I am not a person Indigenous to this land. I am a settler imprisoned in a colonial institution, the Central North Correctional Centre, commonly referred to as the Penetang Prison, a provincial prison built on Anishinabek land. This superjail in Penetanguishene is located by Georgian Bay’s Penetang Harbor. Across the harbour is Awenda Provincial Park, which is the current site of the Oshkimaadziig Camp, just over 12 kilometres away by foot or vehicle. As we enter the winter season behind these walls, the camp enters its first winter in the park, reoccupying and reclaiming sacred ground. This winter too, across the country, the Idle No More movement is gaining ground. Winters outside are cold and hard, I strongly encourage people to support the camp via funds, supplies and solidarity. This is a call-out to support the Oshkimaadziig Camp.
“Oshkimaadziig in the Anishinabek Language refers to the New People of the Seventh Fire prophecy who will pick up things left behind to light the eighth and final fire.” This quote is from a statement issued when the camp was first established in April, at its original site at the Coldwater Heritage Museum. For those unfamiliar with the prophecy of the coming eighth fire, please go watch CBC’s documentary, The Eighth Fire, or better yet read the book by Anishinaabe scholar/author Leanne Simpson, Lighting The Eighth Fire. Actually, read Simpson’s book even if you are familiar. Or better still, read all her books. The camp was established in response to the Coldwater Land Claim Settlement, though it is much more than a protest. On April 14, 2012, Rama, Beausoleil, Georgina and Nawash First Nations, signed off on the largest Specific Land Claim Settlement in Canadian history -- $309 million dollars -- formally surrendering the already functionally stolen Coldwater track. It contains what Anishinaabe author Hayden King refers to as, “the first reserve experiment in Canada, Coldwater-Narrows.” This post owes much to the photo-essay King put out after his visit to the camp in April. I also owe a tremendous amount to the person who sent me a print out of that essay, and has also been providing me with updates on the camp as well as the Idle No More movement.
On December 18-19, the first installments of the Coldwater Land Claim Settlement were paid out to eligible members of the four First Nations covered. On December 17, the Oshkimaadziig Camp issued a statement, “Idle No More: Declaration of Anishinabek Nationhood”. In that statement, they rejected the terms of the agreement, asserting clearly and boldly, “we are not surrendering any of our rights.” They described the process which lead to the settlement as a coerced negotiation in which the First Nations peoples were not properly informed about how the settlement could, in the eyes of the law, affect their inalienable rights as Indigenous peoples. They described the settlement as, “long overdue, minor, and partial compensation for the stolen resources and genocidal policies that had been directed against [their] people.” In its essence, that is what a land claim settlement is: compensation for the colonial crimes of land theft and treaty abrogation. In my mind the settlements do not account for genocide, and the government has never acknowledged such attempts, nor can it ever be compensated for. Land claim settlements are also a pervasive example of Canadian policies that are tactics meant to destroy Indigenous nations to the modern extensions of ongoing colonialism. The new austerity budget, Bill C-45, to which Idle No More is in part a response, contains a slew of new colonial policies that are a strategic means of disinheriting Indigenous peoples of the lands they are Indigenous to. The Oshkimaadziig Camp’s original statement from April reminds us, “the Crown and the Canadian state continue to uphold its illegal laws and policies such as the Indian Act and the Specific Land Claims policy, which circumvent their own constitution, the 1764 Niagara Treaty, the Twenty-four Nations Belt, the Two-Row Wampum, Dish With One Spoon, which are all based on peace, coexistence and noninterference.”
In a December 11 interview with the Toronto Star on the Idle No More movement, Hayden King was quoted as saying, “Let’s get rid of the Indian Act and resume treaty relationships.” A central part of the Oshkimaadziig message is expressed simply and powerfully on one of the banners that has adorned their camp since its inception. It proclaims: No Surrender! The Oshkimaadziig Camp is maintained by Kai Kai Kons, aka Johnny Hawke, and Giibwanisi, aka Richard Peters. I was fortunate enough to visit the camp in Awenda Park shortly before my sentencing hearing this past June, though I have known and admired Hawke since I first met him at the Site 41 blockade and protest camp against the landfill that was to be built on Anishinabek land in Tiny Township. Since I came into jail six months ago, Hawke and Peters have done much more than maintain the camp, which is the site of a traditional Council Rock, which in pre-colonial days served as a meeting for Indigenous nations’ representatives from across this part of Turtle Island, where they have re-envisioned its purpose to also include “all Indigenous and non-native allies.”
