians need to pause and rethink their positions on pipelines, he said. “An enormous amount of people don’t consent to this, not just First Nations.”

Counter-protester Jack Reynolds showed up an hour before the protesters. The government of Canada is “just sitting on its ass doing nothing,” he said, before being joined by about a dozen others.

Reynolds had predicted very few protesters would actually be Indigenous, but Indigenous people were prominent throughout the crowd.

Speaking as an elder of the Squamish Nation in B.C., Deacon Rennie Nahanee told The Catholic Register that Canadians need to learn more about their history of colonizing Indigenous lands and people.

“Canadians need to know the difference between a government-imposed Indian reservation and unceded traditional territories,” the Vancouver archdiocese co-ordinator of First Nations’ ministry said in an e-mail before the protests.

When industry and government treat traditional Indigenous territories as just empty land, or “terra nullius,” they are stealing land from people they have tried to contain on tiny reserves, Nahanee said.

Protesters who support Indigenous rights are on the side of justice, he said.

“These blockades are an inconvenience for commuters going to work, which also includes Natives going to work off the reservation. But we’ve been inconvenienced for over 500 years.”

But history is not that simple, said University of Sudbury Church historian Paul Laverdure. Catholics need to be better educated about colonialism, he said.

“Fundamentally, many French-Canadian Catholics, clergy especially, suffering themselves from English colonialism, were especially sensitive to Indigenous culture and strove mightily to save Indigenous languages, cultures and peoples,” Laverdure wrote. “Catholics, especially those in vows, sacrificed themselves for Indigenous peoples. Catholics cannot be lumped in with the assimilationist and colonialist policies of the federal government.”

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Subject: March 1, 2020 edition. Page 5: article 'Toronto protest sends message of solidarity' by Michael Swan.

The last paragraph of this article gives a hint of the true 'truth' of colonialism. The Indigenous people are not alone suffering...

Subject: March 1, 2020 edition. Page 5: article 'Toronto protest sends message of solidarity' by Michael Swan.

The last paragraph of this article gives a hint of the true 'truth' of colonialism. The Indigenous people are not alone suffering from the colonialist policies.

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Elise Dery
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