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Lessons in colonialism from Idle No More Quebec: Part One

Tears and resilience were on display in Montréal during the Idle No More day of action as over 12 police officers abruptly tore down a symbolic tepee during an occupation outside of the Palais des congress, where the National Energy Board is currently holding undemocratic Enbridge Pipeline 9 consultations, a pipeline which the NEB itself said has a “high” risk of rupture.

This is the first installment in a series of interviews with Idle No More Québec co-founder and organizer, Melissa Molen-Dupuis, who was still recovering from the occupation. The edited phone interview was conducted by Canadian Dimension social media editor Matthew Brett in the CKUT community radio studio in Montréal on October 8.

Matthew: How are you?

Quiet tired and a little shaken by yesterday but still in good spirit because of the support we’ve been getting since yesterday.

Tell us a little about what happened last night.

We were set to occupy Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle next to the Palais du Congress as a way of reaffirming our sovereignty on the land. In a peaceful way we wanted to protest the Enbridge Pipeline that is being discussed this week in Montreal, but as soon as we put up our symbolic tepee, the police came over and pushed us over and they took away our tepee and broke it down.

I was there at the event and it was very moving time. There were a lot of people crying, you were crying, and you said as police were taking away the tepee that they are continuing to colonize your lands – you were also speaking to authorities in general – but then you also said, “we wish you a good life. We wish your children a good life, and we hope they have access to clean drinking water.” Could you speak about that a bit? You were really passionate, and I would love to hear your thoughts on that moment.

There is nothing easier than to try to separate and put people one against another. We’ve seen how that can happen with the Quebec charter of values, but Idle No More is all about protecting the water, and also about building new relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.

Before, when I was younger, we saw the Oka Crisis, all I wanted to do was hate on policemen and people from the army, but now I just see that they are human beings the same as us. But for them it’s hard to see that the way they are acting is really illegitimate because they don’t understand the symbolism of what they’re doing. Destroying a tepee is a very strong symbol in First Nations culture, so they are continuing with acts of colonization.

We have been pushed off the land that we were occupying in a very peaceful way. They were asking questions and we were always answering them. It’s really hard not to hate somebody when something so violent is happening to you, but instead of hating that person I would rather tell them that I wish you to wake up and see that what we are doing now is for you as well. It’s not against you. It’s not white people against red people. It’s human beings fighting for human beings, because they are drinking the same water, they are breathing the same air. But they’re following orders in a blindfolded way, and they also don’t know anything about First Nations and our history, our culture and our rights.

As one example, yesterday when we were preforming a ceremony, the police came over and said, ‘you are going to have to move across to the park now [because] the Palais du Congress is not happy with you being here – they are scared of you.’ I said we are going to do our ceremony and cross very soon.

They were arguing with me and one of the officers said, ‘well imagine if someone came into your kitchen and did whatever they wanted.’ I said, sir that’s what happened 480 years ago. I think you can endure 15 minutes of ceremony and be peaceful about it. I also asked on the microphone that they not shove any of our elders. […]

When we set up our tepee, 12 [police] men came across the street towards our tepee. They cannot do this. It’s against our traditional rights to be here and to use the territory in a peaceful way. You cannot go against our natural laws that are recognized by your own constitution, and uphold a city law against a constitutional right.

That day was also a recognition that there is a relation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people with the Royal Proclamation. So it was very symbolic when a tepee was destroyed. So some activists went over and said they could not do that, and one police officer said, ‘do you think the city of Montreal really cares.’ {Author's note: this quote can be heard at minute 1:00 of this audio clip. Special thanks to Katie Nelson for sharing audio.}

So it’s been a hard night. It’s been very symbolic and an eye-opener in terms of how much our rights are still in danger of not being recognized by the government. And we have seen in the last year with Mr. Harper not really responding to Idle No More movement. It is a citizen’s movement across Canada and he cannot even acknowledge it in a respectful way. Every time we ask him to talk to us, it never happens.

We had youth coming 1,000 km from up North from their community to Ottawa, he went to Toronto to greet two pandas instead of greeting those youth. That’s a very strong symbol of what Harper is doing to this country.

Matthew speaks with Melissa about her personal experience with colonialism, racism and how she came to be involved with Idle No More in the next installment of the interview series. Full permission to reproduce this interview with attribution to the author and Canadian Dimension.

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