They have also been travelling from one corner of this province to the other, participating in gatherings and facilitating decolonization workshops. From the Annual Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering (where I have been honoured and privileged to have been able to participate in previous years and where this December the Grassy Narrows blockade celebrated its 10th Anniversary), to PowerShift in Ottawa (an active annual environmental conference for activists, students and NGOs), to rallies and events as part of Idle No More, and all sorts of places in between. With their focus on treaties and nation-to-nation agreements, and with emphasis on alliances between Indigenous nations, the Oshkimaadziig Camp has decolonization at its core. I strive to do work and to live in that spirit as well, though obviously, decolonization carries wholly different connotations to Indigenous peoples than it does for White settlers like myself. I will write more about de-colonial imperatives and settler responsibilities at other times. For now, I will merely implore people to support the Oshkimaadziig Camp. For their part, Hawke and Peters talk of decolonization, speaking of learning and unlearning, as well as patience, of cultural revitalization that happens against the weight of assimilation, of refusing to let the state or anyone other than Indigenous people themselves define indigeneity.
The facility in which I am imprisoned is but across the harbor from the Oshkimaadziig Camp, which I am sure is in need of supplies for the long cold winter. And I need to write about the colonial practice of criminalizing indigenous sovereigntists and land defenders, and the criminalization and gross over-representation of Indigenous peoples in the Canadian prisons. From Ipperwash to Ardoch, from Kanonhstaton to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, sovereigntists and land defenders have been criminalized and targeted by the states police. In this very prison is a young Six Nations Land Defender, imprisoned for defending himself and his younger brother from assault when a land developer came to illegally, physically evict them from a land reclamation site in Caledonia on Haudenosaunee land. I strongly encourage people to also support the Six Nations Land Defenders Legal Defence Fund.
But it is not only front line land defenders who are targeted and criminalized by the state. By systemic racist and otherwise colonial reasons, Indigenous peoples are by far the most over-represented demographics inside federal and provincial prisons. Poverty and trauma, by-products of living in this capitalist-colonial system -- which especially for Indigenous people often result in imprisonment -- are obvious consequences of the brutal and ongoing history of colonialism. So is diaspora. Indigenous peoples continue to be forced off and disconnected from the lands their nations are Indigenous to, by policy or by environmental or economic destruction,to work camps for resource extraction industries or the concrete expansion of de-spirited urban spaces. Within the legal system itself, a person’s connection to their community is one of the things the courts demand proof of to decrease the propensity of imprisonment, for example, for bail being granted for people not yet convicted, conditional sentences upon conviction, or parole for already sentenced people. The connection to community is something that Canadian colonialism has explicitly sought to erase for people of Indigenous nations. And this is but one of myriad ways that the so-called justice system serves as a colonial apparatus that is part of the ongoing attempts to remove Indigenous peoples from their land so that it can be exploited for profit, and destroy the nationhood of Indigenous people whose very existence undermines and challenges dominant hegemonic myths of the Canadian state. Warehousing Indigenous people in prisons is but one of the current tactics to remove them from the land. Criminalizing Indigenous people like the criminalization of any people whose very existence challenges the dominating norms of hegemonic culture is one of the primary strategies of maintaining the legitimacy myths of the so-called Canadian state.
Decolonization is a process in which that domination is challenged. Myths are unlearned, and Indigenous governance models are revised. It is also a process of restoring balance to the land, and seeking more meaningful forms of justice. That is why, following the Idle No More movement from a cell in the Penetang prison, the words from the Oshkimaadziig Camp banner could not ring more true: No Surrender, indeed. Please support the Oshkimaadziig Camp by donating funds or supplies. Visit oshkimaadziig.org for more information and to donate.
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.