APTN National News
The RCMP and grassroots organizers behind a “ceremonial reoccupation” of Parliament Hill came to a negotiated compromise Thursday to set up a teepee near the main stage erected for celebrations to mark Canada’s 150th birthday on Saturday.
The final round of talks, which involved the RCMP’s Aboriginal policing unit, Parliament Hill security, Indigenous grassroots organizers and Assembly of First Nations Ontario regional Chief Isadore Day, ended with a police liaison marking a spot in the grass with his heel where tobacco in a red pouch was then placed just west of the main stage on Parliament Hill’s central lawn.
“This is so intense, but I am really proud of us, I didn’t think we were going to get on there,” said Candace Day Neveau, a Bawating water protector from Sault Ste. Marie who was directly involved in the negotiations. I thought we were going to have to force our way here and we’d all go to jail. But it’s the Creator. This is all happening because of the Creator.”
A mere 24 hours earlier Parliament Hill security and RCMP officers were physically blocking the passage of teepee poles and erecting barricades while arresting nine people involved in what organizers said was a ceremonial reoccupation of the grounds which are on Algonquin territory and currently under an Aboriginal title claim.
Melissa Rusk, spokesperson for Parliamentary Protection Service, said the goal of the talks was to balance the security realities of the planned Canada Day celebrations and the need for the reoccupy organizers to have their message heard.
“We are very happy we reached a successful resolution,” said Rusk. “From a public safety perspective, it is in a safe area for the teepee to be set up and it is in a central area so it will highlight and showcase these critical issues.”
Rusk said there was no political influence from the federal government involved in the decision to allow the teepee onto the main Parliament Hill grounds. Rusk said there had been ongoing talks on the issue since Wednesday night.
Ontario regional Chief Isadore Day said a solution became possible after both sides decided to “meet each other half-way” on the right spot of grass to set up the teepee. In the end, both sides were merely a few feet apart.
“I think the issue here is more just one of recognition. It is clear the individuals that wanted to create an awareness felt like they were being stifled and they wanted to move to a place that was better,” said Day. “This is all people wanted. They wanted to be heard and recognized.”
After initially blocking passage to the teepee on Wednesday night, the RCMP allowed it to be set up just inside Parliament Hill’s eastern entrance where it was hemmed in by barricades. On Thursday, RCMP officers removed the barricades and offered to do all they could to help in the move to the new location.
“I am so glad that they designated a new area for us. They are opening that door for us so we can take our place, our proper place in the world,” said Elder Sophie Gunner-Sackabuskum. “I am so happy they negotiated a proper place for us to start the fasting for our water protectors. It is really something, this is bigger than what we think. It is a historical time for us.”
Ash Courchene walked around the newly erected teepee as a country music band rehearsed on the main stage. Around him people milled about and tourists wandered by curious at the new structure suddenly altering the Parliament Hill skyline. Courchene was part of the core Ottawa group that connected with the Bawating water protectors who arrived from Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday.
“I feel like this was supposed to happen, that everything that went down the way it did was supposed to happen,” he said. “It’s unreal to me…It is historic.”