TORONTO—Promptly at 3:46 PM on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, upwards of a hundred participants of First Nations’ Land Defenders formed a multi-layered circle at the north-west quadrant of Yonge-Dundas Square.
Encouraged by mild Fall weather, the considerable turnout slowly grew under the watchful gaze of a significant police presence. Forty-five minutes before the event began one early attendee, Anthony Warran remarked that ‘twelve police officers were already present’; and that they lost count at twenty-two officers.
Toronto Police Services on foot, bicycle and horseback kept their distance and formed a perimeter around the protesters. When asked his opinion on the subject, Warran said
“It looks like its a show of intimidation. I don’t normally see [the] police riding around on horses at Yonge-Dundas. I go to Ryerson…I never see that! It seems to be a today thing.”
“The second any Indigenous people or racialized groups start to gather the police come in right away because they feel threatened, and they feel like we’re going to cause trouble, but that’s just their racism showing.”
Amplified by a solitary Bluetooth speaker, attendees were mostly silent as they trickled in displaying empowering banners and wearing ceremonial regalia.
The Toronto Rally and Round Dance for Mi’kmaq Fishers was opened and led by local Mi’kmaq Elder Wanda Whitebird, who conveyed her desire to be back home but, ‘since that was not possible this gathering was the next best thing’.
“[We’re] here to bring attention to the terrorism that is happening down on the east coast, where I am from…[the Mi’Kmaq] have fishing rights and they’re trying to take them away… and that’s wrong!”
Her comments were about the violent physical assaults, harassment by taunting racist mobs, destruction of lobster stores and the arson of buildings and boats being perpetrated by non-indigenous commercial fishers on Mi’kmaq subsistence fishers.
The crowd hollered in agreement and one after the other, each orator took the freshly disinfected microphone to condemn the attacks against Mi’kmaq fishers as racist.
One organizer, Audrey Huntley was sure to remind the crowd to wear their protective equipment and keep one arm’s length apart, before reiterating Dr Shiri Pasternak’s words
“The media are using weasel words…they talk about ‘alleged rights’ when the Mi’Kma’ki clearly have treaty rights from 1752. Those [rights] were confirmed again in 1999 at the supreme court [of Canada] in the Donald Marshall decision.”
Later they discussed the subject of why authorities did nothing to stop the one-sided brutality, Huntley clarified that
“In fact, the RCMP did something. They sanctioned this violence by standing there and watching it happen; they sanctioned it! …The RCMP really really needs to be abolished along with the rest of the police in Canada.”
A row of women sang traditional songs in-between the speakers, some attendees lit sage in a cleansing ceremony called Smudging and the distinctive scent permeated the entire area.
When probed about why she thinks non-indigenous commercial fishers are resorting to physical violence against her nation, Elder Whitebird responded
“Because they’re greedy! They want to make more money. It’s already a 3 billion dollar industry, and so they think 150 Mi’kmaq lobster traps are going to take away their money…they believe the water belongs to them.”
Once the crowd was educated about the issues; they shifted from the square to the centre of the intersection at Yonge-Dundas; beginning the round dance portion of the rally.
By now the numbers swelled to approximately 200, as the size of their circle grew. Blocking traffic for almost an hour, special guests were invited to sing meaningful songs that were not allowed to be recorded.
Careful to refrain from the round dance’s customary hand-holding, people of all ages moved along the circumference in unison. While, jingle-dress and fancy shawl dancers made their dance offerings in the centre.
The round dance is intended to be a healing, community building ceremony; and it was just that. Everything ended as it began, without incident.
One recently returned Anishinaabe Land Defender and Water Walker best summarized why this gathering was necessary for the Indigenous community, despite the pandemic
“People in power are taking license to invade our spaces, to disregard our treaties and our land rights and responsibilities. They are basically using this opportunity to continue to compound on things that they’ve been doing for generations…So the risk is higher if we’re not here.”
Wiki Production Code: A0280