First Nation Activists Heckled with Racial Slurs at Stop C-51 Rally
This is a story I wish I didn’t have to write. I’ve had to actually wait this long to calm down enough to be able to see a computer screen that is not red.
As many of you know, there were 55 actions across Canada last Saturday March 14 to demonstrate against Bill C-41. This is awesome!
Now unfortunately I have to talk to you about something not so awesome.
I first want to explain something here about activist protocol. For a few years now in Toronto, we have had a general protocol that the space at very front of the march is reserved for First Nations and their allies. This includes their colour guard (flags), drummers, singers and dancers.
Keeping this space in important for a few reasons.
For one, holding that space is important to show respect for the original people of Turtle Island.
Another good reason to keep this space open, free from large banners, etc,. is to provide room for the dancers to swirl and drummers and singers to hear each other and keep eye contact with one another to communicate who will sing lead.
While this was a learning curve for many, it took the strength and leadership of No One Is Illegal on May Day three years ago to put this into action. On that May Day, there were a lot of enthusiastic communists who very proudly wished to feel like the leader of the proletariat, even for the afternoon, to lead the march. Ironically, they even try to mimic the hair and beard of their favourite vanguardian.
With this said, I know there were a lot of newer activists and concerned citizens who came out on Saturday to demonstrate against Bill C-51, and with two thousand people rallying in Toronto, I would like to think that perhaps the message didn’t get across regarding how important it was to keep the front of the march open for the drummers, singers, flagbearers and dancers.
A few racist quips were made when people were being politely told to take themselves and their banner behind the drummers. Of course I want to believe that this was just a mis-understanding or a lack of communication.
Still, it was an uncomfortable moment for the First Nations community members who were trying to hold that space, and tiring for the march organizers and the community members themselves to keep reminding the same people over and over again.
This act of holding space follows along the principles of Step Up to Step Back, which boils down to having an secure understanding of your identity and what privilege that goes with it that you can ‘step up’ (put yourself out there and volunteer) to ‘step back’ (allow someone who would usually, socially, economically or politically, be relegated to the background to find their voice and express themselves).
No, having Indigenous community members lead the march does not mean they are taking over or organizing boats to send people back to where-ever.
No, it does not mean that your solidarity is not important or wasted.
No, it doesn’t mean that anyone will be burning the Canadian flag – or specifically the Canadian flag you happen to be carrying – in the next five minutes.
Holding space for others is an act of solidarity in that it acknowledges the relationship between two diverse groups in a politically and socio-economically realistic way.
Above all else, it is a radical act of love.
I hope my note clarifies things.