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Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering, Report back

August 27, 2013 1 comment

“Solidarity to Protect Our Waters”

I missed this past weekend’s #NoLogging #NoMercury demonstration for Grassy Narrows in Toronto. The demo saw 7 full marching bands accompanied by busses full of people who descended upon the home of Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynn. The message being sent was that the people of Ontario demand that the Province adhere to the decision made by the people of Grassy Narrows that there be no more logging on their territory, and that the mercury poisoning of their waters be cleaned up and properly compensated for.

Sunday’s demo comes ten and a half years after a youth led blockade against clear-cut logging was initiated on their territory, and one day after an action by youth and women of Grassy Narrows, accompanied by other Anishnabek youth and women attending the annual Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering, participated in a demonstration of their own, sending a message about their intent to protect the waters of their territory against further damage from mining and other environmental threats.

I missed the demo on Sunday because I was in Grassy Narrows, where I’ve been for a week now, having attended the Youth Gathering and the annual Grassy Narrows Pow Wow in the preceding days. The theme of this year’s gathering was “Solidarity to Protect our Waters.” I had been scheduled to facilitate a workshop on the impacts of mining and Indigenous resistance to mining companies around the world.

I was going to talk about the position of mining in the global economic system of corporate colonial capitalism, and how people from communities who resist Canadian mining companies (the same companies which seek to mine on Indigenous lands here in so called Canada, who are also operating in the global south) are often attacked by paramilitary security forces. I was going to talk about how mining operations rip apart and devastate the earth and the ways they poison the waters in the regions in which they operate. I was also going to talk about the fierce resistance undertaken by Indigenous Peoples around the world and how that resistance is most effective when people are on the land, using it and defending it.

At the workshop I would have talked about how the Federal Conservative’s Navigable Waters Act allows for any lake that is not part of a “navigable waterway” (i.e., a river system) to be re-designated so that it can be used as a “tailing pond” for mining (or other industrial) waste and runoff. I would have talked about how the Ontario Mining Act reserves mining as the priority usage for any land such that any private or crown lands can be staked for mining by any licensed prospector who can prove they have capital to extract the resources: this is a big part of why it is so hard to stop mining companies from carrying out their destructive operations in Ontario, even when they do not have the consent of the Peoples upon whose territories they operate.

I didn’t get the chance to facilitate that discussion, but instead I had the honour of being able to participate, as a settler-ally, in a demonstration on the land, for the water, with some of the fiercest, most inspiring people I know. At the Youth Gathering, I also had the privilege of hearing some of those people—mostly Anishnabek women—talk about the importance of protecting the water, not only for reasons of environmental protection, but as a fundamental part of processes of decolonization and traditional resurgence for Anishnabek Peoples.

The most compelling message, I think, was about the deep connection between the destruction of the waters and the violence against Indigenous women that is endemic to this colonial society. The capitalist raping of the land and patterns of missing and murdered Indigenous women are connected in numerous ways, and combined, amount to a real and primary strategy for destroying Indigenous Nations, cultures and Peoples—genocide—so that the Canadian (and American) Nation State and capitalist corporations can legitimize their theft and plunder of the land: Without the presence of strong Indigenous women in Indigenous communities, Clan-Mother based governance systems of Indigenous Nations cannot function; without access to undestroyed land, Indigenous cultures cannot survive. We talked about deep cultural, political, spiritual and ceremonial connections between Indigenous territories and waters and Indigenous women. We talked about both the destruction of Indigenous lands from resource extraction and the systemic societal devaluing of Indigenous women that makes possible existing and ongoing patterns of missing and murdered Indigenous women, both as forms of explicit active genocidal racism being enacted at the state level with the complicity of all settlers residing here.

At the gathering we also heard about threats to water from fracking and from pipelines, and about the damage done by a Goldcorp gold mine on upstream Lac Seul First Nation Territory at Red Lake  and the fight against imminent construction of a new hydro dam at Big Falls. There was also a presentation from one of the founders of Idle No More, and there were ceremonies, traditional teachings and a ‘mini pow wow,’ as well as lots of singing and drumming by the camp fire. For many of the youth, it seemed, teachings from Elders, Clan Mothers and Warriors were highlights of the gathering.

On Sunday, while the demonstration was taking place out front of Premier Wynne’s home in Toronto, I went swimming at some local cliffs in Grassy Narrows Territory with a group 10-12 year old girls who are members of the youngest generation of one of the families here, which I have had the honour and privilege of coming close to over the years, that has been central in the blockade and the ongoing fight here against logging and other forms of environmental destruction. One of the girls looked at the tattoo on my back and asked me what “Resist” means. I told them it means fighting back when people who have more power than us try to hurt the people or places we love and need. She asked me if I meant like when her aunts stopped the logging the trucks here. I told her that was precisely the kind of actions that I was talking about. Another one of the girls pointed out that the word in “Resist” can be rearranged to spell “Sister.”

In a lot of ways, it is those girls and their peers that are the reason that this fight in Grassy Narrows in particular, like other anti-colonial fights led by Indigenous women and youth, is the struggle that I find myself most committed to. It is the understanding of how deep the connection is between the destruction of the land and violence against Indigenous women, as well as knowing how urgent is the need and real the possibility of defeating the destruction of the land and People here on this territory, that keeps me going back to the front lines and back on to the land to resist.