Unsettling Canada 150 on Parliament Hill

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Image: modified for use in this post was taken by Susie Shapiro and is used with permission.

This week's episode of Talking Radical Radio offers a behind-the-scenes look at the bold reoccupation that went to the very heart of the Canadian settler colonial project -- Parliament Hill itself -- and used ceremony to challenge and unsettle Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations. Freddy Stoneypoint, Summer-Harmony Twenish, Trycia Bazinet, Hamda Deria, and Elsa Hoover were among the organizers of and participants in the reoccupation ceremony, and they talk about their experiences on the Hill and their understanding of the ongoing work of unsettling Canada.

The Canadian state spent half a billion dollars to fixate the attention of Canadians on various forms of celebration and self-congratulation to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Yet in the lead-up and on Canada Day itself, there were plenty of people in grassroots contexts across the country speaking back to this forgetful feel-good nationalism and offering instead much more critical but also much more grounded accounts of the actual past and present of the northern half of Turtle Island.

These activities took a variety of forms, from quiet reflection to vocal denunciation, and they came from a variety of political places. The most important of these came from a range of Indigenous stances calling out the unrelenting and ongoing settler colonial violence that is the basis for not just Canada 150 but for Canada itself, and asserting the ongoing and resurgent reality of Indigenous dignity and Indigenous nationhood in the face of it. This included a call by Idle No More and Defenders of the Land, issued in honour of the late Arthur Manuel, for a National Day of Action to Unsettle 150  in support of Indigenous self-determination over land, territories, and resources.

Perhaps the most visible action taken to answer that call was the Reoccupation ceremony that occurred on Parliament Hill. The Reoccupation was a collaboration between the Bawating Water Protectors from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and a collective of youth based in Ottawa who were supported by two Cree elders. In the face of opposition from police and security forces as well as hostility from many ordinary settler Canadians, the ceremony succeeded in holding space on the Hill from June 28th through Canada Day itself. Even at the heart of settler colonial celebration, Indigenous lives and voices and resistance refused to be silenced and asserted their ongoing presence, their sovereignty, and their jurisdiction over the land.

Though the organizers did not get the support they had hoped for from certain people with positions in academic and other institutions before they took action, it was countless gifts of grassroots resources and support that made it possible for them to stay on the Hill. And despite minimal resources, it was an incredibly successful action. In fact, they see this approach as a model that can be taken up in community contexts across country -- indeed, they hope their actions inspire others to do exactly that. In this model, the fact that it is not protest but ceremony is absolutely central, though it is ceremony combined with what you might describe as a direct action ethic. They see this kind of ceremonial intervention as being particularly promising as a way of reclaiming and asserting Indigenous jursidiction over urban spaces.

This interview was done on July 2nd, the day after the Reoccupation ended, by Greg Macdougall -- a grassroots media-maker and community organizer in Ottawa who has also written about the Reoccupation -- and then edited, narrated, and produced by Talking Radical's Scott Neigh. The participants in the interview include four of the members of the Ottawa-based side of the core organizing collective of the Reoccupation. Freddy Stoneypoint is an Ojibwe youth from Sagamok Anishinawbek First Nation. Summer-Harmony Twenish is an Algonquin Anishabekwe from Kitigan Zibi First Nation. Trycia Bazinet is a white settler woman from northern Quebec. And Hamda Deria is a Somali-Canadian Muslim woman. All four of them are students at Carleton University in Ottawa. Also participating in the interview is Elsa Hoover, an Anishnaabe woman who lives in New York and is active with New York City Stands with Standing Rock -- she was not a core organizer but was an active participant in the Reoccupation.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow Talking Radical Radio on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join their weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image modified for use in this post was taken by Susie Shapiro and is used with permission.

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