At 9am this morning a group of protesters walked into and occupied the Vancouver office of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. The group’s media release, tweeted out by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, claimed they were “indigenous families and allies.” It explained that they were conducting their protest “to extend support for the demands made by the children of Attawapiskat”.
Early reports in the mainstream media leave readers the impression that the occupation is a grassroots activity. Spokesperson Chrisse Oleman was quoted saying that they’re asking for “basic things” including “houses that don’t make them sick”, “water that they can drink out of the tap”, “food that they can afford to eat”, a recreation centre and a library.
CKNW radio’s story is a classic example of why one can’t rely on mainstream media for reports on first nations protests. Like most reports on the subject they basically just regurgitated the media release and the protester’s claims- without an ounce of critical analysis. Had they spent just a few minutes researching they’d have realized that Attawapaskat youth never a wrote a demand list, and that the protest is anything but grassroots. It’s the usual suspects, self-promoting an idea that might have a negative effect on first nations people.
Brainstorming, Not Demands!
Last week a group of youth was brought together in Attawapiskat to talk about and brainstorm ideas on how to deal with the community’s suicide crisis. The Huffington Post reported that they were brought together in a gym to discuss the issue, documenting the results on giant post-it notes they stuck to the wall.
The exercise resulted in six documents. The first was a map they drew out of the community that outlined what facilities Attawapiskat already has. The map was summarized on a second document that listed out the results including a gym, arena, healing lodge, healing lodge, parish hall, skating rink, playing fields and a radio station.
The next document is posted above, a list of ideas of things that could make things better for the community’s youth. Ideas included a fitness centre, youth centre, youth camp, skateboard park, library, swimming pool, dust control services, multiplex theatre, arcade, and casino.
The purpose of a brainstorming session is to get people’s brains spinning by throwing out ideas in rapid succession and writing them down. The kid’s list was in no way a list of demands, and not all of their ideas are actually viable. For example, the government is obviously never going to be irresponsible enough to build a kid’s casino, and building a 6-plex theatre in a community of approximately 2,000 people simply doesn’t make sense.
Only two of the Vancouver protester’s examples of what the kids “demands” were actually on the kid’s list. There’s no mention on their documents about housing, nor about the community’s water supply. That’s not to say these things aren’t needed, many agree they are, but the Vancouver protesters were putting these words in the kid’s mouths.
Shameless Self-Promotion By The Usual Suspects:
Protest spokesperson Chrisse Oleman has a long history with militant activist groups. In 1997, she was active with the Native Youth Movement, a group that’s part of the BC Union of Indian Chiefs and has groovy theme music including lines like take back the land, kill the white man. In 2013 she co-organized a protest against Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Dan Wallace (a man who openly encouraged people to use violence against the police, which later happened, at May Day 2014.)
Oleman was accompanied by close associate Harsha Walia, the leader of No One Is Illegal Vancouver. NoII leader Syed Hussan was on-site helping to organize #OccupyINAC Toronto. Walia represented the Union of BC Indian Chiefs during the 2014 Burnaby Mountain protests where she helped organize the arrest of David Suzuki’s family members.
Walia is also one of the country’s most prominent supporters of Black Bloc style violence, she was arrested and later let off of charges for organizing G20 violence and is friends with a few members of #OcccupyINAC Toronto. She’s also one of the original signatories of Naomi Klein’s Leap Manifesto.
If you look closely at the protester’s signs you’ll notice that they used the event as an opportunity to get publicity for No One Is Illegal. They also promoted NOII’s initiative called Sanctuary Health, a call for the government to provide healthcare services to illegal immigrants who don’t have health and residency cards. This is not a project that will help first nations people- the added load on the system might actually result in first nations receiving slower service levels.
Much like the protest in Toronto, the Vancouver occupation isn’t very well thought out. They both claim they’re occupying to help first nations people, but the people who will be most hurt by shut-down offices are first nations. Adding insult to injury, both protests are protesting for something that doesn’t exist- there’s no list of demands from Attawapiskat’s youth, only ideas brainstormed onto paper.
And, finally, both protests are using the opportunity for blatant self-promotion. Both sets of protesters are soaking up the limelight from all of the media attention, Vancouver is promoting NoII’s initiatives, and Toronto protester Shadiya Aidid has used the protest to promote her upcoming poetry slam event.
Put simply, first nations lives matter, but these two groups don’t…